Updated: Nov 15, 2019
"Oh no, I don't eat much sugar" is something I hear a lot. Here's the thing though, sugar comes in many forms and even though you might avoid foods commonly thought of as being high in sugar such as sweet biscuits, candy and soft drinks, you can still be experiencing the effects from eating a diet high in carbohydrates. You see, carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients needed by your body with the other 2 being protein and fat.
Carbohydrates provide fuel for your body and are essential for muscle and brain function. They include sugars, starches and fibre found in vegetables, grains and dairy products. Glucose, which is the simplest form is quickly and easily absorbed by your gut into your blood stream. This quick burst of fuel provides almost instant energy that can be used by your body.
That sounds great, right!
And it is. Think about the last time you skipped a meal and felt tired and a bit dizzy. Eating something like a jelly bean or a cookie would have given you instant relief. The problem is that eating a diet that is high in carbohydrates that provide this kind of instant fuel can lead to health conditions such as insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes as well as causing weight gain.
Slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates will provide a more sustained release of energy and this can be done by choosing complex forms of carbohydrates and by combining them with other macronutrients such as protein and fats.
Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as wholegrains, fibrous vegetables and legumes. The fibre content slows down glucose absorption into your blood stream. This means your body doesn’t need to release as much insulin, the hormone that transports the glucose to your muscles for use or to your liver for storage. Any surplus glucose will be stored in your liver as fat – that’s why a diet high in refined carbohydrates is associated with obesity.
Combining carbohydrates with protein and/or fats has the same effect of slowing down the release of glucose into your blood and providing a more sustained supply of energy.
Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and pasta can cause your body to become insulin resistant. This means that it no longer registers high blood glucose levels and doesn’t release enough insulin from your pancreas to transport it to other areas of your body. This increases your risk of developing chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.
The steep fluctuations caused by eating refined carbohydrates and the insulin response that is triggered to transport glucose out of your blood stream is also very stressful for your body and interfere with the regulation of other hormones such as oestrogen and cortisol.
Ok, enough of what not to eat! Healthy meals are easy when you know what to choose. Think about swapping dishes with white rice to brown rice or quinoa or add roasted sweet potato instead to your salads and veggie meals. Think about adding a form of protein to your meals, especially breakfast where many people have become accustomed to eating cereal. If you do want to have grains for breakfast, choose whole grains such as rolled oats and add some nuts or chia seeds to boost your protein. By doing this, you will stay full for longer during the day and avoid looking for high sugar foods mid-morning. Legumes are a great way to include protein without eating meat and they also provide lots of fibre to slow down the absorption of glucose.
I mentioned fats earlier and although they are a lot more energy dense than carbohydrates, they take a lot longer to digest and will keep you feeling full for longer. Choosing food that contains omega 3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats provides lots of health benefits by supporting health cholesterol metabolism, balancing inflammatory responses and supporting healthy brain function. Salmon is a good source of omega 3 fatty acid and is a delicious way to increase your intake. For those who follow a plant-based diet, foods such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are also great sources to include in your meals. Freshly ground flaxseeds can be added to your smoothie, cooked oats or even on top of your salad.
If you’d like more information about how you can improve your health through your diet, head over to my website larissajanenaturopathy.com and make a time for an individualised health assessment. I can help you make positive changes and, most importantly, stay on track.