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Blood Sugar

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Better Than a Fitbit

Fitness trackers that count our steps can be fun and motivating. But, if you want to avoid pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease, spend your money on a blood glucose meter.  For less than half the cost of a Fitbit, you can have a meter (and some test strips and lancets) that tells you whether your body is able to manage sugar levels in your blood.  This measure can alert you to hidden problems and help you craft a diet that is better suited to your body’s needs.

Diabetes is a big deal. It is costly to manage, destructive enough to take years off your life, and basically to-be-avoided. It is a huge risk factor for heart disease, too. The sooner you can catch your body veering from healthy toward pre-diabetes, the better. A Fitbit can’t help you catch the gradual creep upwards in fasting blood sugar that tells you that your metabolic balance is off. But a blood sugar meter can. And, since there are often no signs or symptoms associated with pre-diabetes, regular testing is the best way to make sure you are still healthy.  There are more than 86 million pre-diabetics in America, and most (~90%) of them do not know they are sick. Early detection enables people to reduce refined carbohydrates in their diet and often reverse their disease. Early detection also minimizes the damage that elevated blood sugar levels inflict.

Just like a Fitbit, it is pretty easy to use a blood sugar meter – yours should come with basic instructions. The most important test is to measure your blood sugar when you wake up in the morning, after going at least 8 hours without eating.  This gives you your fasting blood sugar level…  healthy levels fall between 70-90 mg/dL. Levels from 100-125mg/dL signify pre-diabetes, and levels above 125 mg/dL signify diabetes. Once you have your meter, you can also test how long it takes your body to get blood sugar back in check after a meal. Blood sugars should be below 140 two hours after eating.

Just as a Fitbit can motivate you to get off the couch and walk a few extra steps, a blood sugar meter can motivate you to eat more balanced meals that work for your body.  Simply monitoring your blood sugar every 15 minutes after a typical breakfast can show you what sort of a ride your blood sugar level took before returning to normal. Seeing what is actually happening in your body empowers you to tailor your meals to suit your particular needs. Through trial and error, you can find a mix of whole foods that satisfies yet does not put you on the 'wild ride' of the refined carbohydrate-induced blood sugar roller coaster.  Above on the right, you can see a graph of how two breakfasts, similar in total calories, affected my blood sugar. Both breakfasts were built around yogurt. The first was full-fat Greek yogurt, plain with a little stevia for sweetness, plus a couple of tablespoons cream, 1/4 cup blueberries, and two tablespoons slivered almonds. The second breakfast was similar, yet low in fat -- organic fat-free blueberry yogurt, an apple, and a granola bar. Without a blood sugar meter, we are unaware of this ride that so many of us jump on at breakfast and stay on until bedtime. With a blood sugar meter, you can see the peaks and valleys, and plan a way off that ride (eat less sugar and flour!)

Are you one of the 78 million American adults with undiagnosed pre-diabetes? Stop by any drug store, invest in a blood sugar meter, and you will know tomorrow morning. It’s that simple. And, it is much more important than knowing (exactly) how many steps you took yesterday, don’t you think?

 

 

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Juiced On Juice

Every month or so, I buy a 16oz container of freshly squeezed orange juice. And, I noticed that the always-helpful cashiers at my grocery store usually ask me, “Would you like to keep that out?” By this, they mean would I like to keep the OJ separate from the bagged groceries because I might want easy access to this beverage? Presumably, so I could chug it in the car on my way home???

My reply is always, “No thanks.” But, actually, what I want to say is…. “This is orange juice for my family of five. We will all get three to four ounces of juice in a small (juice) glass on Sunday morning. It’s a treat – we do this once a month. So, NO, I will not be downing this on my drive home.”

Orange juice, although delicious, is full of sugar. Two cups (16oz) of orange juice has more sugar than a 12oz Coke.  And, juice is fruit stripped of its fiber, so we tend to over-consume it. 16 oz of orange juice is the juice of roughly six medium oranges. That is a lot of oranges... The juice contains a trace amount of fat and a couple of grams of protein. Most of the calories are from sugar. Basically, orange juice is a carb-fest.

