Blood Sugar Levels: Your #1 Key to Weight, Mood and Vitality
BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS: Your #1 Key to Weight, Mood and Vitality – and the Prevention and Treatment of Diabetes, Cardiovascular and Hormone Related Problems ©
Your survival depends on cells receiving fuel in the form of just the right amount of glucose or blood sugar. It is the job of the hormone insulin to courier this into cells. The Brain is your most glucose hungry organ and the first to feel its lack. All carbohydrates – from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains or legumes – eventually get broken down into glucose. What differs is the speed at which they do this.
Individual foods have been measured in this regard and placed on a scale called the Glycemic Index or GI. Carbohydrate foods that are slow to break down – such as Legumes (dried peas, beans and lentils; see TIPS), nuts, seeds, most vegetables and fruits, plus hearty, crunchy wholegrain products – are termed low GI. Those that digest rapidly into glucose such as Sugar, most white rice, and finely milled bread, baking and cereals (of one highly refined, uniform texture) are high GI.
Eating too many high GI carbs at a meal stimulates a surge of excessive glucose. The pancreas then produces and releases more insulin as extra courier vans. Over time though, high levels of insulin are life threatening and the cells start to refuse it entrance. But by becoming resistant to insulin they are also unable to access its critical glucose fuel.
It is important at each meal and snack to include sufficient support factors such as fibre, especially soluble fibre, protein, a little quality fat, and a minimum of starchy high GI carbohydrates. Soluble fibre is the #1 way to ensure energy release is steady and sustained. It also binds with all wastes the liver wants to eliminate (brain and Bone weakening heavy metals, excess LDL cholesterol, unwanted Hormones, and everyday debris from your 30 trillion cells). But without soluble fibre in a meal, all those wearying wastes get reabsorbed. It is also the favourite food (along with insoluble fibre) of good guy bowel microflora helping it to thwart pathogens (fungi, yeasts, viruses, bacteria, parasites) and produce fatty acids for the production of HDL cholesterol to keep heart and arteries healthy. In contrast, the insoluble fibre in most wholegrains, fruit and veg is coarse and helps scour the bowel wall of abnormal cell growth and keep transit time efficient. Insoluble fibre has been called the broom and soluble fibre the sponge. Legumes, nuts and seeds contain both types of fibre.
Eating carb-heavy and protein-lite encourages high glucose followed by compensatory high insulin levels. Frequent insulin elevations can lead to erratic or chronically sluggish mental and physical energy. This is also a common pathway to both diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Most commonly the metabolic rate – like a thermostat on your factory furnace – gets reset to ‘low and slow’. Eating may no longer result in your metabolic firepower getting re-stoked, or if so only briefly. Weight can be gained without overeating and dieting becomes frustratingly unsuccessful. Thin people too can suffer from elevated insulin and poor vitality levels, especially if they manage stress poorly and do not maintain enough muscle.
Although significant, body weight is less a determinant than the ratio of muscle to fat. Thin people who are sedentary can have more fat – dangerous, hidden and visceral – than a sumo wrestler. Patients with high blood glucose can also experience rapid tumour growth and invasion. High glucose increases angiogenesis: the growth of new blood vessels from existing ones — essential for cancer proliferation. The New Zealand Medical Journal 9-8-2002 states that the most common factor to tumour development “is the gross elevation of mean blood glucose”.
It’s All about Balance, Not Good Guys and Bad
As a way of estimating your blood sugar level (BSL) tendencies, consider your experience three hours after a typical meal. You should have good mental clarity and physical vitality, and be free of nagging hunger or cravings. If at this time you have good mental sharpness but feel hungry, you probably ate too much protein and too little carbohydrate. Instead if you are both hungry and have poor mental clarity, you likely ate a ratio of too many carbs (or too many of the high GI variety) to not enough protein.
Remember though that good health and nutrition are all about proportion, rather than strict categories of good and bad. Watermelon and many tropical fruits technically have a high GI rating in terms of carbohydrate content, but are so high in water that a typical serving size does not induce a high GI response (glycemic load or GL assesses carb proportion and impact). When in doubt over nutritional issues, use common sense. A fact taken out of context can become a startling headline but a false premise.
