Blood Sugar

Sickly Sweet

In the body, all carbohydrates are broken down into sugar.  When you eat foods high in carbohydrates, the body uses enzymes to break them down into their smallest usable components: glucose, fructose and galactose.  The sugars are absorbed into the blood stream so they can be delivered to the body’s cells for energy.  Sugar cannot enter the cells to make energy without the help of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and is the key that unlocks the door allowing sugar into the cells. Type I diabetics have lost their ability to make their own insulin. Without insulin injections they cannot survive because their cells will starve.

The body tightly regulates blood sugar.  When blood sugar is too low, a hormone (glucagon) signals the liver to release sugar stored in the form of glycogen while adrenaline is secreted to increase appetite, mobilize stored sugar and motivate us to eat. The brain is completely dependent on sugar for fuel. In hypoglycemia, these hormones (glucagon and adrenaline) are released to protect the brain and tell your body to find an energy source fast. In contrast, if your blood sugar is too high then insulin is released to mobilize sugar into cells and store the excess as glycogen or in fat stores.

Unfortunately, this controlled process can go ‘terribly’ wrong.  A diet high in carbohydrates places additional stress on the system resulting in the over secretion of insulin. Excess amounts of insulin rapidly lowers blood sugar and causes symptoms of hypoglycemia including dizziness, nausea, fatigue, irritability, hunger and headaches. In severe situations, seizures, coma and death can result which are associated with over-injecting insulin in diabetics.

Over time increased insulin levels promote weight gain and insulin resistance. In the case of insulin resistance, the cells become desensitized to insulin, requiring additional amounts from the pancreas to achieve the same effect.  Eventually the overworked pancreas leads to Type II diabetes as the blood sugar constantly remains elevated and therefore unable to enter the cells. Uncontrolled blood sugar results in widespread damage over time. Blood vessels become sugar coated causing damage to the eyes, kidneys and cardiovascular system.

Glycemic Index & Glycemic Load

The type of carbohydrates you eat can have an effect on your blood sugar. Some foods are broken down more slowly and have a more gradual effect on the blood sugar. Those are foods typically higher in fiber like beans or higher in fat like dairy. Usually refined foods like white pasta or bread require very little effort to break down and blood sugar rises rapidly. The glycemic index grades foods based on how fast they increase blood sugar levels.  Foods high on the glycemic index rapidly raise blood sugar levels and low glycemic foods do not. On the glycemic index anything scoring 55 or lower is considered a low glycemic food, while anything scoring 70 or above is considered high on the glycemic index. The glycemic load then takes the glycemic index and multiplies it by the quantity of the carbohydrates in the food. This gives a more accurate prediction of how high the blood sugar will rise after eating a certain food. A glycemic load of less than 10 is considered low while more than 20 is considered high.

pastedGraphic.png

Please see http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm for a more comprehensive list. Note: Although a particular food may have a low Glycemic index or load, keep in mind the number of calories in a serving.

References:

  1. T B. Nutritional biochemistry. Academic Pr; 1999
  2. AR G. Nutritional Medicine. Concord NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing;  2011
  3. JE P, MT M. Textbook of natural medicine. Churchill Livingstone; 2006
  4. R T. The glycemic-load diet: A powerful new program for losing weight and reversing insulin resistance. McGraw-Hill; 2006