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Blood sugar is the substance which acts as the fuel which runs many of your bodily processes and all of your brain processes. It is regulated in two ways within your body (you can also regulate it by what you put into your body): when the blood sugar rises above the levels which your body has programmed itself to use, a healthy pancreas will release insulin to "burn off" some of the sugar by moving it into the cells to be metabolized. When the blood sugar drops, the brain (which is extraordinarily sensitive to this) sends signals into the system for you to EAT SOMETHING NOW. Here's what happens if you eat. . . .
Proteins- these are slowly digested and metabolized by the body, causing a blood sugar rise which begins about 20 minutes after you eat and which continues for several hours.
Fats- when eaten alone, fats have virtually no effect on blood sugar.
Fats- when eaten in combination with proteins or carbohydrates, fats provide a "feeling of fullness" called satiety, which slows the digestion of other foods and which helps to sustain the system while the other foods are being processed.
Carbohydrates- eaten alone or in large amounts, these will produce a quick rise in blood sugar, followed by an insulin reaction in which all the newly available sugar (and often some of the little that was there in the first place) is rapidly used up. This leaves the body worse off than before, because it has used energy and vitamins to process the short-lived "food". This happens particularly when the carbohydrates eaten are concentrated, such as sugar, candy, soda, flour/sugar combinations (cookies, doughnuts, etc.) Small amounts of carbohydrates can be eaten alone without triggering this reaction (and by this I mean, 2 slices of bread, a Tbsp. of sugar, 1 piece of fruit or glass of juice) but usually these do not provide the lasting fuel needed to prevent hunger signals again in a short time.
Sometimes, the pancreas, after repeated acts of dietary insult can become first over-reactive, encouraging the condition known as hypoglycemia or chronic low blood sugar. Fat cells are also less sensitive to insulin, while moderate exercise makes the cells more responsive to insulin. In non- insulin-dependent diabetes, also called type two or adult onset diabetes, the body no longer regulates its own blood sugar hormonally. It begins to "resist" the effects of insulin, leaving the sugar in the bloodstream instead of carrying it into the cells. Blood sugar must be regulated by diet and exercise, drugs to decrease the insulin resistance and sometimes insulin introduced into the system.
Type 1 or juvenile diabetes is a different phenomenon, where the body's pancreas cells are desstroyed or injured and can no longer produce insulin at all. This problem always requires insulin.
The body appears better able to utilize small amounts of food given several times daily better than large ones once or twice a day. Planning for more frequent, better blanced meals, also means that it is not put through the stress of waiting, somewhat dysfunctionally, while you get the message to eat, find something, and process it.
Balance proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food selection
Many people eat around 300 grams a day of carbohydrates (less than 45 grams per a day of high quality protein!) and an excessive amount of fat. This is far from optimum.
On this site, the diet recommendations are designed to supply a minimum of 70 grams per day of highest quality protein, together with no more than 150 grams of carbohydrates from cereals and sugars, and about 80 from fruit (2-4 pieces). Others carbohydrates are available in beans and starchy vegetables, and in dairy products such as milk and yogurt, if they are used.
Drastic elimination, perhaps of all sugar products and most fruits, has proved quite effective for some people. Many people find that their bodies fine-tune at around 130-160 grams of carbohydrates per day, not craving more. In fact, bodies accustomed to a lower carbohydrate diet can report reactions similar to a hangover following a carbohydrate binge.
Students on high protein, medium carbohydrate diets are apparently less easily fatigued and more able to work under stress of all kinds. You can discover what works for you over a period of several weeks by starting at a base of 6 servings a day and only increasing one serving every two to three days. Find out what level of carbohydrate consumption is optimal for your body.
Information on food composition may be obtained from USDA handbook #12 rev. Composition of Foods. More recent information on carbohydrate gram counts is available in Carper & Krause The All in One Carbohydrate Gram Counter.