Likewise, some starchy foods such as rice and potato – eaten plain and on their own – have a high GI rating and thus a bad reputation. However a meal containing them can easily achieve low GI status. For example, have a small amount of these foods on your plate, such as ¼ of the visual total. Accompany them with the likes of a crunchy salad, a protein and perhaps other helpers as listed below, such as a flavourful oil and vinegar dressing, for a delicious meal that satisfies while you eat it and for contented hours to follow.
The Old Weight Management Paradigm and the New
Conventional medicine and nutritional science are inclined to a mechanistic approach on how a problem is viewed. For instance, dieticians commonly insist that the proportion of kilojoules in (from food) to kilojoules out (through exercise) is the chief determinant to a person’s body weight. Thus high-fat foods have been pilloried, due to their greater kilojoule count as compared to that of carbohydrate or protein.
Kilojoules are a measurement of the amount of heat or energy a food can produce to stoke the body’s factory furnace. They could be pictured like wood ready for burning. This is instrumental material, but its use and rate of burning are under the executive direction of the organs and processes involved with metabolism. Metabolic efficiency determines how adequately this factory can create the energy and building materials for every bodily purpose. In the case of being overweight or underweight – and with many vitality related conditions – assisting metabolism should be the focus.
The quantity of our fuel is significant but even more so is its quality (like the difference in burning times between varying types of wood) and the proportion of our nutrients to each other (similar to the ratio of fast burning twigs to slow but sustaining large logs). The life-giving nutrients we need to obtain from food are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. One of the factors that swiftly affect the metabolic results of a meal or snack is: the proportion of the protein, to the proportion and type of carbohydrate and fat eaten. Different body-types need different proportions of one to the other for efficient metabolism: not too fast (leading to underweight) and not too slow (leading to overweight).
In 1999 Harvard Medical School did a study on the effects just one meal can have on the level of two metabolically influential hormones: insulin (which promotes fat storage) and glucagon (which promotes fat burning). They fed a group of overweight people three different vegetarian meals. Each meal was designed to have the same quantity of kilojoules but different proportions of protein to carbohydrate.
The meal with the most protein and least refined carbohydrate resulted in the ideal ratio of moderate insulin to enhanced glucagon levels – and this lasted for five hours. In consequence, after eating this meal participants ate less at their next one. Despite being identical in terms of kilojoules, the investigators concluded that each meal showed, “… markedly different effects on metabolism, perceived hunger, and subsequent food intake.” It is our metabolic response to a food that is significant, more than its static position on a kilojoule counter list.
How to Ensure Balanced Blood Sugar Regulation:
1) At two or more meals per day, especially at breakfast, include foods high in soluble fibre (benefits maximise when pre-soaked as suitable then cooked to make fibre more soluble; see The Shape Diet for Linseed Cereal and other targeted recipes). Top sources roughly in order: psyllium, prunes, figs, mango, slippery elm, seaweed, linseed, chia seeds, legumes, oat bran, rice bran, barley, cooked apple, mushrooms.
2) At each meal or snack have a visual total of about 1/3 protein (tofu, tempeh, eggs, fish, seafood, poultry, meat, or a combination of legumes plus nuts/seeds; see: Protein) to about 2/3 high-fibre, mostly low GI carbohydrates (in general these are minimally processed wholegrains, vegetables and fruits – note that legumes, nuts and seeds contain both protein and low GI carbohydrate). Use the questionnaire in The Shape Diet to work out your metabolic body-type. This helps determine whether you are best suited to a greater proportion of plant protein (DRIVER, SENSUALIST) or animal protein sources (ENTHUSIAST, ANALYSER); and which foods, meal times, types of exercise and supplements will tend to work for or against your vitality and metabolic levels.
