Eating seems like a pretty simple thing to do but what happens inside your body is not so simple! In this lesson, we will explain the entire process of blood sugar regulation and how it can impact your weight.
BLOOD SUGAR REGULATION IN HEALTHY INDIVIDUALS
When you eat food, it travels from your mouth to your stomach, where digestive enzymes (juices that break down food particles) convert large molecules into smaller bits. During this process, a series of reactions take place in the body that leads to the conversion of food into glucose (energy), mainly carbohydrates like rice, bread, pasta, cereals, & processed foods. The glucose is,
- Either converted as energy to be used by the body
- Or is stored in the bloodstream for later use (in case of energy deficiency)
Insulin – a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels is released from the pancreas (a gland located at the back of your stomach).
Insulin is released as a response to food consumption to sustain blood sugar levels and prevent any imbalances that may lead to problems like obesity, diabetes (high sugar levels), hypoglycemia (low sugar levels), cardiovascular diseases, stroke, dyslipidemia and other chronic illnesses.
In healthy individuals, insulin regulates BSL and aids the glucose molecules to be converted into energy. This energy is used to perform daily life activities and to carry out body functions.
WHAT HAPPENS IF INSULIN IS IMPAIRED?
There are times when your insulin sensitivity (the ability of body cell’s to respond to insulin) starts to decline. What happens afterwards is that insulin resistance (impaired insulin function) develops, which means glucose will not be converted into energy effectively, and some of it will remain in the bloodstream leading to high blood sugar levels, also known as Diabetes Mellitus.
At the initial stage, this condition will be termed Pre-diabetes when sugar levels are slightly higher than the average amount. If this stage is not controlled and monitored, it may lead to Diabetes, which is a more chronic condition.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DIABETES AND WEIGHT GAIN
What happens when you keep eating food and do not exercise to expend the calories consumed by your meal?
You start gaining weight.
Similarly, in diabetes, the food you eat is not properly converted into energy to be expended by body functions. The constant build-up of glucose in your bloodstream leads to the accumulation of excess glucose in the body fat. The longer the impairment of glucose metabolism, the more you will gain weight and ultimately will become overweight or obese.
HOW DOES FOOD AFFECT BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS?
One food component makes all the differences, and that is Dietary Fibre (primarily indigestible fibre or other resistant starches).
Fibre delays the absorption of sugar, leading to a slow and
- Optimal digestion
- Improved blood sugar regulation
- Better hunger management
- Reduced cravings
- Better energy levels
- Better mental clarity and focus
- Better mood
For overweight individuals or those with diabetes or heart-related illness, consuming the recommended amount of fibre each day is always encouraged.
HOW IMPROVED BLOOD SUGAR REGULATION SUPPORTS WEIGHT LOSS?
In healthy individuals, your body releases insulin to tackle glucose and utilise it as energy. In the case of low glucose stores, your body starts to burn fats and use them for energy. The utilisation of fats as energy initiates the fat burning process leading to weight loss.
But in case of excessive eating or impaired glucose metabolism, your body starts to generate a surplus of glucose that hinders the use of fat as an energy source. Since your body already stocks up on glucose, the accumulation of fat in adipose tissue (body fat) occurs, causing increased fat stores and ultimately weight gain.
Hence, it is imperative to regulate blood sugar levels to upkeep the fat burning process. Otherwise, if the excess fat does not burns, all of the fat consumed from your diet will start to accumulate in your body.
RECOMMENDED AND RESTRICTED FOODS:
Foods To Eat:
Ideally, you should consume foods that slowly elevate BSL, such as whole grains, cereals, oats, barley, rye, lentils, legumes, fruits and vegetables, especially with skin, lean proteins and healthy fats.
Foods To Avoid:
Foods high in refined carbs, e.g., white/polished rice, white bread, baked goods, sugary drinks, candies, and processed foods, are low in fibre and causes a sudden increase in BSL and are discouraged.
Even among healthy foods, you may find some foods that may trigger BSL. Hence, to assess these foods, we use an indicator called Glycemic Index (GI).
*Glycemic index depicts how fast a specific food increases BSL using alloted numbers to each food. For example, watermelon has a GI of 80, while raw cherries have a GI of 22. This value depicts that diabetics can consume cherries without the fear of high BSL, but watermelon consumption should be monitored and controlled.