But the cashiers had me thinking… Lots of customers must say, “Yes. Please leave it out.” (Or they wouldn't ask, right?) And at least some of these shoppers must proceed to drink all or most of that 16oz container on the long ride home. So I thought, hmmm… what would happen if I chugged the orange juice?

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This graph gives you a picture of what happened to my blood sugar during this little adventure. Not pretty. And, I was definitely a little buzzed... I felt a rush. I felt a little bloated (that's a lot of juice!) and a little dazed. I could NOT CONCENTRATE (perhaps explaining the warning on the label, 'NOT from CONCENTRATE')? And then, two and a half hours later, I was starving. So I would say, being 'on the juice' is a bad idea. Even if you mean fresh, organic orange juice.

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Just a Spoonful of Sugar...

How much sugar (well, glucose, if you want to be more precise) is floating around in your blood right now? A normal, healthy, average sized adult has about a teaspoon of glucose dissolved in his or her blood. ONE TEASPOON-- a little more, perhaps even double, after a carbohydrate-rich meal. Blood sugar levels are closely monitored by your body. You need some, or you fall into a coma...  but too much blood sugar damages tissues. This is why diabetics, whose bodies are struggling to keep blood sugar levels in check, have serious troubles with circulation, vision, and kidney function.

If you have not yet heard the news, we are in the midst of a startling epidemic -- about 45% of adults are either pre-diabetic or diabetic... So, since blood glucose levels are at the center of this disease, perhaps we should consider how much glucose we are shoveling into our stomachs. Table sugar is half glucose, so that is an important source. But starch, such as grains and potatoes, tend to be an even bigger source of glucose. And starch is broken down into glucose in a flash in your stomach... just minutes after a starchy meal or snack, your blood glucose levels will be on the rise.

For example, consider your breakfast of 1/2 cup Grape Nuts, 1/2 cup skim milk, and a banana. How many teaspoons of glucose might be in your breakfast? A lot. After those digestive enzymes do their thing, roughly 54 grams of glucose gets absorbed into your blood.  That's ELEVEN TEASPOONS. Wow. Your body scrambles to get that glucose out of your bloodstream and into storage, (either in your liver, your muscles, or your fat cells), because all that glucose in your blood would be toxic. This 'fire drill' -- this scramble to get glucose out of your bloodstream, becomes a struggle for pre-diabetics. 

ELEVEN TEASPOONS. For context, a 12oz Coke has 39 grams of sugar, but only roughly half ~ 20 grams is glucose.  That is about 4 teaspoons. 

Hmmmm... For breakfast, if we reduced the starch and added more fat, we could cut way back on the glucose we ask our body to process. Here are some diets that will help you find a better way eating - Vintage Eating.  Real food. More fat.

 

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A Universal Law

Most of us would rather buy a used car from the little old lady down the street than the 24-year-old drag racing dude from around the corner. Why? Because we know that the drag racer has been slamming his foot on the accelerator every chance he gets... and the little old lady? She has been using her car with great care. So her car will last longer.

When you wake each morning and consume a carb-heavy breakfast, low in protein and fat, YOU are that dude slamming your foot on the accelerator. Your blood is quickly flooded with the glucose from the sugar and starch in your fruit, breakfast cereal, and skim milk (or your oversized bagel, low-fat cream cheese, and orange juice), so your pancreas scrambles to pump out insulin to keep you from slipping into a hyperglycemic haze. Your blood sugar spikes, your insulin levels spike, and you begin a roller coaster of a day, slamming on the accelerator and the brake from a blood sugar perspective. This is not easy on your body - your pancreas, your tissues, your teeth - high blood sugar and high insulin levels are just not good for any part of you.

Look here for a graph of blood sugar levels after two very different breakfasts...  eggs vs. cereal.

Take it easy on your body. It is your home. Use it gently.  Eat real food.  Eat more fat.

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