3) With each meal/snack include a little good quality fat. Fats slow rate of digestion (an excess will leave you tired) and like protein do not stimulate insulin release. Eg potato served with fat such as tahini, hummus or avocado has a lower GI than if plain. Emphasise the anti-inflammatory Omega 3 sources (fish especially oily, seafood, linseed, chia and walnuts), and oxidation or damage-resistant monounsaturated fats (olives, avocado, most nuts, and peanuts – technically a legume). Only buy extra-virgin or cold-pressed oils (see: The Fats of Life). DRIVERS/SENSUALISTS are best served by low fat overall. ENTHUSIASTS/ANALYSERS need moderate to high fat intake overall.
4) Include ‘crunch’ each meal/snack (fine, smooth textures digest rapidly): raw food; unpeeled fruit/veg; nuts/seeds; coarse textured breads, cereals and baking. Do not overcook; limit reheated food. Drink 6-8 cups (water, herb tea, broth; no more than 1 glass unsweetened juice) to help make 9 L digestive juices needed daily. ½ tsp cinnamon daily in cereal, fruit, dande coffee, rice, stew, curry can lower BSL 20%.
5) Include culinary acids with meal. Acidic or sour foods slow down stomach emptying and the rate carbs are digested. This is especially true of vinegar (1 Tb can lower BSL after a meal up to 30%), lemon/lime juice, and grapefruit. Before breakfast have water with 1 Tb lemon juice (no more than once daily to protect teeth) or apple cider vinegar. Add to salad, sauce, soup, stew. Options: sauerkraut, pickled ginger, kimchi, kefir, gherkins, capers, yoghurt or other naturally cultured/fermented milk products, dry wine, tamarind juice (used in Thai cooking), pomegranate juice/molasses (used in Middle Eastern cooking).
6) Enjoy fine dining habits: pause before eating; chew thoroughly and eat slowly; do not overeat/under eat. These behaviours improve the thoroughness and slow down the rate of digestion. Be sure to eat every three or four hours to stoke your factory fire; skipping meals can encourage a sluggish metabolism and weight gain. Do not eat/graze for longer than one hour at a time, or a second wave of insulin is released.
7) Minimise other factors that stimulate insulin release: caffeine (coffee, black leaf tea, chocolate, energy and soft drinks; see: Caffeine); most ‘diet’ products and other sources of artificial sweeteners; lozenges; breath fresheners; chewing gum; many over-the-counter and other Medications and particularly poor stress management including sleep deprivation (otherwise adrenals force the liver to raise BSL for emergency fuel; see: Adrenals; Sleep). Aspirin/other anti-inflammatories can lower metabolic rate by decreasing body heat.
8) Exercise at least 5 times weekly for 30 minutes or ‘snack’ on small portions. New research says the BSL ideal is to get up every 20 minutes for 2 minutes of movement. Exercise uses stored glucose as fuel; inhibits insulin release (activating non-insulin-dependent glucose transport pathways) while increasing glucose uptake by at least 40% with effects lasting 48-72 hours. Regular exercise reduces fat storage sites; turns up the metabolic rate to a higher sustained level to suit the new degree of activity; and improves Thyroid and adrenal function – critical to efficient fuel burning, stress management, buoyant mental and physical health. It can calm the thin and anxious (yoga, moderate walking, swimming), and recharge the plump and listless (dance, brisk walking, sport).
9) Relaxation is just as crucial. Set aside 10 minutes daily for a quiet, solitary agenda-less Me Break for women; or Power Re-Charge for men. Time in nature is ideal to realign with what ‘natural’ truly feels like. Enjoy food and activities that provide immediate sensual gratification and the long-term enjoyment of good health. Engage in simple, non-food related pleasures: lie in the grass or by a wood fire, luxuriate in a scented bath, have a solo or shared foot rub, listen to inspirational music or taped lectures, take a walk in a park or along a beach, do something kind and of a style outside your norm for yourself, a loved one or a stranger. Live consciously, thankfully and generously. You are more likely to feel satisfied and ‘full’ when regularly ‘full-filling’ a sense of life purpose (The Shape Diet pages 102-123).