November 10, 2020

Diet and metabolic health - the importance of keeping your blood sugar stable

Learn about the link between your food choices and metabolism

The things that affect your metabolism

Metabolism takes care of transforming what you eat into energy and building blocks for your body. After that, metabolism uses that energy and those new building blocks to destroy old cells, maintain living cells and produce new cells.

So actually, the extremely worn-out saying “you are what you eat” couldn’t be more accurate.

This makes it quite obvious that eating a variety of nutritious foods and avoiding empty calories is the first step towards supporting your metabolic health.

But when we dig deeper into the concept of metabolic health it ultimately comes down to two things:

  • How well your body can harvest energy and building blocks from food and,
  • How well your body is able to utilize the building blocks for further use

With this in mind, here are a couple of less well-known aspects of your diet that can have both direct and indirect effects on your metabolic health and wellbeing.

These are:

  • Your meal size - how much you eat at a time
  • Your meal composition - what foods you combine within a single meal
  • Your meal frequency - how often you eat
  • Your meal timing - what times of the day you eat

All these things together have a combined effect on how much stress you are putting on your metabolism.

Your internal fireplace

When it comes to breaking down and harvesting energy and nutrients from food, think of metabolism as if it was your internal fireplace.

You want to keep the fire going nice and steady, producing heat at a fairly constant level. To do this you need to keep adding something that burns into the fire to keep it going. You can throw pretty much anything into the fire and it will burn - but it doesn’t mean that it will burn well.

Some materials burn fast and bright.

Some materials are very hard to burn.

Some materials produce impurities and even toxins when thrown into the fireplace.

Trying to keep the fire going with only rubbish is not a smart choice. You want to choose that quality wood that doesn’t burn out too fast or too slow to produce the optimal amount of heat.

A healthy diet and well-planned meals are the quality wood you want to be throwing into the flames. Besides that, you also want to find that optimal amount and optimal timing for those well-planned meals, so that your internal fire keeps as constant as possible.

You don’t want to throw in too many or too large logs that have the potential to slow down the fire or even put it out completely. On the other hand, throwing in only small sticks of wood makes the fire burn too quickly, forcing you to constantly add wood to the fire.

Of course, human metabolism in all its glory is much more complicated than this - but when it comes to putting our metabolism under just the right amount of stress while processing the foods we eat, the comparison with a fireplace makes a lot of sense.

Your blood sugar

Keeping the cornerstones of a good nutritious diet in mind, reducing metabolic stress comes down to keeping your blood sugar fairly stable throughout the day.

According to a growing number of research, rapid and repeated spikes and dips in blood sugar throughout the day puts our metabolism under a great amount of stress and can increase the risk for developing many metabolic problems. (1,2,3,4)

These blood sugar spikes and dips can also affect your everyday life. Large fluctuations have been linked to skin problems, tiredness, sudden feelings of low energy coupled with losing your mental focus. (5,6,7)

To stay stable you need to understand how your meals affect your blood sugar.

In general, the more carbohydrates you have at one sitting, the more sugar is pushed into your bloodstream. This rise in blood sugar triggers the pancreas to secrete a hormone called insulin - a hormone that helps the sugar to be cleared from the blood and be pushed into various tissues and cells.

A rise in blood sugar is not ultimately a bad thing. It is very often inevitable. What you want to try to avoid is your blood sugar rapidly skyrocketing after a meal.

First of all, this puts a lot of stress on your pancreas as it tries to secrete as much insulin as possible to bring your blood sugar down. Secondly, a fast rise is usually followed by a fast drop, causing all those nasty negative sensations mentioned earlier. It has been suggested that repeatedly pushing the pancreas to secrete large amounts of insulin leads the pancreas to literally burn out (8). Repeated high levels of insulin have also been associated with cells and tissues becoming resistant to insulin (9).

This means that ultimately you may end up with a metabolism that can’t clear the sugar from the blood, either because of the pancreas not secreting enough insulin or because of the insulin not affecting your body in the same way anymore. In many cases it is the combination of both. And yes - this is what we call type 2 diabetes.

Your cravings

Besides making you fight against that brain fog and feelings of low energy, sudden drops in blood sugar can trigger food cravings or a strong need to snack on something sweet (10).

These post-meal cravings and feelings of hunger are often very uncalled for. You’re not really in need of more energy. The sudden drop has just triggered a safety mechanism which is supposed to protect you from life-threateningly low levels of blood sugar.

Of course you’re most likely not in any real danger, but in the modern world a lot of these mechanisms that were developed to protect us have now turned against us.

Cravings can cause physical and emotional rollercoaster rides throughout your day. In the moment they can cause energy fluctuations, frustration and impulsive food choices that normally wouldn’t be part of your healthy eating habits.

So, what can you do to avoid your life becoming a constant rollercoaster ride where you daydream about chocolate bars while writing emails? Let's look further into it.

Combining and timing your food

As described, carbohydrates are the main reason why your blood sugar rises after a meal. This means that if you want to eat carbs and still stay fairly stable, you need to find out which suit you and in what amounts.

Many of us are familiar with the concept of fast and slow carbohydrates. Avoid sugars while relying on more complex carbohydrates. You might have also heard about the glycemic index (GI) or glycemic load (GL).

