A typical modern diet, which is often high in refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cakes and sweets, plays havoc with the body’s blood sugar levels. If you carry extra weight around your waste, feel fatigued after meals, experience sugar/carb cravings, suffer from increased inflammation or have high blood pressure, it might be time to rethink your eating habits.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to Zimbabwe and Cape Town to celebrate my 60th birthday. Zimbabwe had its challenges; fuel was in very short supply and cash was non-existent, so a friend kindly leant us a bank card to use during our stay. Despite the unexpected challenges, we were lucky to see lots of game, catch plenty of fish and create some very special family memories. But as normal life returns, so has my sweet tooth! My body is now craving more of the yummy treats I enjoyed whilst away. This month, I’m going to talk about why this is and how to get things back on track.
What happens when blood sugar levels spike
Our entire hormone system works in unison like an orchestra, circulating chemical messages throughout the body. Too many refined carbohydrates cause blood sugar (glucose) levels to spike, dramatically affecting the hormonal balance.
The pancreas responds by releasing insulin. This helps the body utilise glucose by enabling it to bind with receptor sites (protein) on the surface of our cells; a bit like a key that fits into a lock. Once the insulin has unlocked the door, the glucose can pass from the bloodstream into the cells where it’s used for energy. Any excess is stored in the liver and muscles as fat.
With every high comes a low
A few hours after a high-carb meal, blood sugar levels can suddenly drop. Adrenaline kicks in to release some of the stored glucose from the liver and muscles back into the bloodstream. This helps reset the balance. It can make you feel shaky, moody and crave carbs, so you’re likely to eat more of what caused the problem in the first place. And so the cycle continues.
So the more refined carbohydrates you eat, the more insulin is released, and over time your cells become desensitised. In other words, the key won’t turn the lock. This is called insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome and can lead to a number of health issues, including type 2 diabetes. Additionally, high insulin levels speed up the ageing process, and we certainly don’t need any help with that!
Kath’s tips on balancing your blood sugars
- Enjoy whole fresh produce, especially low-glycaemic foods such as vegetables and pulses, as they take longer to digest and control blood sugar levels. You can’t beat traditional home cooking!
- Fibre-rich foods slow down the absorption of sugar. Artichokes, leafy greens, root vegetables, pulses, rolled oats, nuts and seeds are particularly good.
- Try to limit packaged foods, as they often contain added sugar.
- Always read the label – seemingly healthy foods (such as a jar of pickles) often contain hidden sugars.
- Avoid adding sugar (including sweeteners, which have the same effect on insulin) to food and drink. Try cinnamon instead, it’s a great sugar balancer.
- If you feel an urge coming on, drink a glass of water.
- If you really can’t resist, combine your sugar fix with nuts or protein, as this will help balance blood sugar levels.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. When you’re tired, healthy intentions are likely to go out the window just to get you through the day.
- Try the 80/20 rule (eat well 80% of the time, and allow 20% for treats). I enjoy the occasional slice of cake, and I believe we can treat ourselves once in a while. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but do listen to your body.
If you’re really struggling, book in to come and see me. I can give you some ideas and techniques tailored to what your body needs.