When we eat, our body converts digestible carbohydrates into blood sugar (glucose), our main source of energy. Our blood sugar level can affect how hungry and how energetic we feel, both important factors when we are watching how we eat and exercise. It also determines whether we burn fat or store it.
Our pancreas creates a hormone called insulin that transports blood sugar into our body's cells where it is used for energy. When we eat refined grains that have had most of their fiber stripped away, sugar, or other carbohydrate-rich foods that are quickly processed into blood sugar, the pancreas goes into overtime to produce the insulin necessary for all this blood sugar to be used for energy. This insulin surge tells our body that plenty of energy is readily available and that it should stop burning fat and start storing it.
However, the greater concern with the insulin surge is not that it tells our body to start storing fat. Whatever we eat and don't burn up eventually gets turned into fat anyway.
The greater concern is that the insulin surge causes too much blood sugar to be transported out of our blood and this results in our blood sugar and insulin levels dropping below normal. This leaves us feeling tired and hungry and wanting to eat more. The unfortunate result of this scenario is that it makes us want to eat something else with a high sugar content. When we do, we start the cycle all over again.
What to Watch For
Simple Carbohydrates: Because of their small molecular size, simple carbohydrates can be metabolized quickly and are therefore most likely to cause an insulin surge.
Simple carbohydrates include the various forms of sugar, such as sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (dairy sugar), and glucose (blood sugar). Watch for the "-ose" ending.
Hidden Sugar in Processed Foods: Watch for "hidden" sugar in processed foods like bread, ketchup, salad dressing, canned fruit, applesauce, peanut butter, and soups.
Sugar in Beverages: Be aware of the amount of sugar in beverages, especially coffee and soda pop. It can add up quickly, and most such drinks aren't filling.
Fat-Free Products: Sugar is often used to replace the flavor that is lost when the fat is removed. And as if that's not bad enough, without any fat to slow it down the sugar is absorbed into your blood faster.
Cereal Box Claims of Less Sugar: Many newer cereals do contain less sugar, but the calories, carbohydrates, fat, fiber and other nutrients are almost identical to the full-sugar cereals. The manufacturers have simply replaced sugar with other refined, simple carbohydrates.
No Sugar Added: It doesn't mean that the product doesn't naturally contain a lot of sugar. 100% fruit products often contain concentrated fruit juice, still another form of fructose or sugar.
Table sugar (sucrose) is often said to provide "empty calories" because it has no nutritional value other than providing fuel for energy. Honey and other more natural sugars, on the other hand, are often considered to be healthier because of the trace vitamins and minerals they provide. Still, for weight loss purposes, all of these sweeteners can simply be treated as sugar.
What You Can Do
It is also important to understand what happens when you skip a meal or go on a crash diet. When you skip a meal your metabolism slows to conserve your energy. And when you lose weight too quickly for a few days, your body thinks it is threatened with starvation and goes into survival mode. It fights to conserve your fat stores, and any weight loss comes mostly from water and muscle.
Regulating your blood sugar level is the most effective way to maintain your fat-burning capacity. Never skip a meal, especially breakfast, and eat healthy snacks between meals. Eating frequently prevents hunger pangs and the binges that follow, provides consistent energy, and may be the single most effective way to maintain metabolism efficiency.
When you will be away from home or work, plan your snacks and take them along so that you will be able to eat regularly and won't be tempted by junk food. This may be good advice for people who stay at home, too.
But remember that it was probably snacking between meals that caused you to become overweight in the first place. It will be very important that any snacks are healthy; that they are pre-portioned so you won't be tempted to overeat; and that meal sizes are reduced to compensate for the additional calories the snacks provide.
High fiber snacks and meals also help to regulate your blood sugar level. The fiber slows down glucose absorption and your rate of digestion, keeping your blood sugar level more consistent and warding off feelings of hunger. This makes eating apples and oranges a better choice than drinking (pulp free) apple and orange juice.
A Note about Diabetes
Some people either produce too little insulin or their body doesn't respond to it properly. This creates too high a level of blood sugar in their blood which leads to diabetes. For further information please visit the American Diabetes Association website.
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