You made it out of the holiday war-zone. Congratulations! You may, however, have some extra “fluff” on display as your Badge of Honor. Between stress and sugar-laden foods, your blood sugar has been on a roller coaster ride that results in hormones that are out of whack, undesired weight gain, and post-holiday blues.
Blood glucose (or blood “sugar”) levels are one of the key contributors to the state of your current weight status, both good and bad. We need blood glucose to survive, so much so, that our liver puts out a large amount of glucose into the bloodstream during fasted states so that we have energy to function. We otherwise obtain glucose from carbohydrate rich foods, such as grains, starches, fruits, dairy, and sugary foods. One would think that simply omitting carbohydrates is the solution to achieving your health goals, but these types of diets can be difficult to sustain without incredible diligence and knowledge on how to navigate. (Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of benefits to low carb “ketosis” diets for certain populations, but be sure to do your homework!)
Carbs aren’t the enemy
Carbohydrates are not the enemy and should account for approximately 30-40% of total calories (give or take depending on your personal situation). Brain function, energy production, hormone regulation and conversion, as well as happiness would be impossible without carbohydrates. Seriously! Carbohydrates help to boost levels of tryptophan in the brain, which is the precursor to serotonin, the “feel good” hormone.
Carbs Tell our Brain “Okay, we are good here!”
Carbohydrates are necessary for signaling to the body that it is in a “fed” state. When we eat, carbohydrates that are broken down to blood sugar/blood glucose (or fuel for the cells), and therefore insulin simultaneously rises. Insulin is an anabolic hormone that allows glucose to get inside the cells. When insulin levels rise, so does another hormone called leptin. Leptin is the hormone secreted by fat cells that says, “Hey! We are fed! You can stop eating now!” If the brain does not get this signal from leptin, it assumes we are starving. Now, sometimes when someone has a blood sugar dysregulation disease or are extremely overweight, one can become “resistant” to the effects of leptin in a phenomenon called Leptin Resistance. That partially explains why obese people still get hungry!
Whether an extreme case of blood sugar dysregulation, like Diabetes, or being a chronic “carb junkie”, having too much blood glucose floating around can hinder your weight management efforts.
Carbohydrates, as mentioned before, are the body’s number one source of “quick energy” because they are almost immediately metabolized into (blood) sugar. When this happens, this creates a “high” in the body with an inevitable and subsequent crash. When we crash, our adrenal glands send signals to provide more blood glucose via the liver so that we can maintain energy levels. While this occurs naturally over and over throughout the day, the effects are exaggerated when we eat refined carbohydrates, such as sugary treats, sweets, and desserts as well as breads, pastas, and other cereal grains and add to the overall load.
The key here with carbohydrates is improving the TYPE you are eating. Just to reiterate: carbohydrates are not the enemy– bad carbohydrates are the enemy.
How Can I Better Manage My Blood Sugar?
Focus on Starchy Vegetables. Complex carbohydrates, such as starches like root vegetables, sweet potatoes, and plantains, are full of ‘prebiotic’ fiber that help to feed your good gut bacteria. Making improvements to your ratio of good gut bacteria versus bad gut bacteria helps you to fight off infection and potentially harmful bacteria, digest your food better, and decrease your incidence of bloating, gas, and heartburn. Aim to include about 1 cup of starchy vegetables at most of your meals. Examples include: squashes, pumpkin, rutabaga, turnips, yucca, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains
Prepare Grains and Legumes Appropriately. Phytic acid is a compound naturally found in grains and legumes that impairs the absorption of vitamin and minerals as well as can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore it is recommended that these be soaked overnight or at least 1-2 hours before preparation. Grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, and millet, and legumes, such as garbanzo beans, pinto beans, and black beans are good options for carbohydrates as long as they are prepared correctly. The naturally occuring anti-nutrient phytic acid, or phytate, is a protective chemical found in plant seeds that allows them to reproduce despite being eaten by humans and animals. Phytic acid impairs the absorption of iron, zinc and calcium, and may promote mineral deficiencies if eaten in excess. (However, deficiencies are rarely a concern in a well-balanced diet with soaked and sprouted grains included a few times per week.)
Manage your Stress. When our body perceives a “stressor”, a hormone called cortisol is produced that puts us into a “fight or flight” mode. Cortisol is necessary for us to effectively manage a potentially dangerous encounter, like running away from a tiger, because it provides us with quick energy and an “adrenaline” boost. Unfortunately, the way we perceive stressful situations, whether from a tiger, traffic, excessive exercise, or inflammatory disease, yields similar chemical reactions in the body. The quick energy burst we get is due to the glucose that is released by the liver to fuel our muscles to get out of harm’s way.
You sense danger –> muscles need energy to run away from danger –> glucose secretion from liver –> stress doesn’t stop –> chronic high blood sugar
Because we are all constantly stressed out, cortisol is constantly high, which means our blood sugar can remain too elevated–even during periods of fasting.
So, take a chill pill and breathe!
A Summary of The Best Type of Carbs include:
Natural Starches: Summer squash, winter squash, sweet potato, white potatoes, taro root, rutabaga, jicama, carrots, and other root vegetables
Fruit: berries, apples, bananas, citrus, tropical fruits, etc. (Try not to over-indulge on fruit. Often times, we adopt a “healthy diet” that is 95% fruit. Not a good idea…Two words: Sugar Bomb.)
Dairy: grass-fed, pasture raised milk products including milk, yogurt, kefir
Grains, Beans, and Legumes: black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, navy beans, quinoa, lentils, amaranth, Jasmine and wild rices, millet, buckwheat, etc.
To read more from Nicole Fennel, a local West University Mom, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Food Sensitivity Specialist, visit her site – Chews Food Wisely