Heal Your Relationship to Carbs
AVOID THE ROCKY SPIKES AND CRASHES OF UNSTABLE BLOOD SUGAR, PLUS TOOLS TO REFRAME WHAT YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT CARBS AND SUGAR
We're going to say something shocking. Carbs and sugar are not the enemy. Contrary to the chapter in the serial dieter’s handbook (along with intermittent fasting and restrictive juice cleanses) writing off all carbs presents a set of issues. Yo-yo dieting and actively avoiding the body’s main source of energy—glucose—results in blood-sugar whiplash. Mismanaged blood sugar levels not only burden you with the initial signs of “hanger” including irritability, dizziness, and even anxiety, but can disrupt your endocrine system in the long term. This sensitive, glandular network affects everything from cognitive health, digestion, weight balance, fertility, and metabolism. Instead of shunning them full stop, carbohydrates and sugar can be employed as the bedrock for stable blood sugar, thriving hormones, and a balanced, powerful body that never diets again.
Learning Your Bio-Rhythm
Blood sugar is defined as the glucose that is carried in your blood and used for immediate energy or stored in muscle tissues or liver for later. The liver, brain, and pancreas serve as your blood sugar-stabilizing organs. Insulin—produced by the pancreas—and blood sugar is an important relationship and at the crux of why carb and sugar discernment matters. More on this below.
Deciphering Sugar’s Many Shades
Sugar's toxic reputation is rooted in the modern-day variety—a crystallized, processed, boiled, and refined shell of itself—that can damage a cell’s mitochondria, shrinking its water content, and cause premature aging, while also depleting minerals like magnesium and chromium from the liver and kidneys. Unfortunately, this “added sugar” is sprinkled haphazardly, by some estimates, in 74 percent of all packaged foods. It lurks in places you wouldn’t expect like store-bought sauces, salad dressings, granola bars, and dried fruits. Because refined sugar consumption is so rampant in today's American diet, reasonable people assume they should swear off sugar entirely, in all forms, sizes, and shapes. But there's more to the story.
Plants contain carbs, and therefore, sugar. But if we reduce plants to their most abundant macronutrient, we overlook the things they offer that can’t be replicated by man-made, “low-carb” equivalents. Chiefly fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. Along with glucose, these nutrients slow down how sugar is converted into your bloodstream and alters the way it is absorbed in the digestion process. This ultimately prevents unnecessary spikes in blood sugar levels and keeps your hormonal cascade in check. Not to mention, the nutrient profile of low-glycemic, whole food sugar sources are unparalleled. Take the nutrient profile of Manuka honey, which is packed with minerals like zinc and selenium, live enzymes with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and compounds that even aid in tissue regeneration. Some plant-rich sugars, like coconut sugar, contain compounds like inulin fiber which support hormones and insulin sensitivity, while monk fruit has a glycemic index of zero. And naturally-sweet cinnamon is known as nature’s gastric band, increasing satiety and shown to inhibit metabolic slowdown. The same cannot be said about table sugar, which releases into the bloodstream with a quickness and ultimately creates the stage for inflammation and weight gain.
Mismanaged blood sugar levels not only burden you with “hanger”... but can disrupt your endocrine system in the long term
Another way to dodge the crash is to choose complex carbohydrates over simple forms. When processed carbs are stripped of nutrients—and especially stripped of fiber—the rapid glucose release causes a surge of insulin. An excess of insulin in the body, over time, will leave cells insensitive to its presence and lead to a host of inflammatory issues, hormonal imbalance, and chronic disease. An optimal gauge is to aim for a 5:1 carb to fiber ratio (the balance built into each Sakara meal). This is far more stabilizing than the American diet average of 21:1 and ensures the adequate fiber slows down absorption—avoiding a blood sugar spike and crash. The more disparate the carb to fiber ratio, the more pronounced the crash. Why? Your body is seeking a glucose quick fix. And that triggers a lust for more simple, sweet, and starchy foods to find homeostasis. What you want is foods that slowly raise blood sugar like whole grains and plant protein.
Don’t Ditch Brain Food
Another reason to remember real sugar’s virtues is that your brain, along with every cell in the body, runs on it. Rich in neurons and nerve cells, the brain requires the lion’s share of glucose provided from food. Glucose also stimulates neurotransmitters, which are the chemical messengers that work between the brain and other organ systems. When glucose isn’t present, they don’t turn on which can affect synapses, cognitive health, and memory. Again, sourcing of the glucose matters here. While the refined, processed, and bliss-point activating varieties are engineered to be enticing, their jittery aftermath can actually do more harm than good. The acidity of these foods, along with the man-made chemicals and pesticide-heavy ingredient additives, invite high blood sugar levels that can inhibit the growth of BDNF, which integrative psychiatrist, Dr. Drew Ramsey, describes as “the master hormone that controls neuroplasticity, which enables us to learn and evolve.”
When our brains are deprived of good-for-you glucose, our waistlines can also take a negative hit. The brain requires more energy than any other human organ, requiring about 20 percent of our daily calorie intake. When we monitor macros, count carbs, and fixate on calories, the energy we do have is allotted to essential functions first (breathing and body temperature regulation), leaving us feeling foggy-headed, tired, moody, and particularly susceptible to poor food choices. Pair that with the low-blood sugar caused by your lack of nutrient intake, and it’s common for hypoglycemia to kick in and “willpower” to give out. “Biologically speaking, there is no willpower,” Founder of Flo Living and author of WomanCode, Alisa Vitti writes. “There’s simply no way to win the blood sugar battle once you’re already riding the hypoglycemic rollercoaster—your hormones will win every time.” This is especially true at different phases of your hormonal cycle, Vitti explains. As your hormones shift in the luteal and menstrual phases, you’re biologically wired to crave more carbohydrates in preparation for the hormonal cascade. All the more reason to embrace minimally-processed, whole plants to fuel the brain while preventing chronic insulin resistance.
Recalibrate Your Blood Sugar Levels
It’s common to vacillate between one extreme (avoiding carbs at all costs, experiencing fatigue and low energy) to the other (unwittingly consuming sugars from items like bottled juices and breakfast yogurt, only to fall victim to its addictive nature). Instead, end the vicious carb cycle and empower yourself: rehabilitate your hormones and blood glucose levels with smart nutritive tactics.
Glucose also stimulates neurotransmitters, which can affect synapses, cognitive health, and memory.
Put Into Practice:
Recipes that balance the saccharine with fiber, phytonutrients, and minerals. You can satisfy a sweet tooth and keep your hormones humming.
MORE TABOO-BREAKING NUTRITION: