In the previous posts in this series: Why All Calories Are NOT Equal, we discussed the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) and the Satiety Index. If you haven't read those yet, you can check them out here:
Today we're chatting all about the importance of regulating blood sugar, insulin, and glycemic variability.
Let's dive in!
While it's fun for a few minutes (or at least it used to be when I was a kid), riding rollercoasters is definitely not something most of us would enjoy doing every day, all day. It would get pretty exhausting and probably lead to a major puke party (is that a thing?...well, now it is lol).
Anyways, the point is that being in a constant state of up and down motion is probably not ideal, especially when it comes to how your body is regulated on a daily basis.
If you're hungry every 2-3 hours, have trouble focusing, experience mood swings throughout the day, struggle to fall asleep (or stay asleep) at night, or battle with cravings and low energy levels, you're probably strapped into the blood sugar roller coaster ride, and it may be time to think about getting off...
Foods that are high in sugar/carbs, processed, and refined, are digested and absorbed quickly, leading to rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.
When you eat a food that spikes blood sugar fast, it tends to lead to a crash in blood sugar a few hours later. When that happens, you get cravings and hunger strikes again causing you to want to eat more.
This is one of the main reasons why following a low-carb or keto diet is so powerful for appetite and energy stabilization and weight loss.
By decreasing your carb intake, you decrease the amount of glucose (sugar) coming into your body and therefore decrease the amount of blood sugar and insulin spikes and dips throughout the day.
This is important because it also suppresses the need for a constant release of insulin.
Insulin is the hormone that basically tells your body to ‘store things.’
Now, before we get into exactly how insulin works, one thing I want to make sure you understand (and something that gets misinterpreted A LOT) is that insulin itself is not the bad guy. We need insulin to live.
But, the issue that we’re seeing in our modern society that has contributed to the rise in obesity and other diseases is something called insulin resistance.
Over 32% of the U.S. population has this condition and what’s even scarier is that many people with insulin resistance are unaware they have it until they develop diabetes or other serious, chronic conditions.[*][*]
Carbohydrates, yes even the ‘heart-healthy’ complex ones such as whole grains, fruits, beans, potatoes, etc., are turned into sugar (or glucose) when consumed. This causes our blood sugar levels to rise and signals our pancreas to release insulin.
Insulin is needed to shuttle the sugar out of our blood and into our cells.
Did you know our bodies are only meant to handle a teaspoon (about 4 grams) of sugar in the bloodstream at one time?? Yes, I said A TEASPOON!
Insulin is sometimes referred to as the ‘fat-storage hormone,’ because whenever insulin is around, it tells our body to store energy rather than use it. Once our muscle and liver cells are filled to capacity with sugar (also referred to as our ‘glycogen stores’) the remaining sugar is stored in our fat cells.
The underlying problem with a high-carb diet is that our pancreas is overworked when we continuously demand it to release insulin.
Eventually, the pancreas stops releasing adequate amounts of insulin to keep up with the continual rise in blood sugar and our cells start to become resistant to the insulin that is produced. This causes a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream and eventually contributes to the development of Type 2 diabetes, an epidemic plaguing our society today. [*][*][*][*][*]
Additionally, insulin resistance can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and many other chronic diseases and disorders. [*]
The bottom line: we want to make sure our bodies are not on the path to insulin resistance and rather working towards becoming more insulin sensitive, a process that occurs when we do not rely on carbohydrates as our main fuel source.
Not at all! But, the degree to which insulin sensitivity improves and remains long-term is highly dependent on the individual.
Factors such as physical activity and general metabolic health (particularly the duration that someone was previously insulin resistant) play a role in their level of carbohydrate tolerance and degree of metabolic flexibility.
I chat ALL about metabolic flexibility in this post Metabolic Flexibility > 24/7 Ketosis.
But, remember this…
No matter your degree of insulin sensitivity or metabolic flexibility, everyone should probably avoid eating ‘naked carbs.’ This just means that when you do eat carbs, you should always pair them with a protein and/or fat source (and maybe some exercise) to prevent high glycemic variability.
Another factor that plays into the importance of regulating blood sugar levels is known as glycemic variability, or the degree of fluctuation in your blood glucose levels throughout the day.[*]
Having high glycemic variability, or bouts of high glucose and low glucose throughout the day can lead to damaging something in your body called the glycocalyx.[*]
The glycocalyx is a thick, gel-like layer that covers the outside of many of our cells. It’s composed of strands of sugars and proteins bound together that results in a thick, sticky layer that helps our cells stay put in environments with lots of physical stress.
When you have constant spikes or peaks in your blood glucose levels, it causes damage to the glycocalyx [*][*][*] and can lead to vascular dysfunction and increased susceptibility to atherothrombosis, the leading cause of cardiovascular death.[*]
And on top of the physical damage that occurs, high glycemic variability has been shown to cause emotional distress, negative mood, and lower quality of life.[*]
This is also why people tend to see improvements in energy and mood when following a low-carb or keto diet. Because fat and ketones provide a readily available source of fuel and help stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels in your body, you don’t have those constant dips and spikes in these levels throughout the day. This leads to a higher, yet stable energy level and enhanced mood all day long.[*][*][*]
So now that we understand the consequences of riding the blood sugar roller coaster day in and day out, I think it's easy to see why all calories (especially when it comes to refined/processed carbohydrates) are NOT created equal.
Stay tuned for Reason #4 coming up soon!