For all the talk of energy, appetite, satiety, and weight management, it is remarkable that so little attention is given to glycogen. Glycogen is your body's store of carbohydrate; glucose molecules clustered together like bunches of grapes, waiting to be plucked for energy whenever the need arises. Glycogen is stored in primarily in muscles, liver, and brain. Most of what the muscles do with glucose from blood is to make glycogen. The muscles utilize both fat and glucose for fuel. The more intense the movement, the more glycogen is called upon as a source of glucose molecules for energy. Muscles fueled with glycogen are ready to perform at their peak. When muscles are depleted of glycogen we hit the wall and must rely on fat for energy. Glycogen in the liver has a different but equally important purpose, to supply blood with glucose when dietary carbohydrates are absent or in short supply. But when glycogen is depleted, blood glucose must be made from scratch. Since you cannot convert stored fat to glucose, amino acids from muscle are sacrificed to make blood sugar. Thus, glycogen spares protein for its more important tasks. The brain, a glucose glutton, carries its own supply of glycogen in cells called astrocytes. In total, we carry less than days worth of energy in the form of glycogen, a fact that makes storing glycogen, a major consideration in satiety. Eat in a way to store glycogen efficiently, without having to force in an excess of kcals and healthy weight is within your reach without resorting to diet. And that leads us to the Smart Fuel Pyramid.
An Unhealthy Assumption
Glycemic index saturation has left a lingering assumption that is as damaging as it is misleading. We assume that when we burn glucose for energy, we do it directly from the blood stream as if cells that need energy pull glucose from the blood and burn it directly. That is simply not true. And this untruth is what completely undermines glycemic index as an important determinant of carbohydrate value. Suppose you are running a race along the banks of a river, a marathon, and periodically you need water. Would it make sense to kneel down at the bank of the river every time you needed a drink and then get back up again to continue the race Wouldn't it be more efficient to carry a bottle of water with you, a small one that could supply you with water as you were running? Then you could fill the bottle when it gets low, which wouldn't be nearly as often. Once you filled the bottle, you would be good to go for a long time without visiting the stream.
The Smart Fuel Pyramid
One of the consequences of insulin resistance, the precursor to type-2 diabetes, is failure to store muscle glycogen efficiently. The result is a continuous craving for sugar leading to the erroneous notion that sugar is addictive and anything that raises insulin makes us fat. The simple truth is that when we lack sufficient boiled starch, we force the body to burn more free fatty acids for energy and hinder the muscles from responding to insulin. This fact is most evident in the discovery of the glucose-fatty acid cycle that demonstrates a suppression of glucose utilization in the presence of free fatty acids. The most efficient way to store glycogen without breaking the bank on calories is to follow the Smart Fuel Pyramid, the only guide that separates boiled starches as a distinct food group. By eating from the bottom up, starting with entrees made from a combination of boiled starches and lean proteins, efficient glycogen storage is guaranteed because muscles become more responsive to insulin.
The list of potential entrees is extensive and varied including anything from steak and mashed potatoes to vegan staples like tofu, rice, and beans. Creating snacks and side dishes from the fruit and vegetable groups, expands the choices of healthy carbohydrates, along with added fiber and micronutrients. Sugars and baked starches complete the carbohydrate picture, but should be used in dessert proportions as desserts themselves or to flavor an entre or side dish. The same is true of fat-rich foods. We need healthy fats, nuts, oils, and even some dairy fats, depending on your preference. But they are high in calories and like sugars and baked starches, should be used in dessert portions or as flavorings. The energy-dense foods at the top of the pyramid are not bad foods. Nuts for example are an excellent source of essential fatty acids and supply valuable protein, along with other micronutrients. They are simply rich in calories and should be eaten with that in mind. Following The Smart Fuel Pyramid is the most efficient way to store energy as glycogen. That means you'll be satisfied without on reasonable portions of healthy foods, greatly increasing your chances at achieving a healthy weight without resorting to demoralizing diets.
What's Wrong With Our Modern Guidelines?
Once you understand the science and simple logic underlying boiled starch as an essential nutrient, it becomes necessary to reevaluate our present guidelines to see if they reflect this new reality. The quick answer to this query is a resounding no. Our present guidelines are inadequate because they ignore this critical food group. Let's take a look.
Since 1992, the USDA Food Guide Pyramid has served as a guide to healthy eating. This pyramid introduced the concept of a base of staple foods, which for most healthy societies means grains, beans, and potatoes that have been boiled, generally as parts of stews and pilafs. In the first version of the pyramid, however, this reality is only poorly represented in the breads and cereals group which draws no distinction between boiled and steamed vs. baked and fried starches. Potatoes are classed with green vegetables rather than starches.
Highly criticized by some for not considering the latest studies, it was revised in 2005 to reflect recent research on whole grains. Many alternative pyramids have emerged to deal with concerns over obesity and related diseases, yet not one has caught on as a useful weight-management tool. The reason is obvious.
The problem with the breads and cereals group, here pictured as the foundation of the modern diet is apparent in the title breads (baked) and cereals, which for most people means dry breakfast cereals. Let's face it. How many people think of boiled quinoa, cream of wheat, or oatmeal, when they hear the word cereal? Potatoes are classed with green vegetables despite their similarity to starches like rice. No distinction is made between boiled potatoes, a staple that is thousands of years old, and French fries or chips, the most popular way we eat potatoes today.
The 2005 version of the USDA did nothing to correct this flaw. In the text that accompanies the pyramid whole grains are emphasized. It's recommended that we eat half of our grains as whole grains. But wholeness does not in itself determine an adequate staple. Cookies, doughnuts, and toaster pastries can be made with whole grain. The other major flaw of MyPyramid is that it negated the purpose of the pyramid shape by creating columns to denote food group divisions. The breads and cereals group still fails to distinguish boiled and steamed from baked and fried starches.
The most ardent critic of the USDA pyramid efforts was Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public health, who called the original pyramid a ticket to overeating. The Harvard School of Public Health then came up with a pyramid advertised as based on the latest research. But it's obvious that it contains the same flaws as the one Willett criticized. Unlike MyPyramid, the Harvard version has a base upon which it builds. One side of the base says whole grains at most meals. As noted, whole grain can mean anything. The other side is oil from many different sources. At the top of the pyramid are the following: white bread, potato, pasta, rice, and sweets. These are placed here for no other reason than their similarity in glycemic index, which as noted is an inappropriate criterion for drawing equivalence between foods, and is certainly inadequate for disqualifying a food as a staple. The Harvard Pyramid places a significant portion of the world's staples in the top section with sweets as foods to avoid. There is no evidence that populations living on boiled potatoes, white rice, or pasta as staples suffer from obesity and type-2 diabetes. In fact, these foods guarantee satiety on a reasonable amount of calories as long as other nutrient needs are met. However, by drawing no distinction between boiled and steamed vs. baked and fried starches, the Harvard pyramid perpetuates the myth that carbohydrates are to be feared as the culprit in the modern epidemic of obesity.
This brings us to MyPlate, the USDA's update of MyPyramid. This attempt to simplify the dietary advice again misses the point with regard to starches, drawing no distinction based on method of preparation. Starches in general are relegated to the position of insignificant side dish. Fruits and vegetables occupy half the plate, but there is no indication as to whether this is half by weight or if it represents half of the calories in a given meal. If breads are chosen as the representative grain, much of the meal would consist of sugar, perpetuating the meat, fat, and sugar pattern of modern fast food establishments.
It's clear that none of our guidelines recognize boiled starch as a distinctive food group to be emphasized as part of the critical balance in our diet. The effect of following any of these guides is to make the link between satiety and efficient energy storage in the form of glycogen a haphazard event at best, dependent upon the whim of the follower, a whim that is heavily influenced by advertisement.
In addition, none of the guides draw any distinction between high and low fat sources of protein. Realistically, we don't eat nuts for the same reason we eat beans. We don't eat cheese as a substitute for lean meat. This oversight further encourages overeating of the meat, fat, and sugar paradigm of modern foods.