“It’s not your DNA. It’s your dinner.”
– Dr. Mark Hyman
Welcome to another deep-dive into one of the six foundations of nutritional therapy: blood sugar regulation. While all foundations are critical to overall health, I feel this one is extra critical because most people, whether you want to admit it or not, are under the hypnotic influence of sugar. And that is having profound effects on our health and quality of life.
Is Sugar Really That Bad?
In short, yes it is. Not only does it give us a dopamine hit, like drugs or alcohol, it throws our body chemistry completely out of wack. And the majority of folks load up on sugar throughout the day so the body has no time to recover. It’s constantly trying to regulate itself, with hormones being released all over the place, and this takes a heavy toll.
In the 1800’s, we used to consume 22.4 grams of sugar per day. In the 1900’s that jumped to 112 grams per day. And in the 2000’s, it’s estimated we eat 227 grams per day!1 The U.S. alone has witnessed an 800% increase in diabetes rates since 19602. You can get off this bus. Here’s what to avoid:
- Candy – especially the straight sugar stuff that doesn’t include nuts or protein. Things such as gummies, licorice, sour candies, jelly beans, etc…
- Cereal – 90% of the garbage on the grocery shelf produces huge glucose spikes. Think about this for a minute: kids eat this stuff before school (usually with orange juice too!) and we wonder why they can’t focus in school and are so tired!
- Some fruits & veggies – bananas, grapes, corn-on-the-cob, sweet potatoes. Dress these guys up with protein or fat, like organic goat yogurt and chia seeds with the fruit and mix smaller portions of the vegetables with other ingredients (like a sweet potato and egg hash).
- Juice – it’s really liquid sugar and is in no way part of a ‘nutritious breakfast.’ That’s marketing for ya. Instead, eat the whole fruit so you get that much needed fiber.
- Energy bars – many of them produce glucose spikes even higher than a candy bar.
- White foods – white bread, bagels, english muffins, donuts, pastries. Choose sourdough or rye or grain-free, always adding protein, fat and fiber to it.
What Happens in Our Body
When a person ingests sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, crackers, cookies, candy, pastries, etc..) their body converts the glucose to energy. But if you over do it, your cells can’t convert the excess. Instead, they respond by releasing free radicals, which cause damage all through the body. The body’s response is inflammation, and chronic inflammation leads to chronic disease.
The other big issue with sugar is hormonal chaos. When your glucose levels are out of wack, and your insulin levels spike, there is a cascading hormonal effect: acne, fatigue, weight gain, mood changes, night sweats, facial hair growth on women, thinning hair, breast growth on men. All side effects of too much sugar.
What Should You Eat?
The amazing thing about your body is that it is a chemical organism and you have the opportunity to change your blood sugar every hour of the day. Simple things you wouldn’t think affect blood sugar, like how and when you eat sugar, can have dramatic effects. Here’s some tips to guide you:
- Combine carbohydrates with fat and protein. For instance, if you eat an apple, add almond butter or cheese to it. Need a piece of dark chocolate? Eat some nuts too.
- Eat starch towards the end of the meal. So if you have roast chicken, green beans and potatoes for dinner, eat the green beans and chicken first, then finish with the potatoes.
- Eat protein & fat for breakfast. Things like eggs, avocados, greek yogurt, low-fruit smoothies, grain-free toast with almond butter.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates as much as possible. Focus on a properly-prepared, whole food diet.
What you eat is incredibly important but it’s one piece of the blood sugar puzzle. Walking right after meals helps reduce glucose spikes also and increases your metabolism. Nothing crazy, just 10 minutes around the block or move your body in the house.
Also stay hydrated. Many times people mistake thirst for hunger and reach for something less than nutritious.
When Did Things Get So Out of Hand?
I may be dating myself, but I can remember when ‘treats’ were in fact, treats. There were three holidays I looked forward to each year for pure sugar bliss: Halloween, Xmas, and Valentines Day. But even on those festive days, my sugar intake was limited so I wouldn’t over due it and barf. Especially on Halloween, candy was doled out a few pieces at a time in my lunch, so I usually had treats for a month.
I grew up with my grandparents and my grandma was an excellent cook and baker. She would make cookies (from scratch, of course) and on very special occasions, a cake or pie. I never got a morsel of those though, until I ate dinner. Chips were also doled out in a single serving with lunch. I laugh thinking about it now, those 6-7 chips next to my sandwich, but Grandma was the gatekeeper. And ya know what? I don’t remember wanting or needing more than that. She would have never allowed me to have Frappuccino’s, ice cream, candy, or Doritos daily. And thank God she didn’t.
It’s one thing to give yourself or a loved one a treat once in awhile – think birthday cakes, a special celebration, or date night. It’s quite another to do it daily or even multiple times a day. So why do we think it’s ok now? It’s clearly having a catastrophic impact on our health and kids will suffer the most as they age.
When did things change? When did we decide as a society that this was a better way to live? And don’t say because things tastes good or we deserve it. Those are cop outs. A lot of things taste good, like a fresh picked blackberry or a perfectly roasted chicken. Our priorities are as out of wack as our blood sugar. And it’s honesty easier to grab what’s convenient instead of what our body really needs. We know better and we deserve better. And we can do better.
1 National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2017). National Diabetes Statistics Report. hdps://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/ data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf
2 Nutritional Therapy Association. Blood Sugar Regulation. 2021
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