Why understanding carbs matters….

Carbs are not the enemy! But the type and amount you eat could be affecting your health and your weight. If you are looking to manage your weight and prevent diseases like Type-2 diabetes, then it’s worth getting carb savvy.

Let’s start with the basics.

Carbohydrate is one of three primary types of nutrients converted by the body to be used as energy (the other two are protein and fat). The consumption of all dietary carbohydrates results in glucose (sugar) being released into the bloodstream. When glucose is present in the bloodstream it causes the body to secrete insulin. Insulin is the hormone that directs glucose from the blood to our cells to store as energy. When insulin levels are high, the body switches to storage mode; glucose begins to get stored in the fat cells and insulin keeps pumping.

Carbohydrates are a staple of the human diet, but the amount and quality of carbohydrates we eat has changed over time.

Our ancestors enjoyed unrefined carbohydrate sources like berries, green vegetables, root vegetables and wild fruits. Over time, our diets have changed. There are far more mass-produced grains and wheat being eaten now, we eat things like bread, pasta and rice containing few nutrients, and sugar is everywhere.

Things like wheat, bread, pasta and rice have become staples over vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts, and it is increasing the body’s demand for insulin. Fat storage, weight gain and conditions like diabetes are all connected to the health of insulin production in the body. So, if we want to address these things, looking at how we can change our diet is a good starting point.

What to do if you’re concerned about this….

The amount of insulin the body secretes is proportional to the amount and speed at which glucose is deposited into the blood.

At a very basic level you can classify foods like this:

Most bread products, pasta, rice, cereals and sugary foods/drinks – high glucose and quick release.

More fibrous carbs: vegetables, whole grains, and pulses – lower glucose and slower release.

All carbs contain sugars, but the structure of the food dictates how quickly the sugar is released. Looking to improve the quality of carbohydrates you eat and enjoy them in measured amounts – not exclude them completely AKA Keto or Atkins – is a wise approach and enough to have a postive effect on your metabolic health and your weight.

If you want to engage more with how much sugar you are eating GI and GL measures can help.

The glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly food can raise blood sugar.

Glycaemic load is slightly more useful because it tells you not only how quickly food will release sugar into your blood, but also how much total glucose is in the food. So, the glycaemic load tells you the full effect of food on your blood sugar.

Lowering dietary GL can be achieved by increasing the consumption of whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruit, and non-starchy vegetables, and decreasing intakes of moderate and high-GI foods like potatoes, white rice, most bread products (occasional sourdough is an exception), and sugary foods.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the glycaemic index of foods this resource can help.

Top tips to help you to reduce insulin levels:

  1. Keep a food diary for a few days to identify what type and how much carbohydrate you are eating.
  2. Get familiar with the GL profile of foods so you can begin to make choices that keep your insulin levels in a happy place.
  3. Reduce carbohydrate intake and increase your intake of quality proteins and fats, these foods will enrich your diet and help you to feel full.
  4. Try replacing pasta and rice with beans, lentil and legumes (these foods have a lower GL)
  5. Be aware that food is not the whole story when it comes to managing blood glucose. When your body is under stress, your adrenal glands trigger the release of glucose stored in your organs, which can also lead to elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream. Working through stress using movement and mindset techniques will also help to promote healthy blood sugar and insulin levels.

Overall, try to make more food choices with your health in mind. We are very privileged in the UK to have access to a wide variety of foods. Unfortunately, I also think that has had the side effect of causing us to choose highly palatable, processed foods, over whole foods.

A key thing to remember when embarking on any dietary changes is to be patient with yourself – your body needs time to physically adjust as well as maintain a new healthy habit. Many people become discouraged when they don’t see results immediately, but it’s important to take note of the small improvements and also remember the long-term goal: to make healthy eating a conscious decision for your long term health and well-being.

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