A frequent question we receive about carbohydrate intake is; “what types of carbohydrates are healthy and how many should I be eating?” Most people are aware now that one of the keys to optimal health involves supporting healthy blood sugar levels so the answer to the question really involves establishing your individual carbohydrate tolerance. Essentially; how many carbohydrates can you eat without elevating blood sugar excessively? A glucose monitor is a great tool you can use to figure this out and here we explain how.
It’s always good to equip yourself with a little understanding of the basic biochemistry that takes place when we consume food. In Fitter Food we detail what happens if we don’t ensure nice, steady levels of glucose in the blood. Weight gain and inflammation are the two principle outcomes of chronically elevated glucose in the blood. We’ve known for sometime that adult onset (also known as Type 2) Diabetes is linked to poor glucose management but you may not be aware that there is an increased risk of both cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Importance Of Hormone Sensitivity
Our hormones work on feedback loop back to the gland that produces it, the message can either say ‘Stop pumping out that hormone we’ve nailed the job!‘ or “Produce more of that hormone there’s work to do!” If we consider insulin for a moment, it’s role is to shuttle glucose into cells to be used as energy. When glucose levels in the blood rise, the pancreas secretes insulin which then attaches to a receptor site; think of these as little satellite dishes on the outside of the cells looking for messages and instructions. Like a key in a lock insulin latches onto the receptor site and opens up the cell door so glucose can be transported into the cell and fuel thousands of biological functions.
If we load way too much glucose into the body too frequently, we overwhelm this process and effectively bulldoze the hormone-receptor site communication. The cells don’t open their front door to invite nutrients in. As a result our body will produce more and more insulin to try and cope with the high levels of sugar in the blood. High levels of insulin are inflammatory to the body and hence the reason poor glucose management is linked to many chronic inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
The end result is that although there are nutrients swimming around the bloodstream our cells are effectively starving. And this is how you might feel:
- Fuzzy headed and unable to focus.
- Sleepy, especially after meals.
- Constantly hungry
Body Fat and Insulin Resistance
Once the communication lines have broken down (known as hormones resistance) the body’s only option is to start storing these excess nutrients as fat. This creates a vicious cycle as we increase the number of fat cells in the body to accommodate this excess of nutrients. Fat cells actually behave like a hormone gland themselves (get them!) and start dishing out their own instructions and signals, further confusing the situation. Fat cells also produce inflammatory chemicals exacerbating the existing insulin resistance. Imagine removing the email/telephone facility from any corporate business today and it would provoke a similar situation; ultimate chaos and a business simply couldn’t function, neither can your body. You can’t process nutrients nor feedback to the brain what the bodies needs, as a result your body composition goes awol; usually people either lose excessive amounts of body fat or gain them, neither is desirable! Sudden, unexplained weight loss or weight gain around the middle is particularly associated with insulin resistance.
So that’s the doom and gloom bit done but you’re not powerless in this situation. You can assess the impact any food or drink (or friend, family member or partner for that matter as stress can e influential) has on your glucose levels using a glucose monitor. A quick check on t’internet and it seems when choosing a monitor you can spend anything from £5.99-£69.99! At the cheaper end be warned you will need to replace paper strips, pins and cartridges frequently and this becomes a total pain in the backside to the point we’ve seen people give up on the whole thing. Investing in a model around the £30 mark will make this a little more straight forward as it requires less servicing and as you may need to do this for a few weeks and possibly pick up again in future (as your nutrition or training evolves) the more sustainable option is best. We use Accu-Chek but Diabtetes UK give a great run down of monitors available.
Finally, we get to the juicy part, the test! Be warned you do have to prick your finger with a needle and draw blood, however we can confirmed as yet no one died doing this, although we still find ourselves squinting just in case.
The best times to test are; fasted, first thing in the morning. Ideally this should be 5 mmol/l (90 mg/dl) or below. We run through this on our 6 week plans as part of adapting individual macronutrient intake and many have noticed alcohol consumption and a lack of sleep completely derail their normally healthy fasted readings.
Test your pre-lunch values. Then eat lunch and test your glucose 1, 2 and 3 hours after eating. You will see levels surge but ideally no higher than 7.8 mmol/l (140 mg/dl) and they should return to pre-lunch values within those hours. It’s also worthwhile testing your levels at the end of the day to see what the total load of the day has had on your blood glucose.
There’s a margin for error with the monitors so don’t stress about 0.2 over the limits mentioned.
Be consistent and test for a couple of weeks to get a picture of foods you can tolerate and those you can’t. A food diary is useful here and record the results of different meals and food combinations.
Adding lemon/lime juice, vinegar, fibre and fats lower the release of glucose into the blood so do this before reducing the amount of carbohydrates or chafing the type.
Good foods to tests include:
- Liquid calories – shakes, juices, caffeine, alcohol.
- Starchy carbohydrates e.g potatoes & rice
- Your cheats of champions 🙂
Stress and lack of sleep can impact of results so take a moment to reflect on these when interpreting your data.