I’m a big believer in balance. I follow the many principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and practice the art of balance with my clients. One of the most important things to keep in balance is your blood sugar levels. The average American starts their day with a bagel, a muffin, pancakes, waffles or sugary cereal. So right off the bat we’ve elevated our blood sugar levels too high before we even walk out the door. What goes up, must come down…If those are the things you’re eating for breakfast, no wonder you’re grabbing another cup of coffee by 10am or feel the need for a nap! Your blood sugar was spiked and 2 hours later, it’s plummeting…
Eating too much sugar or refined carbohydrates is only one possible cause for your blood sugar metabolism to be out of whack.
Here are a few other ways:
- eating high glycemic foods
- thyroid concerns
- surplus stress
- excess or deficient release of the hormone insulin
- impaired cell receptivity
- under or overactive adrenal glands
- compromised liver health
- and many more…
In this post, I’d like to concentrate on what you’re eating since this is near and dear to my heart, so let’s do a quick review of your food, digestion and absorption.
Your digestive system includes your mouth, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, liver and gallbladder. Imagine that each one of those organs is involved when you bite into your morning bagel and cream cheese. It’s the chemical makeup of the food, along with the health of your digestive organs and your unique microbial makeup, that determine how long your food lingers in each organ or phase of digestion. For instance, carbohydrates remain in the stomach for just a few hours, proteins stick around longer and foods containing fats will be the last to leave the stomach. (By the way, the more damaging types of fats will sit around the longest; well overstaying their welcome.)
Carbohydrates are the foods that break down to simple sugars. (Just FYI – all carbohydrates will turn to sugar eventually in the body.) There are complex carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates but for the purpose of this example let’s just take a look at what happens ‘in general’ when we eat carbohydrates and the end result as they move into your bloodstream and raise your blood sugar levels. (Which, by the way is a necessary and natural act of human metabolism if managed and kept in check!)
Here’s what it looks like when you eat a bagel: (stick with me, a bit of science…)
- You take a bite
- Your salivary glands release enzymes as you chew
- The enzymes break down the carbohydrates into smaller molecular bits that move down the esophagus and into the stomach
- The stomach releases gastric juices to further digest the bagel molecules
- Digestive juices are secreted by the pancreas and gallbladder to continue the breakdown of the carbohydrate molecules in the small intestine
- The bagel molecules are now small and simple enough to be absorbed through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream where they become blood sugar. (The bagel has been mechanically and chemically broken down to glucose.)
- And the journey then continues through the liver, where some is stored, and some is released, to be taken up by the cells for food and fuel.
Sounds pretty simple, right? So how do things go wrong?
Our body does need sugar in order to function. To understand what sugar really is and what kind our body needs, you first need to understand the basics about carbohydrates. There are two distinctly different types of carbohydrates – simple/refined and complex.
The simple-refined carbs will raise our blood sugar instantly while the complex carbs allow a more slow and gradual rise. And you may not realize this, but there are NO essential carbohydrates. There are essential fats (omega-3’s) and essential proteins (amino acids), but if your body never had any carbohydrates again, you would survive.
The human brain only needs 1-2 teaspoons of sugar a day to function properly, which believe it or not, can be obtained from proteins and fats alone since the body can convert these to sugar. That is correct, just 1-2 teaspoons a day! Many people are getting upwards of 75-90 teaspoons a day. That’s where it all starts to go wrong. m not saying we should not consume carbohydrates, but the truth is we need very little for proper brain function, so becoming mindful of what you eat is one of the first steps to optimal health.
The foods we eat then become important in order to give us a proper supply of fuel to the brain. Although they are not ‘essential’, carbohydrates are the energy–producing nutrients our bodies need. They are the best provider of glucose, a fuel our muscles need for get-up-and-go and the fuel our brain needs for clear thinking and steady behavior. So, eating more complex carbohydrates is the best way to go. That includes all vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole, intact grains. This should make up the main part of your everyday diet. It’s when we start to overload with simple/refined carbohydrates that our blood sugar levels go crazy. These should be kept to a minimum and everything in moderation, of course. A complete list of refined carbohydrates is way too long but basically, I broke it down as best I could:
- Most breads
- Many crackers
- Breaded or battered foods
- All types of dough (phyllo, pie crust, etc.)
- Most cereals except for unsweetened, 100% whole grain or gluten free cereals
- Most pastas, noodles and couscous
- Most desserts except whole fruit
Do the above make up the main stay of your diet? Uh oh….
Next week’s article will give you more insight into the foods you could substitute to manage your blood sugar levels better. I would love to hear your comments on how you are managing your blood sugar levels.