Peaks And Valleys
A few years ago, I fell into a vicious routine... I would get home around 7:00 pm, by which time I was starving and sometimes irritable, anxious and even a bit light-headed. Then, I received advice from a diabetic friend. "You should eat like I do -- well-balanced meals with protein as the centerpiece. You'll never get low blood sugar again." She was right, and I've been eating that way ever since. My energy is much more consistent, I feel great and I've also noticed that it's a lot easier to control my weight.
SHARING THE SECRET
To find out more about eating to control blood sugar, I spoke with board-certified nutritionist Jonny Bowden, MA, CNS, author of Living the Low Carb Life (Sterling). "If we all ate like people with diabetes, we'd be much better off," he said. "Diabetics have to control their blood sugar, and controlling blood sugar may be one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself. It makes weight management much easier, it helps keep your energy high and it even improves mood." The reason? A hormone made by the pancreas called insulin. Insulin's main job is to escort sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells where it can be used for energy. Bowden explained, "Let's take a five-year-old whose metabolism hasn't been damaged yet by decades of bad eating and lifestyle habits. He comes home from school, eats an apple and goes out to play. His blood sugar rises slightly, the pancreas says, 'Hey, the kid ate an apple, let's get busy,' and it sends a small amount of insulin into the bloodstream. The insulin escorts the sugar out of the blood and into the muscles, which are delighted to have it because the kid is running and playing and exercising and doing all these great active things. Eventually, blood sugar goes back down, it's dinner time and he's hungry again."
SO FAR, SO GOOD. HOW DOES IT ALL GO WRONG?
"Fast forward 30 or 40 years," Bowden says. "You eat a huge bagel and drink a glass of orange juice for breakfast. Your blood sugar goes through the roof. Now it takes much more insulin to bring it down. But the muscle cells don't need much sugar because the only exercise you're likely to get for the next eight hours is moving the computer mouse around. So insulin takes sugar to the fat cells, which welcome it with open arms. Eventually, with so much insulin moving sugar out of the bloodstream, your blood sugar winds up in the basement and you're starving. Now it's 11:00 am and you'll kill someone if you don't get a candy bar."
THE BLOOD SUGAR ROLLER COASTER
Frighteningly, most Americans live on the blood sugar roller coaster -- meals with lots of refined carbohydrates and little or no protein or fat leads to high blood sugar. High blood sugar means high insulin. High insulin levels increase fat storage and eventually cause a precipitous drop in blood sugar. The low blood sugar equals low energy, irritable mood and food cravings. Before you know it, you're scavenging for snacks. Carbohydrates -- especially refined ones such as breads, pastas, white rice, sugar and candy bars -- raise blood sugar and insulin levels more than any other food group. Protein raises it somewhat. Fat doesn't even make the meter budge. That's why, according to Bowden, diabetics -- and everyone else interested in controlling their blood sugar, weight and energy levels -- should eat meals based around protein, with some good fat and a small amount of carefully chosen high-fiber carbs. A perfect meal, says Bowden, might be three to four ounces of turkey or chicken, a heaping portion of any kind of green vegetable and a dollop of olive oil or even butter. He does not recommend potatoes or bread, but if you must, have a bite or two and leave the rest.
THE SECRET WEAPON
Bowden, who is also the popular weight-loss coach on both e-Diets and i-Village.com, told me that, in addition to protein, the best trick for fighting blood sugar fluctuations -- and for managing weight -- is fiber. "Fiber slows the entrance of sugar into the bloodstream and evens out those roller coaster spikes," he said. "It also makes you feel fuller, so you're less likely to overeat." Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and some high-fiber cereals. Sprinkling flaxseed on everything adds even more fiber, suggests Bowden.
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
To stay on an even keel, Bowden suggests the following guidelines...
*Eat no less than three evenly spaced meals a day, preferably three meals and two snacks. Note: For people with indigestion problems, sticking to three meals a day will help minimize gastric upset. Recent research has found that eating too frequently disrupts normal digestive function.
*Divide your meal into imaginary thirds and make one-third of the meal with protein. Best sources: Lean organic beef, free-range chicken and turkey, omega-3 eggs, fish and whey protein shakes and Bowden's best-kept secret -- sardines. Fill the other two-thirds with vegetables or low-sugar fruits such as berries and apples. Use starches sparingly -- they raise blood sugar quickly.
*Pay attention to fiber. Talk with your doctor about what is right for you, depending on your size, age, dietary habits and level of activity. Fruits and vegetables will supply most of the fiber you need, with additional amounts coming from whole grains and nuts. Most Americans don't get even one-third of the optimal amount. And don't forget your eight glasses of water a day, says Bowden.
*Add a dollop of healthy fat on a daily basis, such as nuts, olive oil, flax oil or even some butter.
*Don't eat high-carbohydrate foods alone -- a breakfast of bagels and orange juice, for example, has no protein, fat or fiber to moderate blood sugar levels and will set you up for a day in the "blood sugar basement."
It's often good to start your meal with protein. This will blunt the blood sugar response you would get from filling up on carbs at the start of the meal. With a better balanced eating style, you should experience increased energy... and you'll say goodbye to many of those nasty mood swings.