Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
The week after Halloween, and I am frustrated of the effects I see in my kids after consuming large amounts of highly processed sugar. The phlegm in their throats, the sneezing, coughing and even a pimple on my childs' baby soft skin. Obviously their bodies are trying to expel the toxins, but the irritability and afternoon crashes are the worst.
What is done is done, and luckily my kids are happily slurping up Bone Broth Tomato Soup because mineral rich broths help replenish the deficiencies in minerals that sugar causes. Now, my only option is to teach them what sugar does to their bodies in hopes that one day they understand that mommy cares about their health and is trying to help them avoid disease. I let them have their Halloween booty but I am always there to point out the ill effects caused by sugar.
Are You Addicted?
Sugar is a drug. It is so addicting, that most people will never come off of it their entire life. According to the USDA statistics, in the 1800's the average sugar consumption was around 10 pounds a year and in 1970 it jumped to 120. Today the average is about 170 pounds of sugar a year. I think it is safe to say we are addicts. Not until you try to exclude sugar from your diet, do you realize it is everywhere, practically unavoidable and highly addicting.
When you read food labels, use this simple math to see how much sugar you are consuming. 5 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar, so a Coke with 39 grams of sugar, has about 8 teaspoons of sugar in it. Even a protein bar with 10 grams of sugar has 2 teaspoons of sugar in it. What you may not realize is that simple carbs also have sugar in the form of glucose. For example, eating one piece of white bread is the equivalent of 5 teaspoons of sugar in the body. Americans are inundating their bodies with sugar.
Blood Sugar Balance
In order to understand how sugar affects the body we must first take a small course in how our bodies were meant to function. For clarification if I write sugar, I am talking about the refined white stuff. If I mention glucose, I am talking about the smaller molecule making up sugar, making up fructose from fruit, sugars from starches, and simple carbs which are all broken down into glucose. The artificial sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup are broken down to glucose even faster; too fast in fact for the human body and should be avoided at all cost.
When we eat, our bodies convert all of the available sugars into glucose for immediate energy. It takes our body about 4 hours to process food and use it as fuel for energy. If our meal had sufficient fat, we should not be hungry again within that time period. Eating 3 meals a day with about 4 hours to process each meal would offer our bodies adequate energy for 12 hours of the day. Our pancreas would secrete an appropriate amount of insulin to absorb the glucose and our liver would be able to process toxins from the food and keep our systems running clean.
If our last meal ended at 7p and we were asleep within 4 hours of processing that meal, our pancreas, adrenals, liver, brain, and muscles would be able to rest completely and the blood sugar would begin to drop. This is actually an important step in our homeostasis that many people do not ever achieve because we eat too late and eat too much sugar. When the blood sugar drops, the pancreas tells the liver to breakdown stored glucose (fat) and release it into the blood to bring the blood sugar level back up. This is a fat burning process which his how our bodies were designed to access slow burning fuel. If however, we eat too much sugar, the body does not burn fat, it just lives off of the sugar high and forces the liver to store and store excess glucose in the form of fat.
Our bodies were designed to raise our blood sugar in the event of an emergency; we were not designed to lower our blood sugar. The pancreas in this new role is forced to overproduce insulin to account for the massive amounts of glucose and it eventually burns out which is why diabetes has increased right along side our love affair with sugar.
Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
The pancreas and liver should have a good 12 hour fast from our 7p dinner to our 7a breakfast in order to completely balance our blood sugar. However, if the meal was mostly sugar, simple carbs, processed foods and not enough healthy fat to create a long sustainable energy, the blood sugar will spike very high and then the pancreas will over compensate and pump insulin like crazy to help bring the blood sugar back down. The downward crash is often too low and this takes more than the pancreas to help the liver bring the blood sugar back up to normal. Very high levels of sugar, for example, a bowl full of Halloween candy, or a bowl of cereal with non-fat milk will burn too fast within the body spiking blood sugar and giving a "high" that we cannot resist. The drop 4 hours later however, is severe and the pancreas recruits the adrenals for back up.
The adrenals create cortisol as they do for every emergency in the body, whether you are running from bear, or eating a bowl of candy. That cortisol stimulates the quick response energy in the body and you feel jittery, the heart beat races, the respiratory rate increases and blood is drawn away from the brain making you irritable. We sometimes call this "hangry", when you are angry-hungry and it is not a natural state. It is a symptom of disease, known as hypoglycemia or really low blood sugar. If the adrenals are called into action in the middle of the night, it will be enough stimulation to wake you up out of a deep sleep. Waking up at night from sugar excess is also a symptom of hypoglycemia. The blood sugar should never spike so high that it triggers an overproduction of insulin which then drops the blood sugar so low it needs to recruit the adrenals to send in the big guns. Cortisol from the adrenals was intended for emergencies only.
Too often people feel "hangry" and instead of an intervention, they feed the sugar addiction. Have you ever craved an afternoon pick me up? Instead of allowing our body to regain homeostasis naturally, we crave immediate stimulation. Coffee and a cake will increase the spikes and drops of the blood sugar roller coaster. What we can do instead is try to focus on eating enough protein and healthy fats in our meals to satiate us for at least 4 hours. Skip the empty carbs, processed protein bars, and sugary treats. If you do choose simple carbs like bread, pasta, and even fruit or vegetables, make sure to weigh them down with enough healthy fat to slow down the absorption of all of that sugar.
One of my favorite quotes regarding adding fats to carbs is by Julia Child. She says you should always eat your vegetables with as much butter as they will hold. Cheers to Julia, to her wisdom and to her good taste.