The Importance of Blood Sugar Balance
Do you have a sweet tooth, or reach for sugary treats when you’re stressed and your energy is flagging? If so, chances are you’re suffering from unbalanced blood sugar.
In this article, you’ll find out why fluctuations in your blood sugar are bad news for your health.
The Sugar Rollercoaster
Every cell of your body uses glucose, obtained from food, as energy. All cells, but especially your brain, need a constant supply of this energy, and the body has developed sophisticated mechanisms to keep the amount of glucose in your blood at a steady state.
When glucose is absorbed from food, the amount of sugar in your blood increases. High blood sugar levels can damage cells, so the pancreas must release insulin. This reduces blood glucose levels by allowing sugar to enter cells to be used for energy. Once blood sugar falls again, temporary energy stores can be used from the liver and muscles if no food is immediately available.
Glucose is released into the blood at different speeds depending on the food eaten. If sugar is packaged with fibre, protein or fat, it will be absorbed slowly into the bloodstream. Sugary and processed foods deliver energy quickly: great in an emergency, but not so good over the long term. This is because if blood sugar levels peak quickly, there’s a tendency for slightly too much insulin to be released, meaning blood sugar levels crash down again. This leaves you feeling jittery and irritable, and you won’t be able to think straight, because your brain is crying out for energy. Cue a sugar craving. You then eat something sweet, and the cycle is repeated.
Over the long term, the stress glands are negatively affected by unbalanced blood sugar, leading to fatigue. Blood sugar imbalance also predisposes sugar to be stored away as fat, with resulting weight gain.
The Downsides of Sugar
Apart from providing a quick energy boost – with its associated problems – sugar has no redeeming features.
Your body’s blood sugar control mechanisms need nutrients to function. Refined sugar does not contain any vitamins and minerals, so the net result is nutrient depletion. Sugar found naturally in whole foods, however, is combined alongside vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre needed by the body.
Because of its connection with weight gain, blood sugar imbalance is linked to metabolic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Sugar also contributes to tooth decay, depression, poor skin health, depleted immune system, neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, and even premature ageing. Sugar is also connected with imbalances in female hormones, and many women can relate to pre-menstrual sugar cravings.
Finally, sugar is a leading cause of inflammation, the root of almost every chronic disease.
The average daily sugar consumption in the UK for an adult is a whopping 60g, largely from confectionary, cereals and soft drinks. With all the downsides associated with sugar, why do we bother eating it at all?
The answer is sugar is extremely addictive. Sugar acts as a reward for the brain, programmed over the millennia to seek out energy in food.
The high associated with a sugar rush brings with it intense feelings of pleasure, while the crash when sugar is removed leaves you craving the high again. Stopping or reducing sugar will cause unpleasant symptoms such as headache, fatigue, irritability and brain fog. The rewards and cravings are similar to or may even be stronger than those created by addictive drugs such as cocaine, according to research.
This is a physical addiction, rather than simply an emotional one, because sugar consumption stimulates the release of a substance called dopamine in your brain, making you feel good. Your brain then tells you to repeat the experience – in other words, eat more sugar.
Over time, more and more sugar is needed to produce the same effect. Small wonder it’s hard to give it up.
Another problem for many people is the sugar content of food is not necessarily obvious. Most processed foods contain added sugar, even savoury foods like salad dressings, tinned vegetables, savoury ready meals, bread and cooked meats. Even worse is liquid sugar contained in soft drinks, sodas and fruit juices, which all deliver a rapid sweet hit.
Why is sugar added to so many commercially prepared foods? The answer is simple: so we will crave more of them.
Functional Medicine and Sugar
Sugar addiction doesn’t need to be a life sentence. Coming off sugar, although not pleasant initially for a sugar addict, means you’ll taste the natural sugar in foods again, and your cravings will no longer control you.
Once you’ve broken the cycle of sugar addiction and recalibrated your taste buds, you and sugar can re-establish a healthy relationship. If you would like to start your sugar detox journey to better health, contact me.
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