Dis-regulated blood sugar is a major issue in this country (and many others!). It is at the root of many health issues and never before have humans had the need to reduce blood sugar like we do now. Managing your blood sugar is of utmost importance if you have any desire to lose weight, increase energy and fight fatigue, decrease brain fog, reduce anxiety or depression, and/or optimize your brain function. It is especially important if you’re looking to avoid diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s (yes, Alzheimer’s Disease IS related to blood sugar!)
Type 2 diabetes, by the way, has tripled in the last 30 years. Heart disease remains the number 1 killer, and Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US. That all sounds pretty gloomy (rightfully so), but the thing is, we actually CAN take steps to protect ourselves and loved ones from these diseases!
And if you aren’t necessarily worried about any of those conditions but just feel like you don’t have the energy you used to have, or you feel like if you even look at a muffin you gain weight, then this info is for you as well.
We are constantly stressing our bodies with too much sugar and it is taking a huge toll on our health.
Let me very briefly explain how blood sugar regulation is supposed to work.
Our bodies are always trying to maintain homeostasis, or balance, particularly when it comes to our blood. When we eat, our body breaks down the food into smaller molecules. Some of that (or most of it, depending on what you’re eating) gets broken down into sugar and is released into our blood stream. This increases our blood sugar levels.
In response, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin which you can think of as a key. Imagine that the cells in your muscles and tissues have a lock, and insulin is the key that opens that lock. In order for the glucose (blood sugar) to get into the cell to be used for energy, the cell first has to be unlocked. So it is insulin that allows glucose into the cell to be used as energy. This is a normal process that happens after eating. Our blood sugar should gently rise as we eat a meal of carbs, fats, and protein, and then gently start to fall as the glucose gets taken into the cells.
Between meals the pancreas produces another hormone that gently raises blood glucose levels so that things stay nice and stable in our blood, and therefore our body. There is a gradual rise and fall in normal blood sugar levels throughout the day, staying below upper limits and above lower limits like this nice little wavy line:
Problems arise when our blood sugar starts dipping too low or going too high. Both are a stress on the body. When we have too much sugar (or food that quickly turns to sugar) our blood sugar increases very quickly. This requires a big response from insulin to try to get that glucose into the cell.
One issue with this is that our cells only need so much glucose. When the cells of our tissues get filled up, the excess glucose has to get stored somewhere so it gets stored as fat.
When the body is getting more glucose than it needs there is NO reason for us to burn body fat. Only when insulin and blood sugar are under control will the body be able metabolically to tap into fat stores for energy.
So, in order to become fat-burning machines, we need to make dietary choices that are going to help keep our blood sugar levels stable. High carbohydrate diets – specifically ones high in refined carbs (breads, pastas, cereals, muffins, bagels, cookies, candies, chips, etc.) send a huge sugar rush into our blood that must be used for energy or stored away. Now if we were moving all day and really active that would be one thing (from a blood sugar standpoint – those foods are still devoid of nutrients), but we generally are not that active compared to the amount of sugar/refined carbohydrates we consume.
If you rely mostly on vegetables, some fruits, some whole grains*, nuts, and seeds as your sources of carbohydrates, you will be doing your body a HUGE favor by allowing your blood glucose to level out and avoid the spikes and dips. You’ll experience better energy, a clearer mind, better sleep, and overall better health in addition to weight loss, if that is a goal for you.
*whole grains are not a necessary part of a healthy diet. If you’re active and metabolically healthy then they’re likely not a problem. If you’re struggling to lose weight or have any blood sugar or metabolic issues, grains in general are not going to be your best option. In that case, stick with mostly vegetables for your carbohydrates!