ESSENTIAL ELEMENT: Carbohydrates and Insulin
Critical Concept: Hormone Balance
Did you know that every time that you put food in your body there is a hormonal reaction? Hormones are potent chemical agents that create sweeping changes in your physiology. Insulin not only plays the leading role in how food nourishes the cells of our bodies – it is the star of the show – it’s also one of the most powerful and significant hormones in regards to our health, period. Insulin is also a primary stress hormone - its physiological influence is broad and varied, but for the sake of this lesson plan, we’ll focus on its most common moniker: The Fat Storage Hormone.
Carbohydrates are reduced to sugar during digestion and metabolism. In the bloodstream, sugars trigger the release of insulin. Insulin reduces blood sugar by acting as a carrier or transport mechanism, bringing sugar into the cells to be burned for energy. Once energy needs are met, excess sugars (or calories) are stored as fat. The presence of insulin promotes fat storage.
All carbohydrates stimulate insulin response, as do excess calories from any source. Eating refined carbohydrates (think pasta, breads, cereals, crackers) or overeating causes “over taxation” of this insulin response. Over-stimulation of the insulin response cascade results in chronically elevated blood insulin levels, which lessens insulin sensitivity, which in turn stimulates more insulin production. This describes the common downward spiral that leads to what is called Metabolic Derangement.
Ultimately, this derangement leads to obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood lipids and Type 2 Diabetes, and Coronary Artery Disease - all of which combined are referred to as the now common Syndrome X.
A food’s glycemic index is an indicator of its effect on blood sugar levels, but more specifically, the resulting blood insulin levels. Foods that have a high glycemic index are considered the culprits in our current national eating disorder and resulting obesity and chronic disease dilemma. The top offenders are all sugars, grains and dairy products.
The research is clear and compelling. We must return to eating only the foods that were available to our ancestors during the period of time in which our biological needs (and genetic blueprint) were determined. We must get back to eating an abundance of nutrient dense, fiber-rich carbohydrates: fresh fruits and vegetables as foundational elements of a health-promoting diet style. Nutritious whole foods must replace the nutrient-poor, low-fiber, high-calorie refined carbohydrates that now dominate our modern disease-promoting diet.
As it turns out, our food pyramid needs to be reworked again.
Healthy people follow a simple, but profound diet style: a “Paleo gluten-free diet,” consisting of vegetables, nuts, seeds, some starch, a little fruit, and quality protein; notice what’s absent: grains and dairy – they both cause insulin spikes and gluten-containing grains cause chronic inflammation throughout the body. This best practice will ensure that you are eating “live” whole foods, high in enzymes and nutritional components like anti-oxidants and phytonutrients, and avoiding foods that cause abnormal insulin spikes. Using a high quality Whole Food Supplement is an excellent strategy to supplement a nutritious diet style, especially for those whose busy lives make it hard to get the recommended 9-12 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Because it has become increasingly difficult to find wholesome, nutritious foods “on the go,” packing your own lunch is a vital behavior. Always ask: “Where are the plants?,” “Where is the fat?” and “Where is the protein?” when prepping your meals.
Always shop on the perimeter of the grocery store, even a whole foods store – this will keep you away from most of the refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Nudge the scales in your favor. Buy and prep healthy snacks and pre-empt the “crunchy-salty munchies.” The battle is won at the checkout counter: If you don’t buy it – you won’t eat it.
Week 4 Summary Checklist: At this point you should be….
- Drinking water as your predominant beverage
- Eating lots of plant foods, and eating them first
- Eating adequate amounts of high quality, lean protein
- Consuming high-fiber, whole food carbohydrates (that’s vegetables!)