Health may be best defined as the ability to maintain a condition of homeostasis, which is the ability of a body to regulate its internal conditions, such as the chemical composition of body fluids, so as to maintain health and functioning, regardless of outside conditions.1A common way many of us begin to lose our health is by losing our ability to maintain a healthy level of sugar in our blood. In fact, some experts have said that dysglycemias have become an epidemic.2-4
Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, is when we are not able to keep enough sugar in our blood. When this happens, our nervous system starts to dysfunction, leading to irritability, fatigue, loss of focus and cravings for sweets and stimulants like caffeine. Hypoglycemia can be caused by not eating or, paradoxically, by eating too many low-fiber carbohydrates and sweets. Consuming the latter causes our blood sugar to spike up and then crash down. This phenomenon is often easily apparent in children, but happens to adults just as often.
Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance
This "spike up, then crash down" pattern is caused by the hormone insulin. Insulin's main job is to get sugar from the blood into the cells. When large amounts of low-fiber, simple sugars are ingested, a large amount of insulin is released in response. The large influx of insulin works so well in clearing the sugar from the blood into the cells that low blood sugar results.
Long-term continued overeating of sweets and low-fiber carbohydrates eventually "burns out" the insulin receptors on the cells that assist getting sugar from the blood into the cells. This loss of cell-receptor sensitivity is known as insulin resistance. Such "burnout" is quickened by lack of exercise.5 In an effort to overcome this, our bodies may make more insulin, leading to hyperinsulinemia. This can eventually lead to a cluster of symptoms of findings related to the upset of blood sugar homeostasis called metabolic syndrome, often a precursor to heart disease and diabetes.
The common findings indicative of metabolic syndrome are blood pressure above 130/90 (either number), high triglycerides, a suboptimal good/bad cholesterol (HDL/LDL) ratio, and central adiposity, perhaps most easily defined as a waist size more than half your height.6 It is important to realize that blood sugar tests will usually still read normal with metabolic syndrome, although often on the high side of normal. However, it is now possible to measure blood insulin along with blood sugar when doing a two- or four-hour glucose tolerance test.7,8
Eventually, insulin resistance reaches such a magnitude that even fasting blood sugar becomes abnormally high, also known as diabetes. As it gets higher, sugar will begin to appear in the urine. Relatively minor symptoms appear first, such as frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, increased fatigue and irritability. Eventually cardiovascular and kidney disease, blurry vision leading to blindness, peripheral neuropathy, and wounds and ulcers that will not heal come with advanced diabetes.
Balanced Eating: A Key Factor in Preventing Blood Sugar Disorders
The key to preventing hypoglycemia, metabolic syndrome and diabetes is balanced eating, regular exercise, and proper rest and recreation. Balanced eating means eating meals with healthy fats, high-fiber carbs and protein. Mediterranean, South Beach, Zone and 40-30-30 diets are some of the more common diets that try to balance these three elements. Regardless of the diet strategy, by far the most important meal of the day for maintaining a healthy blood sugar and weight is breakfast. A good breakfast is also associated with less heart disease and cancer.9
There are some foods and spices that are particularly good for balancing blood sugar. The minerals chromium and magnesium are both essential for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.10 Good sources are organic black-strap molasses, toasted wheat germ, and brewer's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Foods rich in zinc are also important.11 Good zinc sources aside from meats are dairy products, brewer's yeast, wheat germ and omega-3-rich pumpkin seeds.
Fiber content is the major difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, so it does not add to net calorie intake. Insoluble fiber, commonly called roughage, promotes bowel movement. Soluble fiber slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. It also absorbs cholesterol and its precursors (bile). The bran and germ of wheat, rice, oats and corn are very high in fiber, as is flaxseed. The later is a good source of healthy omega-3 fats, along with fair amounts of magnesium, manganese and some zinc. Omega-3s, including alpha linolenic acid (ALA), can also have a positive effect in diabetes, as they have been shown to support healthy insulin sensitivity at the cell wall.12,13
A little-known fact is that fenugreek seeds help control cholesterol and regulate blood glucose. Fenugreek seed lowers overall serum cholesterol, and reduces triglycerides. In one human study, 2.5 g of fenugreek per day for three months significantly reduced these cardiac risk factors. These activities are linked to a group of soluble fibers, most notably galactomannans.14,15 Cinnamon may also help lower insulin resistance in doses as little as 1 gram.16,17 Finally, the best sweetener for blood sugar balance appears to be stevia, which has good evidence for supporting healthy blood sugar and blood pressure.
Balancing Blood Sugar: Start With a Super Breakfast
Based on this data, making a variety of "super breakfast for blood sugar balance" meals is both easy and delicious. Breakfast menus that support healthy blood sugar include one or two omega-3-enriched eggs with high fiber, whole-grain toast with a touch of fruit jam and green tea, perhaps preceded with half an orange or grapefruit; or whole-grains cereals with low-fat dairy/soy milk, or soy or whey protein, sprinkled with nuts, seeds and/or berries.
As many people need to prepare breakfast quickly and even eat on the run, one possible recipe for a super breakfast instant shake is as follows (adjust recipe to taste):
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 cup water or green tea
1 heaping tbsp toasted wheat germ, flax, pumpkin or fenugreek seed, freshly fine-ground
1 tbsp whey protein, vanilla flavored, sweetened with stevia
1/4 cup fresh or frozen berries
Try that for a "healthy to go" breakfast.
- Definition taken from www.thefreedictionary.com/homeostasis.
- Yu S. Diabetes Epidemic: Evolutionary Adaptation to Food Crimes.
- Diabetes epidemic shows no signs of abating. Medical News, January 2009.
- Budd ML. Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia): The 20th Century Epidemic? Sterling, 1983: 128.
- Rao G. Insulin resistance syndrome. Am Fam Physician, March 15, 2001.
- Mathur R. "Metabolic Syndrome." MedicineNet.com.
- Robert JJ. Methods for the measurement of insulin resistance: hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamp. La Presse Medicale, 1983;24(15):730-4.
- Rabasa-Lhoret R, et al. Modified quantitative insulin sensitivity check index is better correlated to hyperinsulinemic glucose clamp than other fasting-based index of insulin sensitivity in different insulin-resistant states. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2003;88(10):4917-23.
- Breakfast Research and Statistics. Available at www.mrbreakfast.com.
- See www.diabetesmellitus-information.com/articles/control-your-diabetes.htm.
- Sigel H. Zinc and Its Role in Biology and Nutrition. CRC Press, 1983: 398.
- Jacob S, Ruus P, Hermann R, et al. Oral administration of RAC-alpha-lipoic acid modulates insulin sensitivity in patients with type-2 diabetes mellitus: a placebo-controlled, pilot trial. Free Radic Biol Med, 1999;27:309-14.
- Konrad T, Vicini P, Kusterer K, et al. Alpha-lipoic acid treatment decreases serum lactate and pyruvate concentrations and improves glucose effectiveness in lean and obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 1999;22:280-7.
- Madar Z, Abel R, Samish S, Arad J. Glucose-lowering effect of fenugreek in non-insulin dependent diabetics. Eur J Clin Nutr, 1988 Jan;42(1):51-4.
- Bordia A, Verma SK, Srivastava KC. Effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) and fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum L.) on blood lipids, blood sugar and platelet aggregation in patients with coronary artery disease. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, 1997 May;56:379-84.
- Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, et al. Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 2003;26:3215-8.
- Anderson RA. Cinnamon, Glucose Tolerance and Diabetes. United States Department of Agriculture.
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