Yesterday I looked at how one of the main factors influencing our constant desire for sugar and sweet things was the level of our blood sugar. Eating something sweet is quickly digested and converted into blood glucose to provide energy. The high level of sugar in the blood causes the pancreas to produce insulin to get the glucose to the body's cells where it can be used for energy or stored as fat. This then causes the blood glucose levels to drop low. It is here that we may get irritable, tired, headachey and hungry, feeling the need for a sweet treat to help us keep going. It is not just sweet foods that cause this peak and trough, but also refined grains, which convert to glucose rapidly once digested. The foods that quickly affect the blood glucose levels are known as High Glycaemic foods.
Not only may we experience symptoms in the short time, but sugar and refined food intake now is so continual, the pancreas can easily become exhausted and unable to produce sufficient insulin, leaving too much sugar circulating in the blood, potentially leading to type 2 diabetes. Alternatively, insulin resistance may develop, where the body is unable to properly use the insulin that is produced.
Sugar consumption also affects weight of course. If energy requirements are not sufficient to use all the glucose in the blood, the excess is stored in the liver and muscles, ready to be used for energy at a later time. However, once the body's stores are full, any excess glucose will be stored as fat.
So how do we eat in a way that will keep levels of glucose in the blood balanced?
By ensuring that we are eating a balance of about 40% protein (fish, lean meat and pulses) and 60% complex carbohydrates ( mainly from vegetables with some unrefined grains) glucose will be released into the blood in a much more controled way, lessening the demand on the pancreas to produce insulin and decreasing the amount of glucose that has to be stored in the body. Foods that have only a small impact on blood sugar levels are called Low Glycaemic Foods. Choosing a breakfast that includes protein rather than a sugary cereal will release glucose into the blood steadily throughout the morning, instead of causing a quick lift, only to drop very low after a couple of hours, causing you to reach for that chocolate busicuit or energy drink.
Breakfast ideas include adding some chopped nuts or seeds to an unsweetened, oat-based muesli; natural yogurt topped with some wheatgerm and seeds; a poached egg with grilled tomatoes and whole rye bread.
If you begin to feel hungry or tired mid morning reach for a little pot of natual yogurt, some oatcakes with low fat cream cheese or some carrot sticks with humus. These will all continue to cause a steady release of glucose into the blood, encouraging energy and minimising the risk of excess glucose being stored as fat.
Tomorrow I will consider some lunch ideas to support blood sugar balance.