Controlling your blood sugar levels is important for preventing weight gain and diabetes, because if what you eat and drink causes your blood glucose levels to rise quickly this stimulates a surge of insulin which brings your glucose level crashing down quickly and makes you hungry. Eventually these spikes of insulin lead to insulin resistance which leads to weight gain, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Why Is Controlling Your Blood Glucose Level So Important?
Keeping your blood sugar levels balanced is probably the most important thing you can do to control your energy level and your weight because the level of glucose in your blood largely controls your appetite. Low blood glucose levels can cause a tiredness and fatigue, lack of concentration, irritability, nervousness, depression , sweating, headaches and digestive problems .
Your body isn’t designed to cope with large amounts of glucose on a regular basis. Unfortunately the modern western diet provides unhealthy large doses of glucose to the blood on a very regular basis from quickly digested carbohydrates in processed and junk foods and from glucose added to sweeten drinks. The surges of glucose in the blood produce surges of insulin, and over time the cells which are sensitive to insulin become less sensitive and don’t respond so well to removing glucose from the blood. This is called insulin resistance and leads to a higher level of glucose in the blood, which then causes the pancreas to produce even more insulin, and so the vicious circle begins. Insulin resistance causes the way the body works to change, and other health problems can soon occur such as high blood pressure and cholesterol problems , which can lead to metabolic syndrome . Metabolic syndrome can easily lead to diabetes if the level of glucose in the blood gets high enough and the insulin producing cells in the pancreas become exhausted and can no longer produce the high levels of insulin required.
Sugar As A Rocket Fuel
The human body is designed to run on fat as it’s main energy source, just like a car runs on petrol, so having a range of unsaturated and saturated fats in the diet is healthy, despite much publicity to the contrary. It is the trans-fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils found in margarine and some cooking oils that are unhealthy and should be avoided. Fat in food is particularly satisfying, and is good at reducing hunger, so you stay fuller longer. Excess fat in the diet is stored as body fat.
The body can also use carbohydrate from the diet as an energy source, but it acts a bit like rocket fuel giving a quick, but dangerous, energy boost. Such an energy boost has a biological advantage. When we are frightened or stressed glucose is released from the small stores of glycogen in the liver and muscles triggered by the release of adrenaline or cortisol. This was important for man’s survival on the planes of Africa, where we originated. We needed this boost from our rocket fuel to run away from anything that wanted to eat us. However, our bodies still work in exactly the same way, though the things we get frightened or stressed about are different. Unfortunately, modern anxiety and stress still raise blood glucose levels, which is not good.
Too much glucose rocket fuel in the blood is poisonous, because it is so reactive that it damages some proteins, causing tissue damage. This is what happens in diabetes, where the body is no longer able to effectively remove glucose from the blood.
Cooking And Our Sweet Tooth
However, man has learned to cook food and alter its composition, and cooking breaks down some of the complex carbohydrates into simpler carbohydrates which are easier to digest. Cooking has been a wonderful invention for releasing carbohydrates from foods that were otherwise hard to digest, especially while man was having to work physically hard to make a living, as it provided the immediate energy to fuel this hard work. Now that few people have to work that hard the energy provided from cooked food isn’t needed in such large amounts, and we are now eating more carbohydrates than we need and the excess is being stored as fat.
Food processing has also changed what we eat, and now many foods are automatically processed to make them store for longer without going off and to be quicker to cook and be more desirable to the western palate. This processing takes away many of the natural nutrients and fibre associated with things like wheat, flour and rice and means that they are more quickly and easily digested. The problem with this is that the carbohydrates are broken down to glucose much quicker during digestion, and this gives rise to surges of glucose in the blood rather than the slow and steady release that the body is designed for.
Man’s natural liking for sweet things has also been catered for as more complex carbohydrates are processed to form simpler carbohydrates to sweeten our food and drinks with sugar, which is often hidden so that we don’t know it is there, such as in baked beans.
Sugary canned and bottled drinks are a big culprit in causing surges in your blood glucose levels, and their widespread popularity is not a healthy sign and should be discouraged. The surges of glucose they produce cause a problem that is typical of a common type of sugar consumption. The large surge in glucose produces a corresponding large surge in insulin to counteract it, and this causes the glucose level to fall quickly as it is taken up by other cells in the body. However the high level of insulin falls more slowly than the glucose level and so the glucose level comes crashing down below the normal resting level. This makes you feel very hungry very quickly and you also feel very low in energy and can’t concentrate. You crave for something sweet to restore the glucose level, and so you reach for another sugary drink or a jam doughnut to feed your hunger. This can lead to what is for all intents and purposes is a sugar addiction.
All calories aren’t created equal! Calorie counting for carbohydrates doesn’t explain why quick digesting carbohydrates have a much greater effect on your blood glucose level and on your weight than slowly digested ones when there are the same number of calories in both. This is one reason why calorie counting isn’t a good way of controlling your weight. This idea has been explored further by measuring the Glycemic Index of foods, which is a measure of how eating the same number of calories affects your blood sugar level.However this can be quite difficult to put these ideas into practice and the Glycemic Load is a much more practical way to use this idea because it looks at how your blood glucose level is affected by eating one portion of a particular food.
Eating regularly through the day helps keep your blood glucose levels under control, and typically having three larger meals with smaller snacks in between is the best sort of pattern.
Skipping breakfast is the worst start you can have to the day, because a healthy breakfast will give you the slow-release energy you need to carry you through the morning until you have a healthy snack mid-morning. Starting the day with a cigarette, a coffee or a can of sugary drink will certainly raise your blood glucose level so you don’t feel hungry, but you will crash mid morning and need another unhealthy quick fix. This is sending all the wrong signals to your body that you are under stress, and will cause you to put on fat around your middle as well as causing other long-term health problems. Other carbohydrates, such as breakfast cereals or toast and marmalade are also a poor start to the day because they soon digest to glucose. A much better srart is to have some protein for breakfast, such as eggs.
Proteins and fats don’t contribute to your blood glucose level and so eating the same number of calories of these as you would of carbohydrate won’t cause you problems with your blood glucose levels. This is one reason why the Atkins Diet works so well, however, it isn’t working in harmony with the healthy way the body should work and can’t be regarded as a healthy option. However eating a portion of protein with every carbohydrate will slow down the absorption of the carbohydrate and reduce the blood sugar fluctuations it causes.
Stimulants such as coffee, tea, tobacco and chocolate also raise blood glucose levels because they release the stress hormone cortisol, and your body’s response to this stress indicator is to prepare for the sudden burst of energy you need for the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, which is your body’s natural caveman reaction to the stress signal. The stress that causes you to release adrenaline has the same effect. The problem is that this glucose won’t be used up by a sudden burst of energy in our modern society, and so the blood sugar will often be taken out of the blood and stored as fat, especially around your middle, which is the most unhealthy way to store fat.