Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar Control for Optimal Health!

We have all heard over our years of schooling that “almost all of the body’s energy is derived form glucose – sugar and this is the main “fuel” of the body”.

So, let’s revisit this…almost all the body’s energy is derived from glucose because we GIVE it so much damn glucose!  Genetically we were not necessarily programed to run solely off of glucose….our body also loves to run (and more efficiently too) off of ketones from healthy fats.  Way back when we actually did run off of more ketones than glucose and thrived that way. We actually only need 5 grams of glucose an hour for our brains and body to function properly.  Our bodies can make needed glucose from proteins and fats (thru gluconeogenesis) as well….our body is smart!  What you eat determines the quality, the quantity and the availability of glucose to all your body’s cells, including the brain.  So, the importance of obtaining the best form of glucose becomes paramount. Also, maintaining an even blood sugar is extremely important with regards to energy, mood and overall health.  A key way to control this is by what you eat, especially what type of carbohydrate you eat.

Carbohydrates are a great source of energy.  They are necessary for the digestion and assimilation of other foods, and they can help regulate protein and fat metabolism.  We just don’t need as much as we tend to eat. The damage occurs when we over do it….All carbs are broken down by digestion into sugar, which is released into the bloodstream to provide the entire body with fuel.  So, whether you eat a milky way or a sweet potato, the end result is a glucose (or sugar) molecule.  The way in which this works has an effect on our energy, mood, weight, our ability to deal with stress and our long term health.

We do need carbs.  We just don’t need the carbs from refined foods and we do NOT need as many as the USDA food pyramid would have us believe.  Too many carbs, esp those from refined sources forces the body to convert any excess carb into body fat, which keep the pounds on.  You won’t lose weight and keep it off, your energy levels will be like a roller coaster and often low, and your overall health will suffer if your diet is high in refined carbs or excess unused carbs, healthy or not.

A Little Science…

When you consume carbohydrates, your body experiences a spike in blood sugar levels due to a rise in glucose in your bloodstream. In response to this rise in glucose levels, the pancreas releases the hormone, insulin. Insulin is a hormone that’s absolutely essential for getting amino acids into the muscles for growth and getting carbohydrates into the muscles where they’re needed for energy.

However, when there’s a large blood sugar spike, your body tends to “overreact” and produce too much insulin. The insulin quickly clears the glucose from the bloodstream, leading to a sharp drop in blood sugar known as hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar is accompanied by cravings, hunger, weakness, mood swings and decreased energy. The hunger and cravings tend to cause the sugar consumption to perpetuate itself, resulting in a vicious cycle of ups and downs in energy throughout the day.  Thus the importance of maintaining a stable blood sugar level.

If there is too much insulin in the bloodstream, which often happens when you eat an excess amount of either highly refined, high-carb foods, or even too many ‘good’ complex carbs or high glycemic (sugar content) simple carbs…the body stores the extra sugar as fat.  Insulin converts the excess glucose in the blood into triglycerides (blood fat) that are then stored in the fat cells.  Sugar can not only lead to weight gain and obesity but also to water retention and the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. During this time of insulin spikes, there is also a spike in cortisol.  Cortisol is a dangerous hormone (stress hormone) that actually kills brain cells, increases fat storage, and breaks down lean muscle mass.

Other than sugar (and dietary fiber), the other main carbohydrate form is starch which is found in plant-based foods such as rice, potatoes, corn and grains.  When starchy foods are eaten, the digestive tract breaks down each type of carbohydrate in essentially the same way, converting it into simpler sugars (except for fiber which passes through your body undigested), and finally into glucose (blood sugar), which is a source of immediate energy.  If these calories are not expended, however, the body stores them as fat and is the reason why high starch foods should be eaten in limited quantities.

Why are we limiting carbs during this program let alone for the rest of out lives?

With excess weight on, or hormones out of balance (hormones being anything from insulin, thyroid hormone, estrogen and progesterone to testosterone, leptin and cortisol) you are at a metabolic disadvantage.  Your body and your hormones are out of balance and thus not able to do their jobs properly and also not able to metabolize your food intake properly.  As you work towards achieving balance through this program and lose unnecessary weight, you’ll need to put an end to the hormonal havoc that excess or bad carbohydrates have caused.  You will scale back on less nutritious sources of carbs and increase the healthier ones.  By modifying your carb intake, you will keep extreme blood sugar spikes to a minimum.  This allows your pancreas a much needed rest.  With blood sugar levels relatively steady, your pancreas does not need to continually secrete insulin to shuttle that sugar into cells.  As insulin levels drop and stay low, it takes stress off of important organs throughout your body, such as your kidneys, heart, liver, thyroid, and adrenals so these organs can heal and become more efficient.

Make Your Carbs Count:

This is not about counting every last carbs but it is about being mindful or your intake especially this first month until we get your metabolism back to a healthy place.  We will focus on carbs that are:

  • Low in starch and high in fiber:  this is why we are avoiding potatoes, corn, and excess beans and peas and instead increasing fiber rich food sources such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, kale, brussel sprouts, etc.
  • We are avoiding artificial additives, sweeteners and excess sugar as well as any refined carbs.
  • We are choosing foods and carbs sources that are as minimally processed as possible.  Whole fruits over jarred fruits, raw nuts over roasted nuts, whole grains over flour based products like bread, cereals and baked goods.

Carbohydrates and Inflammation:

I personally believe (and more and more research support these views) that the majority of all of our chronic illnesses are a result of chronic, long standing inflammation. Here is a blurb I cut and pasted that I thought did a good job of outlining the idea….

“When inflammation becomes chronic and systemic, when it ceases to be an acute response, when it becomes a constant low-level feature of your physiology that’s always on and always engaged, the big problems arise. The inflammatory response is supposed to be short and to the point. I mean, just look at its responsiveness. Go twist an ankle (don’t, not really) and watch how fast it swells up and gets warm to the touch. It isn’t meant to be on all the time.

And because a big part of inflammation is breaking the tissue down, targeting damaged tissue and invading pathogens, before building it back up, the inflammatory response has the potential to damage the body. That’s why it’s normally a tightly regulated system, because we don’t want it getting out of hand and targeting healthy tissue. But if it’s on all the time, regulation becomes a lot harder.”

Carbohydrates, aka sugars, (along with stress, toxic diets, insufficient omega 3 intake and excess omega 6 intake, lack of sleep, lack of movement, and poor gut health) can contribute greatly to chronic inflammation.  I want you to be healthy on all fronts, not just in the weight realm, so yet another reason why we are focusing on eliminating unhealthy and excess carbs/sugars.

For your carb sources, choose the best you possibly can:

Best: 

  • All the above the ground growing veggies

Better:

  • Root Veggies…the below the ground growing veggies (except white potato)

Good:

  • Fruit…esp temperate region fruits (over tropical fruits)

Limit:

  • Grains and Legumes 
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