Sugar is a Big Deal. Everywhere you look people are talking about it, quitting it, praising it and ‘eating it in moderation’.
But what started our obsession with sugar? And when did quitting sugar become so mainstream?
Well, if we hark back to the dim dark distant past of the 80’s, 90’s and even Naughties, you’ll remember that fat was demonised (more in my post here). While fat was being pushed out of our diets, food manufacturers were sneaking in something else to make sure their foods still tasted palatable and their sales didn’t shrink. This of course, was sugar. Or high-fructose corn syrup, or sucrose, or dextrose, or barley malt… you get the picture.
Fast forward to today, and we have crazy amounts of added sugar in our daily diet; the ABS stats from 2012 show we eat on average 60g of added sugar per day, or 22kg of added sugar a year. This is a huge increase from the World Health Organisation’s recommendation to reduce the the intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake, further suggesting an optimal reduction of the intake of added sugars to below 5% of total energy intake. In an average adult 5% equates to about 6 teaspoons a day – just so you know.
With excess sugar consumption now being so closely linked to diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, there has never been such a critical emergency to lower blood sugar across the general population.
Blood sugar dysregulation impacts on every aspect of the body; our energy, the growth and integrity of body tissues, hormonal balance, and brain health are all impacted by blood sugar imbalance.
But what does blood sugar dysregulation actually mean?
The regulation of our blood sugar depends on a whole host of hormones that are running through our body – but the main one we’re going to talk about here is insulin.
When we eat sugar (including all carbohydrates), the level of glucose (meaning sugar) in our blood rises; however our body needs to maintain homeostasis (normality) and get the glucose levels under control, so our pancreas releases insulin to bring the blood glucose levels down – it does this by shuttling the glucose into the liver and muscles for storage. Now that our blood sugar has been restored to normal, we can relax and go about our normal day and bodily functions… until the next meal when it happens all over again.
What food causes blood sugar imbalance?
Now, if I’m eating a balanced whole foods diet with plenty of protein and good fats, then the level of sugar from carbs will be low to moderate, and the amount of insulin released will be easily handled by the body.
If, on the other hand, I’m eating processed cereals for breakfast, fruit and flavoured yoghurt for morning tea, a sandwich for lunch, followed by a chocolate bar and coffee to get me through the afternoon, and then a big plate of pasta for dinner… wholey insulin overdrive!
In this case the pancreas has to do a lot of work to keep pumping out high levels on insulin to get the blood sugar down to maintain homeostasis in the body. And while it can do this pretty efficiently over short periods of time, in the case of prolonged exposure to high levels of sugar the pancreas can actually fail to produce enough insulin to control the blood sugar. This then leads us to a downward spiral of high blood sugar, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
Image copyright 2016 Nutritional Therapy Association.
The other hormone that’s pretty important in the blood sugar roller-coaster is glucagon. Glucagon is produced by the pancreas to maintain homeostasis when blood sugar is too low. So why does blood sugar drop soo low when we’ve just had a carb-fest? Well insulin did a pretty good job of shuttling away all that glucose into the liver and muscles, and now there is not enough circulating blood sugar, so when levels get too low the pancreas pumps out glucagon so that the liver will release some of the glucose (energy) stores.
Now you may think with all the insulin and glucagon that the body is doing a pretty good job of maintaining homeostasis – and it is; to an extent. But if you’ve ever felt sleepy after a meal, struggled to get going without a morning coffee, and relied on caffeine and sweet treats at you morning and afternoon breaks, then there is a good chance you are suffering some degree of blood sugar dysregulation.
So why bother getting your blood sugar under control? Well aside from the fact that you may want to avoid disease and chronic illness, in the short term sorting out your blood sugar levels can lead to:
- increased energy;
- better focus and mental clarity;
- you’ll be a happier human;
- you will sleep better;
- your skin will be clearer;
- and you may even be able to help balance hormonal dysfunction issues like irregular or missing periods, PCOS and infertility.
What foods do you eat to keep you blood sugar stable? Are there particular foods that give you spikes and crashes? Leave you comments below.