In our modern society, it’s no secret that we are constantly tempted by carbohydrates. Local coffee shops are often lined with delicious cakes, pastries, and muffins, not to mention the “isle of sin” in our grocery stores. Foods such as fast food and refined packaged foods can also be full of hidden carbohydrates, as well as things like yogurts and soups which have added carbohydrates and sugars for flavour. Even foods that we consider healthy like muesli, some fruits, or even freshly squeezed beetroot and carrot juice can be a huge carbohydrate burden for some hereditary predisposed individuals.
Despite the abundance of these foods in everyday life, our bodies are actually designed to metabolize only small amounts of carbohydrates. It turns out we have an exceptionally limited capacity to store them and therefore any excess amounts of carbohydrates are stored as extra fat.
How do our bodies react to high carbohydrate intake?
Any food high in carbohydrates (high glycemic load) will produce a sharp spike in our blood glucose levels. In order to adjust for this rapid increase, our body releases the hormone insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin then lowers the levels of blood glucose by storing it in the form of fat. So every time we eat a meal high in carbohydrates such as a sandwich, chips or a pizza our insulin levels shoot up in order to manage the high blood sugar and change it into fat.
Each person has a unique insulin response to carbohydrates with many lifestyles and hereditary factors contributing to this individuality. However, people who have high insulin levels on a regular basis are unable to lose weight, burn fat and they often have an unstable blood sugar balance.
When insulin starts to be in constant high production, our bodies begin to store fat even in non-fat areas such as the liver, muscles, pancreas, and between the abdominal organs. This is otherwise known as visceral fat. Recent studies have shown that this kind of fat is stored in the form of ceramides (a specific form of fat) that are found to now cause full-body insulin resistance, further perpetuating the problem.
High insulin also intensifies our hunger levels by pushing blood glucose (our source of energy) into our cells, causing blood sugar to drop. This typically results in a bout of hunger accompanied by cravings for sugar-filled, refined carbohydrates. Feeding these cravings causes our insulin to rise again and the vicious cycle endures!
Every time our blood sugar drops we also become shaky, irritable, and moody, and before we know it we’re reaching for a bar of chocolate. Having unstable blood sugar with the inability to lose weight and low energy levels are the first signs of what is called Insulin Resistance.
Though overwhelming our metabolism with a high intake of carbohydrates is the usual cause of Insulin Resistance, other factors can also play a large contributing role. These include high cortisol and stress, persistent organic pollutants (such as heavy metals, pesticides, preservatives, solvents, etc.), low vitamin D, magnesium and chromium, lack of healthy gut bacteria, a hereditary predisposition for Insulin Resistance and inflammation.
How do we look, feel and suffer from this condition?
An unmistakable symptom is the inability to lose weight, particularly around the abdomen and waistline. This is sometimes accompanied with a wider neck, breast-enlargement in men and acne in a lower part of the face in women. More than 50% of people with unstable blood sugar, high insulin, and Insulin Resistance also report experiencing fatigue, an inability to concentrate and persistent brain fog. This often remains undiagnosed in children and teenagers where our first instinct is to label these symptoms as learning disabilities.
We may be unable to sleep properly, later experiencing depression and sleep apnea. Many individuals also develop triglyceride and cholesterol problems which can lead to things like cardio-metabolic syndrome, heart attacks, high blood pressure and diabetes type 2. At the same time, young women could face premature osteoporosis and infertility. Something so “innocent” as high carbohydrate intake can even result in various cancers. So what starts as an inability to lose weight and sugar cravings can actually have lethal outcomes.
How do we master blood sugar control?
There is no doubt that carbohydrates cause serious damage to our systems and it would be ideal if we could all simply stop eating them. However, as we know it’s not that easy! Once we enter the downward spiral of feeling fatigued, shaky, moody and often depressed, we are usually desperate for our daily “soothing” sweets.
Yet to stop this spiral and lower our insulin, we need to do the exact opposite.
The latest dietary recommendation comes from an integrative and functional medicine stream of thinking whose cutting-edge research emphasizes understanding both the complexity and underlying causes of blood sugar control problems.
So we can rejoice! It turns out that the latest “food plate” which stabilizes blood sugar and allows us to slowly but sustainably lose weight and fight inflammation is actually appealing, colorful and inviting! If we look at the different amounts, our plates should contain 50% of non-starchy vegetables, 25% good-quality free-range protein, 12, 5% healthy fats and 12, 5% low-glycemic vegetables.
Vegans and people who source their protein from plants may find it more difficult to achieve this balance as they often end up using copious amounts of legumes, which are high in carbohydrates, in order to reach their daily protein requirements. (One needs about 9 cups of beans to meet the daily requirements of protein and that is also a lot of starch!) However, under a practitioner’s supervision, they can obtain a suitable nutritional plan by combining things like organic fermented soy, seeds, sprouted nuts, etc., to achieve a good combination of amino acids.
Since blood sugar problems are very difficult to diagnose and manage alone, consulting a functional and integrative medical doctor is a must. Besides dietary changes, they often prescribe additional supplementation to enhance blood sugar control, increase insulin sensitivity, alleviate additional factors such as high cortisol and vitamin depletion. They would also suggest the best research-proven exercise program such as high interval training for better blood sugar control.