- High GI: Foods above 70 GI
- Medium GI: Foods between 56 to 69
- Low GI: Foods between 55
DRAWBACKS OF USING GLYCEMIC INDEX FOR MEALS:
GI OF SPECIFIC FOODS:
Unfortunately, the GI also sparks confusion in certain foods among the same food group. For instance, whole wheat bread, which is considered a good food choice for weight watchers and diabetics, has a GI of 77. While white bread, which is restricted in diabetes and weight-loss diets, has a GI of 70. Additionally, the method of preparing certain foods also impacts the GI of foods, like; frying may increase the GI of healthy foods.
GI OF COMPLETE MEALS:
The GI gives us a basic idea about single foods but can give misleading results regarding the GI of a complete meal. This is because the specific figures are assigned based on particular serving size. But when food is cooked, the serving size does not equate to the estimated GI. Therefore, sometimes, GI can be inaccurate, but if you want to calculate the GI of single foods, then it can work really well.
REDUCED BLOOD GLUCOSE RESPONSE WITH A BALANCED MEAL
The key to weight loss and a successful diet is,
- A balanced meal
- Practices that lead to long-term adherence
- Prevention of relapse with sustainable food choices
- Avoidance of nutrient deficiencies
Avoid eating foods that come from packages, bakeries, restaurants or any type of fast-food chains. This doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy your favourite foods! Just try your best to make everything by yourself.
If that’s not possible, learn to control your Portion Size (the amount of food you eat in one meal).
For most of us, cooking is a much more daunting task. Hence you can opt for portion control that is a much better and ideal way to balance your dietary intake.
HOW REFINED/PROCESSED CARBS ELEVATE BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS?
All foods such as burgers, pizzas, cookies, cakes, pastries, fizzy drinks, and box packed juices contain high levels of sugar. This extra sugar gets accumulated in your bloodstream and later deposits in your body fat, leading to weight gain.
Preventing Weight Gain:
Always opt for some sort of physical activity like brisk walking, skipping, or even dancing, one to two hours later following a meal. Ensure consuming a nutrient-dense and balanced meal.
A balanced meal contains:
- The Five Food Groups:
- Grains and starches
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Milk and milk substitutes
- Meat and meat substitutes
- Healthy Fats
- Should include at least 1 food from each food group
- Foods from at least two different subcategories within each food group throughout the day
- Foods from at least three different subcategories within each food group throughout the week
*Subcategories are discussed below.
FOODS TO STABILIZE BLOOD SUGAR AND PREVENT WEIGHT GAIN
SUBCATEGORIES OF CARBOHYDRATES:
- Starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes and corn)
- Bread & pasta (e.g. whole wheat bread and pasta)
- Grains (e.g. bulgur and oats)
- Nuts (chestnuts are the only nuts that are carb-rich not fat-rich)
- Carb-rich fruits (e.g. dates and durian)
These foods contain indigestible carbohydrates that keep you full for longer and promote better bowel movements.
Lean Proteins and Healthy Fats are your go-to when it comes to foods other than your basic carbs.
SUBCATEGORIES OF PROTEINS:
- Meats (e.g. chicken, lamb and turkey)
- Seafood (e.g. salmon and shrimp)
- Eggs (e.g. chicken and duck eggs)
- Dairy (e.g. string cheese and low-fat strained yoghurt)
- Legumes (e.g. lupin beans and lentils)
- Plant products (e.g. tofu and seitan)
A high-protein meal induces higher levels of satiety and slows down the absorption of glucose, leading to better insulin response.
SUBCATEGORIES OF HEALTHY FATS:
- High SFA (e.g. butter, blue cheese, coconut)
- High MUFA (e.g. olives, almonds, black seed)
- High PUFA (e.g. walnuts, sesame seeds, fish oil)
SUBCATEGORIES OF NON-STARCHY VEGETABLES:
- Green veggies (e.g. lettuce and cucumber)
- Red veggies (e.g. tomato and red peppers)
- Yellow/orange veggies (e.g. carrot and yellow peppers)
- Purple veggies (e.g. aubergine and beetroot)
- White veggies (e.g. mushroom and turnip)
WHY ARE THESE FOODS DIVIDED INTO SUBCATEGORIES?
Each food has its own properties, and when we combine foods based on similar characteristics, we get these subcategories. Most of these categories are based on the nutritional value (macro and micronutrients) of each food group. These subcategories help us in adding variety to our meals and choosing only the ones that are optimal for consumption on a weight loss diet. But with similarities, these foods still attain different traits from one and another.
For example, Cucumbers and carrots — are two non-starchy vegetables but contain different nutrients; Edamame and beef — are two protein-rich foods but edamame is considered as a lean selection while beef is a high fat selection; Potatoes and bulgur — are two carb-rich foods; or avocados and walnuts — are two fat-rich foods with entirely different appurtenance, taste, structure and nutrients)
How foods from the same food group and same subcategory can differ (e.g. cucumber and broccoli — two non-starchy vegetables under the “green veggies” subcategory; beef and turkey meat — two protein-rich foods under the “meats” subcategory; potatoes and corn — two carb-rich foods under the “starchy vegetables” subcategory; avocados and olives — two fat-rich foods under the “High MUFA” subcategory)
Therefore, a balanced and varied intake across all food groups would result in the consumption of a wide array of nutrients (i.e. amino acids, fatty acids, fibre, vitamins and minerals), minimising the risk of deficiency and maximising the wholesomeness of your diet.
HOW TO PREVENT RELAPSE?
Relapse occurs when you follow a highly restrictive diet or an unvaried diet while sticking to merely a bowl of salad (or something similar) in each meal throughout your weight loss journey. This way, you will get worn out soon, leading to relapse due to excessive cravings, higher hunger cues, boredom and lack of enjoyment with your diet. Such restrictive meals may lead to nutritional deficiencies, in the long run, opening doors to a variety of ailments.
When you eat meals that are nutrient-dense, provide optimum calories, contain a variety of food groups and have higher satiety, then the chances of relapse are far less than your expectations.
A balanced meal ensures that you are getting maximum nutrients while eating a low-calorie meal that keeps you full for longer. This is because cravings are generated as a result of hunger cues that are sent to your brain. But if you already feel full either due to a protein-rich diet or a fibre-rich meal, then the chances of your relapse and weight gain are less.
SAMPLE WEIGHT LOSS MEAL PLAN:
Breakfast: 2 slices of bran bread, 1 vegetable omelette cooked in 1 tsp. olive oil, and 1 cup of fruit milkshake.
Lunch: A small bowl of brown rice (high in fibre) instead of white rice (low in fibre), with lentil soup with chicken chunks cooked in 1 tsp. olive oil (per serving), 1-2 bowls of vegetable + fruits + seeds & nuts salad, and a cup of tea made with low-fat milk.
Dinner: Whole wheat tortilla wrap (small) with the meat of choice (preferably lean meat or meat substitute) with loads of vegetables and a bowl of yoghurt sauce or hummus.
In between these meals, you can opt for snacks like a light sandwich, smoothies, granola bars, trail mix, any fruit, wheat crackers without added sugar, or unbuttered and unsalted popcorn.
Calories = 1000-1200 kcal
PLANNING CHEAT MEALS:
If you are someone who still wants to eat their favourite foods, then there is one way you can still keep these foods in your diet.
By controlling your portion size.
If you want to eat a pizza, eat only a single slice and then back off. Similarly, in the case of a restaurant made burger or wrap, eat a few bites to satisfy your cravings and then back off before things get out of hand.
If you master the art of controlling your portion size followed by an episode of light to moderate exercise, you can achieve more satisfaction with your weight loss goals leading to long term adherence to your weight loss plan. Keep exploring and trying new healthy recipes to add variety to your diet. Eating the same monotonous meals every day can instigate relapse. Such hypo-caloric yet complete meals also reduces the risk of acquiring chronic illnesses and reduces the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
*Nutrient deficiency is a state where your body is unable to absorb nutrients from foods, or it can occur as a result of inadequate intake of nutrients (such as vitamins & minerals) from your diet.
Individuals who try to lose weight with extremely restrictive and unvaried diets, like missing out on any food group or eating too little, are at constant risk of nutrient deficiencies. These diets may contain little to no nutrients or may provide some while lacking other nutrients. That is why most individuals who are on restrictive diets suffer from complications caused by nutrient deficiencies.
The Final Takeaway!
Research has theorised that controlling blood sugar levels, eating a healthy, well-balanced and nutrient-dense meal with long-term adherence to a healthy lifestyle has exhibited massive improvements in patients suffering from Diabetes or excessive weight gain. Many chronic illnesses are provoked due to negligence in dietary habits and little to no physical activity.
The incidence of chronic illnesses such as CVD, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and obesity can be curbed if a long term weight loss strategy is followed. Consumption of an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables provides a good supply of antioxidants that ward off various diseases.
All in all, a healthy weight can only be sustained if you promise to cling to your goals. Every human has the willpower to achieve their dreams; you only have to find yours!