In his new book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life (out this Tuesday), Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren outlines a faith-based, holistic wellness program that he developed with the help of three experts—brain specialist Dr. Daniel Amen, metabolic expert Dr. Mark Hyman, and cardio-thoracic surgeon and TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. (The main title of the book refers to the prophet who championed healthy eating.) The excerpt below highlights the carbs we should be eating.
The Calorie Myth
Now is the time for us to blow up the calorie myth. Here’s the myth: All calories are created equal.
The lesson we have all learned is that calories are a form of energy, and according to the laws of physics, a calorie is a calorie—the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree centigrade. This law is true for physics, but all bets are off when you put biology in the mix. If it was all about “eat less, exercise more,” we would all do it and be skinny and fit. But there are different kinds of calories: healing calories and disease-causing calories. Let us explain.
Let’s compare a 20-ounce soda with 240 calories to the equivalent number of calories from broccoli (which is about 7.5 cups). The soda has no fiber and no vitamins or minerals, but has 15 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, and phosphoric acid—which causes osteoporosis. The sugar in the soda spikes your insulin, causes a fatty liver, increases triglycerides, lowers good cholesterol, raises bad cholesterol, increases cortisol (the stress hormone), and causes diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
The broccoli (if you could actually eat the 7.5 cups!) has the same number of calories but about 1⁄2 teaspoon natural sugar and 35 grams fiber and is rich in vitamins and minerals, including folate and magnesium. Broccoli also contains powerful phytonutrients, which are healing plant compounds that help reduce your risk of cancer and boost your detoxification capacity. And broccoli has very little ability to raise your blood sugar. In fact, when it enters your body, the broccoli has the exact opposite effect of the soda. It creates health rather than destroys it. Same calories—very different results.
Clearly, all calories are not the same. It is a matter of quality. So we want to help you focus on becoming a “qualitarian.”
Low-glycemic vegetables are your new best friends. Go ahead and fill up on these life-giving plants. They should make up 50 percent of your plate. keep a list of these as you walk through your grocery store, which is your new FARMacy, where you will find the best medicine for body and soul. Have two or three veggie dishes at dinner. Make a salad with arugula, artichokes, and avocados, and have a side of sautéed zucchini with garlic and olive oil and some roasted mush- rooms. Go crazy!
The one type of vegetable you can never get enough of is the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes kale, collards, broccolini, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and bok choy. They contain powerful detoxifying chemicals called glucosinolates that prevent cancer and support your health. We recommend a cup or two every day.
Most of us grew up on peas, carrots, and sweet corn as our side vegetables. These starchy plant foods have a place in a healthy diet. You still want to think of them as a side dish. They are sweeter, and for some people, they can raise blood sugar. But they are full of antioxidants and healing phytonutrients. Use starchy veggies—including beets, carrots, corn, green peas, Jerusalem artichokes/sun chokes, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, rutabagas, sweet potatoes or yams, turnips, winter squash—in a larger proportion to grains on your plate.
Now let’s go back to phytonutrients. Your body is lazy—biochemically, that is. It doesn’t do things one way that it can get done by some other means. The magic of your body is that you can use the power of plants to run important functions that keep you healthy. There is an entire class of compounds (phytonutrients) in our plant foods that work hard to reduce inflammation; rid our bodies of toxins; improve the way our bodies metabolize food and boost calorie burning; optimize immune function; prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia; and contain powerful antioxidants that literally prevent our bodies from rusting and aging too fast.
Detoxifying foods: Cruciferous vegetables are the super detoxification foods. Other natural detoxifiers are green tea, watercress, dandelion greens, cilantro, artichokes, garlic, citrus peels, pomegranate, and even unsweetened cocoa powder (not the sugary hot chocolate kind).
For anti-inflammatory foods, think dark berries and cherries. Eat dark green leafy vegetables and orange sweet potatoes to cut down on inflammation. Curcumin is found in the yellow spice called turmeric and is used in curries and mustards. It is nature’s ibuprofen and the most powerful anti-inflammatory. Add it to stir fries or when you cook grains or make curries.
Antioxidant-rich foods: These foods prevent aging and promote overall health. They are found in dark berries, black rice, beets, and pomegranates; orange and yellow vegetables such as winter squash; dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, and spinach; and resveratrol-containing fruits such as purple grapes, blueberries, cran- berries, and cherries.
Hormone-balancing foods: Foods such as miso, tempeh, and tofu (all of which are whole soy foods) and ground flax seeds help balance hormones and prevent cancer.
Many foods high in phytonutrients are also considered super foods. These are foods richest in high-quality protein, good fats, vitamins, and minerals. These are among the most health-promoting of all the foods you can eat. Visit The Daniel Plan website for a list of super foods.
Whole grains can be part of a healthy diet, but in moderation. For some, grains can trigger spikes in blood sugar. The key is the amount and what you eat them with. The ideal serving size for grains is 1⁄2 cup for men and 1⁄3 cup for women. You may tolerate more if you are a marathon runner, but for the average Joe or Joanna, the extra sugar can trigger insulin, weight gain, and inflammation.
The key is to eat only whole grains, not processed in any way. That means you buy them in their original form, such as oats, wheat berries, and even popcorn. Many packaged foods say “whole grains,” but it is often a little whole grain flour mixed into white flour, sugary cereals, or other products. The ingredient list will tell you what’s really in there.
If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, you may not even be able to tolerate significant amounts of whole grains in your diet until you correct the underlying metabolic imbalances. So the best grains are the gluten-free grains. Try low-glycemic grains such as black rice (also known as the emperor’s rice), brown rice, red rice, buckwheat, and quinoa. Pastas cooked al dente (cooked just enough to retain some firm texture) are lower glycemic, but flour products should be considered a special treat that you only eat occasionally.
Fruit is a wonderful source of powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant phytonutrient compounds. The darker and richer the colors, the more unique and wonderful the fruits, the more power-packed nutrition they contain. We focus on the lower sugar fruits such as berries and apples and pears and use the others as treats in smaller quantities. The average serving size is 1⁄2 cup or one piece of fruit. (If you are overweight or have blood sugar issues, then you want to be careful with fruit intake and limit it to one serving a day.) There are plenty of low-glycemic fruits.
• Dark berries. Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are rich in phytonutrients. You can get frozen organic versions and put them in shakes or even make great frozen desserts by putting them in the blender.
• Stone fruit. Plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and their variants are known as “stone fruit.” They are healthy and full of fiber and healing chemicals and not too high in sugar.
• Pomegranates, kiwis, papayas, and mangos are also wonderful healing fruits.
• Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes are great, but it’s best to stay away from juices. They often have as much sugar as soda. (We will explain why when we talk about sugars.)
Limit high-sugar fruits. Melons, pineapple, and grapes are wholesome, but it’s best to eat them in small quantities because of their high glycemic index. Also, dried fruit such as apricots, raisins, and currants are the highest in sugar, so use them sparingly. Many dried fruits also contain added sugar. Have one or two figs or dates or 2 tablespoons of raisins or currants as a treat, or mix a small amount with nuts and seeds to make your own trail mix.