There is a lot of information and advice out there and sometimes we might take that advice and run with it but not really understand why.
A person’s blood sugar levels are a very important indication of overall health. As the average blood sugar level is rising so is the risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, as well as other health problems.
Blood sugar is simply the measurement of the amount of sugar in your blood stream at any one time. It is usually measured as “fasting blood sugar” by a test where your blood is analysed after having not eaten for 8-12 hours.
Normally, your blood glucose levels rise after you eat. When your blood sugar goes up, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin to regulate the amount of sugar in your blood. Insulin moves the sugar from the bloodstream into the cells where it can be used for fuel.
Normally, the human body keeps blood sugar in a very narrow range for good health. This is because constantly high blood glucose levels can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels. Over time, these constantly high blood sugar levels can cause a condition known as insulin resistance, which is when chronically high levels of blood sugar and insulin have caused the body’s mechanism for regulating insulin and blood glucose to fail – because there is so much insulin circulating in the body, the cells become less responsive to it.
At any one time, a normal body has only ONE teaspoon of sugar circulating in the blood. When you drink a can of fizzy drink, or eat a plate of pasta, you are dumping an extra 12 to 15 teaspoons of sugar into your bloodstream in a very short time. Over time, all this extra sugar can do a lot of damage, to both your health and metabolism (weight!)
Whenever insulin is released into the blood stream (in response to a blood sugar level higher than that one teaspoon) it stores the excess sugar in our fat cells, which are all over the body but there are lots more of them found around our mid section, bum, and thighs. And the higher our blood sugar level goes the more sugar there is to be stored as fat.
Keeping your blood sugar low means lowering your intake of carbohydrates. When you eat less of the wrong types of carbs, your body is far more able to keep the levels of sugar in the blood within a normal range. Carbohydrate foods basically turn into sugar once eaten, some turn into sugar instantly and some turn more slowly, providing a nice slow drip feed of energy and keeping the level of sugar in the blood closer to the ideal range.
What exactly are carbohydrate foods and which are best?
The carbohydrate food group refers to a large umbrella of foods, all affecting blood sugar in some way, but very differently depending on what they are. E.g. regular table sugar raises blood sugar levels instantly and high, white bread turns to sugar when its digested and this too happens quite fast, porridge oats break down into sugar more slowly and so drip feeds the sugar so you wont get fast spikes, then vegetables like say broccoli, courgettes and spinach break down very slowly into sugar and in a very low amount, almost having no effect on blood sugar J
So, what we DON’T want to do is eat foods that raise our blood sugar level higher than that one-teaspoon level. That means sticking to the types of carbohydrates that breakdown into sugar slowly, over time. These are known as ‘complex’ carbohydrates, whereas carbs that breakdown quickly into sugar are known as ‘simple’ carbs. Then there are the obvious sugars like regular table sugar, sweets and confectionary, cakes and biscuits etc. These are the ones that will raise blood sugar level to multiple teaspoons.
So ideally we don’t want to consume any added sugar throughout the day, relying only on complex carbohydrates for our (steady and drip fed) glucose/energy supply. Unless you are doing a lot of endurance activity like very long runs or bike rides, in which case your body would need and be able to handle some ‘simple’ sugars as well.
What is fructose and do we get energy from it?
Fructose is a sugar naturally found in fruit, and you can also buy fructose as a white powder. The problem with processed fructose is that it is totally refined and all the goodness and fibre that would be in the fruit isn’t there.
Initially fructose was thought to be a healthy form of sugar, and suitable for diabetics because it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels like glucose or sucrose does. BUT it just other negative effects on your health instead.
Fructose goes straight to your liver, which has to metabolise it, in the same way as alcohol. So it can make you gain weight, increase your appetite and also build up your fat around the middle, nice!
Fructose interferes with your production of hormones like leptin, which should send signal to your brain that you have eaten enough, and fructose can raise levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin, which increases your appetite and has you craving.
Fructose does not supply any energy at all to either your brain or your muscles; it is only stored as fat.
So ‘glucose’ is the ‘sugar’ we need in our blood stream (that one teaspoon) and here is where it should come from in our diet:
- All vegetables especially dark green leafy ones, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, leeks, cabbage, etc etc (go for 6-8 portions a day)
- Root/starchy vegetables like sweet potato, beetroot, parsnips, and carrots
- Whole grains like brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and rye.
- Low sugar fruits like berries, apples and pears (limit to 2 portions per day)
Sources of fructose to AVOID:
- Agave syrup
- Maple syrup (use in moderation as its almost 40% fructose)
- Certain fruits like grapes, figs, dates, and raisins, keep these low and stick to the low fructose fruits already mentioned (berries, apples, pears)
- Fizzy drinks and sweets
Including protein and healthy fat with every meal and snack, and using the above-mentioned good carbs will do wonders for keeping your blood sugar level in check. This is my favourite snack at the moment (and has been for aaages)…
I also love hummus, olives, flaxseed crackers and carrot sticks..
My next blog will be my ultimate sugar alternatives guide, which I hope will help you to reduce your sugar intake and ENJOY the process and FEEL GREAT for it!
Love Francesca x