I love our staple food, and I am lucky enough to eat it on a daily basis. How healthy are they though? In Nigeria, our staple food consists of a variety of yam, cassava and brown rice. These can be prepared in any number of ways. They however, all have one thing in common.
Since it makes sense to classify foods based on their highest nutritional content, the one thing they have in common is that Cassava, Yam and Brown rice are all carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are the main culprit where weight gain is concerned. This is because; the final break down of carbohydrate in the body is simple sugar. I want to point out that when the supply of ingested glucose (glucose is the only usable form of simple sugar) is too high, our blood sugar level gets elevated.
This increased level of blood sugar triggers the release of insulin (the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels) to transport or make the excess glucose available to the body tissues. When our energy stores are low (post exercise for example), the muscle tissue is the first point of call of the insulin-carried glucose. Glucose however can only be taken up by the muscle tissues at a gradual rate.
If too much insulin-carried glucose is present at one time, the liver is the next stop. The liver like the muscle tissue, also takes up glucose at a gradual rate and when the liver stores are full and there is still an excess supply of insulin-carried glucose in the bloodstream, the next stop is the adipose tissue where it is stored as fat.
Unlike the muscle and liver, the adipose tissues take up glucose quite rapidly. The rate at which glucose is released into the blood is an important issue as, if the ingested carbohydrates are already simple sugars or low in fibre, the digestion process will be shorter and they will be absorbed too quickly. This causes the pancreatic tissue to release an excess amount of insulin into the blood.
Since the liver and muscle tissues only take up glucose gradually, the excess insulin-carried-glucose will by-pass the muscle and liver and be deposited in the adipose tissue where it is rapidly stored as fat. This is where the quality and quantity of carbohydrates we eat comes in.
I believe that by now you can see the danger in eating too much simple sugars or food low in fibre. The flip side to the coin is to eat complex carbohydrates as this will result in an intermittent release of glucose into the bloodstream which means that the pancreas will not release excess insulin into the bloodstream; which also means that most of the glucose will be stored in the liver and muscle tissues as opposed to being deposited as fat in the adipose tissue.
Our staple foods tend to be complex carbohydrates and that is great news but we definitely do not eat them in isolation. Irrespective of how healthy they are, we cannot survive just on carbohydrates.
There are a number of ways in which we eat our staple food. For example, Yam can be boiled and eaten with palm oil and pepper soup or yam when cooked, will be beaten to a paste to make pounded yam and eaten with Ogbono soup (my favourite) or Egusi soup, etc. Cassava can be used to make Garri and eaten in a similar way. Brown rice can be eaten with stew, or made into Jollof rice, or Fried rice.
I mentioned above that the glucose we get from complex carbohydrates is slowly released into our blood stream. This is because it takes longer for our body to fully digest them (up to an hour). Well, it takes even longer when these complex carbohydrates are mixed with proteins and fat. In fact, when you eat carbohydrates with proteins, it takes about 3 to 4 hours for digestion to be completed.
The Nigerian staple food is clearly healthy to eat as they are complex carbohydrates. However, what we eat them with and how much we eat at any given time, also plays an important role in our weight management and overall well-being.
Look out for my future article on THE RIGHT WAY TO EAT TO BURN FAT! Until then, here are a few tips to follow:
o Eat moderately, not like there is no tomorrow. It does not matter how healthy the food is, if you eat too much, you will gain weight.
o When using Palm oil, choose that with little or no cholesterol and use it sparingly. Avoid palm oil or any other oil that is solid at room temperature.
o Eat at regular intervals – 3 to 4 hours and do not skip meals.
o Engage in a regular sporting routine so that you can balance out your input versus your output (depending on what your goal is).