We should all be concerned about insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome X, and diabetes – different names for a health condition in which your blood glucose is elevated above normal levels.
One must understand that blood glucose is one of the most important things to keep within the normal range, and the most current scientific data indicates that keeping it in the lower part of the normal range is better.
Terms like “insulin resistance” and “metabolic syndrome” have been used to describe what is occurring prior to and up to the development of full-blown diabetes, which is when elevated blood glucose starts a cascade of other health problems. For example, with elevated blood glucose, one can develop high blood pressure, an increase in lipids (cholesterol), an increase in weight, and a host of other problems that are far better avoided.
If someone has elevated blood sugar or diabetes, they are at fourfold increased risk of developing heart disease. Why? Because when blood glucose is elevated, insulin (the well-known hormone secreted from the pancreas that helps bring glucose into the body to be utilised as fuel) resistance develops over time because of the continued consumption of highly refined carbohydrates and processed foods (e.g. white bread, white flour tortillas, doughnuts and pastries), highly sweetened snacks (e.g. candy bars) and sugary drinks (e.g. soft drinks), and other triggers that cause inflammation of the pancreatic cells.
This inflammation in turn causes an imbalance whereby the body cannot absorb glucose into its cells, muscles, and organs, and the glucose instead remains in the blood stream. This excess fuel – or energy – that the body cannot use is then converted to fats (both excess weight and elevated lipids/cholesterol).
Additionally, once blood sugar is elevated, there is an increase in the metabolic pathway to convert more omega-6s, triggering more inflammation – not only systemically but also in the internal lining of the arteries – leading to more cholesterol and plaque formation. This plaque formation is the body’s attempt to calm the inflammation initially, but when there is chronic inflammation, the repair becomes a hindrance. This pathway of inflammation and the complications from it become a vicious cycle.
If you obtain most of your calories from highly processed and refined foods, this creates spikes in your blood-glucose levels, and over time your insulin loses the ability to bring it down.
All food has a glucose number, called its glycemic index (GI), which tells how much your blood glucose will rise once you consume that food. White bread is the standard measurement to which other foods are compared, as it has one of the fastest glycemic indices.
White bread and similar highly refined grain foods have been “pre-digested”: The manufacturing process removes the whole-grain and fiber content in addition to other core nutrients. This makes the processed grain product easier to chew, cut, slice and pull apart, and it also increases the rate of absorption and conversion to glucose. As a result, blood glucose spikes immediately after consuming these refined foods. While that doesn’t sound very appetising, these types of foods are popular, because a glucose spike gives a quick, satisfied feeling of having instant energy. But soon thereafter, energy levels crash, and you feel hungry again. And so you eat again. This rapid cycle is part of what makes these foods so addictive.
Food companies create their foods so precisely, that once the average teenager at school or adult in the workplace eats a snack, his or her physiology is basically on a timed cycle to spike and crash exactly as food companies want it to. Most of these packaged products have been calculated to create that specific rollercoaster of soaring highs followed by a massive crash – timed to happen right before the next class or workplace break.
Avoid this rollercoaster ride by not allowing yourself to get on it to begin with. That is the willpower you need. Try to learn not to put these foods into your grocery cart when you go shopping. Do what you can to replace these quick-fix foods with something that you really like that is genuinely satisfying – generally foods that don’t come in a box.
And when you eat, stick to three meals per day. One of the worst dietary advice in the last years has been to eat whenever you feel hungry. As a result you are having snacks every couple of hours sending your blood glucose levels on rollercoaster rides all day long.
This post is a summary of the relevant chapters of Sunil Pai‘s book:
“An Inflammation Nation – The Definitive 10-Step Guide to Preventing and Treating All Diseases through Diet, Lifestyle, and Use of Natural Anti-Inflammatories“
Dr. Sunil Pai, MD is the founder and medical director of Sanjevani Integrative Medicine and Lifestyle Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was one of the first physicians to become a Fellow of the Program in Integrative Medicine at University of Arizona directed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the “father” of Integrative Medicine and was one of the first Board Certified MD’s in Holistic Integrative Medicine in the United States.
To hear more from Dr. Pai, listen in on one of these podcasts: