Monday, March 21, 2016

Sugar and Insulin Resistance

Sugar-Free Diets can offer many health benefits, but you may be wondering why you should take the leap into a sugar free lifestyle. "Natural" food labels do not necessarily indicate low carbohydrate and are not always representative of sugar free foods. Many sweeteners such as honey or agave are natural but can cause a significant increase in blood sugar. 

Why is blood sugar important

When our blood sugar is too high on a frequent basis (sometimes this elevated level can even last for years) it can lead to insulin resistance. This is a state in which the cells in our bodies fail to respond to heightened levels of the hormone insulin. In our modern day societies, the level of sugar and carbohydrate consumption has become a concern. This is alarming because Americans are now consuming roughly three times the recommended daily sugar consumption. It has become an increased public health concern, often perpetuated by the convenience of foods which have added sugars that we wouldn't even expect.

U.S. Sugar Intake Average (American Heart Association)

What does insulin do?

In a nutshell, insulin is made by the pancreas which has the primary function of helping the body store and use sugar (specifically in the form of glucose). Insulin is the pathway by which sugar is transported from the blood into the places it is required most, such as muscles and liver which use it as fuel. The regulation of insulin is a very specific and regulated process which is triggered by our dietary intake of sugar. The more sugar we eat, the more insulin is released
Pancreas produces the hormone Insulin in response to blood sugar levels

Carbohydrates & Diabetes

Constantly high levels of sugar (which are very commonplace in most of our diets) are a leading cause of insulin resistance and subsequently can cause further damage in the form of Type 2 Diabetes. It is often misunderstood that this is a disease of the elderly since it can affect people in all walks of life.
Diabetes indicates hyperglycemia or elevated blood sugar because ones body does not use insulin properly anymore (insulin resistance) or the body cannot product insulin (in Type 1). Type 2 diabetes is caused by the pancreas eventually not being able to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable (see the American Diabetes Association definition). 

How can Sugar-Free foods help?

Sugar-Free foods do not contain glucose and usually contain sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners (note: these are not identical, stay tuned for a post dedicated to explaining the difference between the two). Some sugar substitutes do not add calories or carbohydrates. In general, most sugar substitutes are much lower on the Glycemic Index, meaning that they have a lesser effect on blood sugar than glucose. Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on blood glucose. This means that if you are observing a sugar-free lifestyle, you may also want to consider lowering your carbohydrate intake for maximum benefits.

If you are concerned about heightened blood sugar or A1C levels, you can take proactive steps by significantly reducing the sugar dependency (do you get cranky headaches? feel tired often? these are pretty good signs of Sugar Addiction).
For pre-diabetics and diabetics, it is crucial to speak with your primary healthcare provider about the different types of foods you should be eating and snacking on. Likely this will include a carbohydrate and sugar counting meal plan to manage blood glucose.

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