If a carbohydrate containing food has a low glycemic index, it should have a more moderate effect on one's blood sugar. People have therefore been encouraged to eat low GI foods to stabilize their blood sugar.

But to make it complicated, our meals rarely consist of only one single food. A meal is almost always a combination of different foods, with different amounts of different carbohydrates, combined with foods that don’t even have carbohydrates.

Combining carbohydrate rich foods with protein has shown to result in a more moderate rise in blood sugar (11). The same has been shown to be true when combining high GI foods such as rice with legumes (beans and pulses) (12). In general, mixing carbohydrate rich food with other foods in a meal has a very different effect on the blood sugar when compared to eating only the carbs (13).

The food order also seems to matter. Eating a protein-rich meal before consuming something with a higher GI can result in a slower rise in blood sugar (14). This might come handy if you’re still looking for ways to enjoy some of your favourite sugary treats. Just remember to have them as a dessert after a protein rich meal.

It has also been proposed that specific minerals (like magnesium, chromium and zinc) and phytochemicals (found especially in foods like berries, nuts, soy, cinnamon, seaweed, tea, ginseng, beans and chocolate) can even out the post-meal blood sugar rise (15).

These are all good starting points, but since it has been shown that different people can have very different or even opposite blood sugar responses to the same amount of the same food (16), it all becomes a very frustrating guessing game. And on top of that, when you eat your meal can affect your blood sugar response - having the same meal later in the day can cause a higher blood sugar response than if it was consumed earlier (17).

Remove the guesswork

Going back to our fireplace metaphor -  without objectively measuring the change in blood sugar, it is almost impossible to define the ideal combination of different foods that creates the perfect fuel for your highly individual fireplace and on top of that figure out how that varies from morning to evening.  

You could rely on your gut feeling. Maybe keep a food diary to make the connections between those certain sensations and what you just ate.

But instead of guessing, why not make it much easier by using a CGM that gives you an objective real time window into your metabolic responses.

Veri does not only show you the changes in your blood sugar, it also helps you understand how your meals impact you. Each meal you log in Veri has a Meal Score calculated for it based on your blood sugar response. This allows you to easily compare meals and eating patterns and see what suits you the best.

When the blood sugar spikes are under control, you should be able to more reliably trust your sensations of satiety and hunger.

And once you figure out what is the right type and amount of wood for your fireplace at a given time of the day, it is way easier to start adjusting your meal schedule.

Let Veri be your personal guide into your metabolism helping you to make consistent, well-informed decisions that will improve both your everyday wellness and long term health.

References

1. M Hanefeld, “Postprandial hyperglycaemia: noxious effects on the vessel wall”, 2002, Published in International Journal of Clinical Practice. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12166606/

2. D Rodbard et al. “Improved quality of glycemic control and reduced glycemic variability with use of continuous glucose monitoring”, 2009, Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19905888/

3. S Suh and J Kim. “Glycemic Variability: How Do We Measure It and Why Is It Important?”, 2015, Published in Diabetes Metabolic Journals. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4543190/

4. H Hall et al. “Glucotypes reveal new patterns of glucose dysregulation”, 2018, Published in PLOS Biology. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30040822/

5. R Smith et al. “A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial”, 2007. Published in American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17616769/

6. C Fritsch and L Quinn, “Fatigue in patients with diabetes: A review”, 2010. Published in Journal of Psychosomatic Research. URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399910000620?via%3Dihub

7. O Roladsson et al. “Increased Glucose Levels Are Associated With Episodic Memory in Nondiabetic Women”, 2008. Published in Diabetes. URL: https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/57/2/440

8. R Robertson, “β-cell deterioration during diabetes - what’s in the gun?”, 2009. Published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756315/

9. M Shanik et al. “Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia: is hyperinsulinemia the cart or the horse?”, 2008. Published in Diabetes Care Journals. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18227495/

10. K Page et al. “Circulating glucose levels modulate neural control of desire for high-calorie foods in humans”, 2011, Published in Journal of Clinical Investigation. URL: https://www.jci.org/articles/view/57873

11. H Meng et al. “Effect of macronutrients and fiber on postprandial glycemic responses and meal glycemic index and glycemic load value determinations”. 2017. Published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5366046/

12. D Winham et al. “Glycemic Response to Black Beans and Chickpeas as Part of a Rice Meal: A Randomized Cross-Over Trial”, 2017. Published in Nutrients. URL:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5691712/

13. J Kim et al. “Effect of nutrient composition in a mixed meal on the postprandial glycemic response in healthy people: a preliminary study”, 2019. Published in Nutrition Research and Practice. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6449539/

14. H Meng et al. “Effect of prior meal macronutrient composition on postprandial glycemic responses and glycemic index and glycemic load value determinations”, 2017. Published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5657290/

15. W Russel et al. “Impact of Diet Composition on Blood Glucose Regulation”, 2013. Published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. URL: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2013.792772

16. D. Zeevi et al. “Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Responses”, 2015. Published in Cell. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26590418/


17. C Bandin et al. “Meal timing affects glucose tolerance, substrate oxidation and circadian-related variables: A randomized, crossover trial”, 2015. Published in International Journal of Obesity. URL: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25311083/

Needless to say, we're just getting started and are excited to share all our learnings in the future!

To optimal health,
Anttoni, Frans & Verneri

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