In her weekly column, Nutritionist None De Long explains the single most important thing for your health in the New Year...
I’ve just hit 40 and I want to change my health in the New Year. I want to know what will make the greatest impact for someone of my age if I could only do one thing and really stick to it. Should it be the gym, going vegan, adding supplements or a protein shake, fasting, going keto, cooking homemade food? I am not expecting miracles from one change but I would like to turn my health around so I don’t feel so sluggish. I want to know what will really help me the most. Just one thing to start with please and thank you!
That’s a great question. The answer is easy and applies to everyone of any background or health history who is asking what they need to do to start improving their health: get your blood sugar under control and reverse insulin resistance.
Understand no one thing is going to turn anyone’s health around completely or instantly, as it usually takes many years of many poor choices to create a body in a state of disease. But if you want to know the one thing that will have the greatest impact, this is it. Get your blood sugar and insulin under control.
What does that mean exactly?
Well, to understand what it means, we need to go over the mechanics of blood sugar. Let’s call it Blood Sugar 101.
Let’s think of your body like a computer. A computer runs on binary code of zeros and ones. No matter what you input, that’s what it reads. Your body is run by three types of code: carbs (broken down into glucose [sugar]), proteins (broken down into amino acids), and fats (broken down in glycerols and fatty acids). Each one of these can be used to make glucose for the cells to run on, via a conversion process called the citric acid cycle. The body can also bypass this cycle to make fuel for energy by a process of ketosis. This only happens in the absence of glucose molecules (carbs) when enough fat is consumed or stored on the body for use.
Most people have been conditioned to think that starches and complex carbs are more slowly absorbed and contain more nutrients so they do not impact the body the same as sugar does, but that’s not completely true. Yes, they are more slowly absorbed, but it turns out we did not know what the impact of eating so many carbs coupled with a sedentary lifestyle would do to our metabolism, and what it does is very deleterious. This is because the body is very much like a computer. A zero is a zero. A one is a one. There is nothing else. Carbs are glucose. They take more work to break down than simple sugars, but nonetheless they are broken into the same substrate. Carb = glucose. And once in the body, glucose has a very specific role: energy.
Both fatty acids and amino acids have other roles, in addition to providing energy, but glucose is only ever used for energy.
Well, why is that bad? Doesn’t the body need glucose to run on? The answer is the body can get all the glucose it needs from fats and proteins and veggies to never warrant eating ‘carbs’ or glucose rich molecules ever again. And be just fine for it. However, we live in a carboholic environment. And traditional nutritional advice, including the food pyramid (which has been under severe scrutiny from many industry leaders for a number of years now), has misinformed us about the effects of the overconsumption of carbohydrates like grains and starches. Fruits can be included in this, too. Remember, carbs = glucose.
It turns out, in excess, long term, carbohydrates create problems.
When carbs are eaten and absorbed the glucose signals energy production. This is groovy as long as the cells need energy. But when they don’t because they are full (eaten enough and not used it up yet) the cycle has a shut off valve that causes no more energy to be made from the glucose. So it’s left circulating in the bloodstream. Glucose in the bloodstream is extremely toxic for human beings. It burns nerves (neuropathy), damages the retinas (retinopathy), damages the arteries (atherosclerosis) and generally wreaks havoc.
But the body is wise so it has a system in place to handle glucose in the bloodstream. It’s called insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to grab glucose and store it in the muscle and fat tissues of the body. The muscles can only hold so much. So the fat tissues are stuffed to bursting with excess glucose that is circulating. Usually in and around the visceral organs.
Until the cells can’t take in more.
Then insulin does not push the glucose in anymore. This is called insulin resistance. The cells have shut down to insulin because they are already full and it is detrimental to the balance of the body to have more. This is when clients experience the symptoms of type II diabetes and usually they are diagnosed not long after. They may have periods where their blood sugar tests normal but it will then spike and drop long after a meal in a fashion that is not normal. This is blood sugar dysregulation or insulin resistance.
Left too long, a person will develop some, if not all of the metabolic chaos that ensues from that - cholesterol issues, hypoglycemia, cortisol dysregulation, sleep problems, obesity, and heart disease, to name just a few. Obesity doesn’t always happen, but it’s frequent.
And it doesn’t stop here. High carbohydrate consumption and insulin intolerance have both now been linked to an imbalanced gut microbiome. This further increases our risk for disease. Both have been linked to Alzheimer's disease. Both are linked to inflammation and mood imbalances, via the gut connection. And I could go on.
The answer? Regulate your blood sugar and stop insulin resistance. How? Well, there are a number of things you can do, but four easy ones to start with are:
Reduce your sugar and carbohydrate consumption. Eat mostly protein and veggies.
Take chromium picolinate nightly (about 200mcg is normal).
Go to bed on time and sleep eight to nine hours minimum (sleep impacts insulin and cortisol).
Start walking (30-60 min) per day.
Many practitioners will also suggest fasting. It is an excellent option once you are fat adapted (deep in ketosis) and don’t have compounding health issues like thyroid problems. I hesitate to make a blanket recommendation regarding fasting because once cortisol is dysregulated it can trigger blood sugar swings and cravings and moods. It’s best to work with a professional to help if you feel this is an issue.
Thank you for your question, Neil. If you want further reading, I suggest the following links:
Top 8 Tips to Optimize Blood Sugar (Dr. Mercola) 7 Natural Treatments for Prediabetes Symptoms (Dr. Axe) The Biochemistry of Insulin Resistance (Dr. Fung) Thyroid Blood Sugar and Metabolic Syndrome (Chris Kresser)
I want to thank all my readers for their support and communications this year. I wish you all a blessed New Year filled with good health! And, as always, please email me if you have any nutrition questions in 2020!
Namaste! Nonie Nutritonista
Nonie De Long is a registered orthomolecular nutritionist with a clinic in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where she offers holistic, integrative health care for physical and mental health issues. Check out her website here.
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