Back to Basics
Last post we talked about Cholesterol. We ended that post by saying that eating foods with cholesterol does not give us heart disease after all, but that eating a low-fat, high carb/sugar diet just might. In addition to consuming empty calories, messing with our metabolism and causing high cholesterol, a highly processed, high sugar diet can also negatively affect our blood sugar. Which, if left unchecked, can lead to diabetes.
Let’s break the terms blood sugar and diabetes down to the basics. Is there really just sugar flowing through our veins, mixed in with our blood? How does our blood sugar go up and down? What does it all mean?! Don’t worry, I’m here to help.
Basically, the term blood sugar refers to the amount of sugar in your blood. Now, it’s not the form of sugar that you put in your coffee in the morning, but it’s pretty close. Table sugar is called sucrose. Sucrose is made up of two molecules called fructose and glucose. Glucose is the stuff in your blood. So, any carbohydrate (which means it contains sugar in some form) gets broken down in your body once you eat or drink it into glucose. Glucose then accumulates in your blood. When you get a blood test done, they are looking for the amount of glucose in your blood – a.k.a. your blood sugar level.
So, here’s how it works: You eat a carbohydrate (something containing sugar), it gets broken down and the glucose gets sent into your blood stream. Once there is sugar in your blood, it is the job of your pancreas to release a hormone called insulin to deal with it. Insulin then sends a message to your cells to take the glucose from your blood and use it as fuel or store it for later. Now your cells have taken the glucose out of your blood, returning the level of sugar in your blood (a.k.a. blood sugar levels) to normal. Insulin has done it’s job, levels go back to normal, and all is right with the world.
So if everything is working properly, this is what should happen:
Eat something with sugar --> gets broken down and glucose enters your blood stream --> your pancreas excretes insulin --> insulin tells cells to take the glucose out of your blood and use it as fuel or store it for later --> cells take glucose out of blood --> blood sugar levels return to normal. Great!
What happens when things go wrong
You eat a lot of sugar, you send a lot of sugar into your blood stream, you continually create elevated blood sugar levels.
Your pancreas works overtime to pump out insulin to deal with the continually elevated sugar levels.
A few things happen next:
Your cells max out on how much glucose they can use as fuel and start to store it as fat, so you gain weight.
The fat you gain muddies the waters, messes up the communication between insulin and your cells, and causes a host of other health issues.
Your blood sugar levels stay elevated and never return to normal because your cells can’t keep up and take it all in. This is called pre-diabetes, and can eventually turn into diabetes if nothing is done about it.
Your cells become resistant to the message insulin is sending and stop taking up glucose all together. This is called insulin resistance.
Your pancreas keeps pumping out insulin because that the message isn’t getting through.
Your pancreas gets tired of pumping out so much insulin and just stops.
This is called insulin dependent diabetes and you have to inject yourself with insulin because your pancreas is no longer making it.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Thankfully, when blood sugar issues arise from diet and lifestyle, they can be stopped and even reversed! First, eating a balanced, nutrient dense diet full of healthy fat, protein, veggies, fiber, whole grains and fruit can help avoid blood sugar issues completely. Exercising also helps with blood sugar control as it forces your muscles to use up the sugar in your blood, stored sugar, and stored fat as fuel. And, it makes your muscle cells even more willing to let the sugar in to use it as fuel. So eat healthy food, avoid the junk, and get moving!
Basically: You eat sugar, your blood sugar goes up. That sets off a chain reaction in which your body tries to return your blood sugar levels to normal once again. If you continue to eat a high sugar diet, you tax your system, create inefficiencies in the process and can wind up with diabetes. The good news: a healthy diet and exercise routine can help avoid this situation completely.