Sugar is essential for life, but chronically elevated blood sugar leads to a host of health problems (see the recent post “What About Blood Sugar” http://solutionsnaturopathiccare.com/2012/03/06/what-about-blood-sugar/). Luckily, diet has a huge impact on blood sugar. What we eat and how we eat it can make the difference between health and disease. There are three major ways to lower blood sugar with diet – reduce the consumption of simple sugars, reduce the consumption of complex carbohydrates and slow the digestion of complex carbohydrates.
To understand how the foods we eat affect blood sugar it is important to understand the difference between simple sugars and complex carbohydrates. Most of the sugar in our blood is a specific type of sugar called glucose*. In its simple form (a single molecule) glucose is found in fruits and vegetables and in concentrated sweeteners like sugar or honey. Complex carbohydrates (aka starches) are long chains of glucose molecules. They are found in a variety of foods including rice, pasta, and potatoes. When complex carbohydrates are digested the chains are broken and glucose is released.
Simple sugars are absorbed quickly; it takes very little time for them to enter the blood stream and raise blood sugar. Because complex carbohydrates need to be broken down before they can be absorbed, they enter the blood stream more slowly. Certain foods slow the digestion of complex carbohydrates when they are eaten at the same time. These are foods rich in fats, proteins and fiber. There are many benefits to delaying carbohydrate digestion. The energy released from the food is slow and steady. Because food stays in the stomach longer hunger is abated and there are no sharp rises in insulin leading to increased fat production .
Here are some examples.
- A soda (or fruit juice) has lots of concentrated simple sugars. These will be absorbed quickly and cause the blood sugar to rise quickly.
- A bowl of brown rice will be digested fairly quickly and will cause blood sugar to rise ~ 1-2 hours after eating.
- A bowl of brown rice that is eaten with a piece of chicken or fish and some olive oil will be digested slowly over ~ 3-4 hours. The sugar from the rice will be absorbed over a long period of time and there will not be a sharp rise in blood sugar.
Eating in a balanced way can lead to sustained energy and facilitate weight loss. Most importantly, keeping blood sugar level and low can help to prevent numerous health problems. Don’t miss the recipes in next weeks post!
*There are two other types of simple sugars – fructose and galactose. These are metabolized somewhat differently than glucose. In order to keep things simple and clear we will not be discussing them in today’s post.