Insulin: Like Money in the Bank

Have you ever considered that the amount of insulin you are capable of making over your lifetime is limited? Maybe your pancreas can make, let’s just call it 1000 pounds worth of insulin, and after that it starts to have trouble keeping up with the demand? What would happen if you used up most of your supply by the time you were 40 or 50? Then what? Then your blood sugars would probably start to rise dramatically, and you would need to start taking medicine, whether to make your remaining insulin work more efficiently, to get your pancreas to make more, or to augment your existing supplies. Continue reading

Make Your Insulin Last a Lifetime

If you’ve seen my TED talk, then you know I spend a fair amount of time teaching folks how to use their insulin more efficiently so that they don’t run out, and so they have enough (hopefully) to last a lifetime. Insulin is like a valet service that escorts blood sugar from your blood to all your cells. If you don’t have enough, your sugars start to rise. The fact is that even though you need insulin to live, it is not your friend. You want to use as little as possible. You want the levels of insulin in your bloodstream to stay as low as possible. Just like blood sugar, you want your insulin levels to remain low. Why? Continue reading

Stripped Carbs First Thing in the Morning? No!

Having a hard time understanding why breakfast is the one meal of day that you should not eat toast, bagels, muffins, waffles, pancakes, cereal, biscuits, bread or grits? Here’s why:

When you eat foods that are rich in fiber, fat and protein, it takes quite a while for your body to break them down. So they get absorbed into your bloodstream very slowly. But whenever you eat items made primarily from sugar and other kinds of stripped carbs, your digestive system absorbs the ingredients very quickly.  Continue reading

Gains and Losses

There is a clear connection to be made between stripped carbs, insulin release, and weight gain. High insulin levels cause us to gain weight and store fat. How does that happen? Little by little we are figuring it out. The fact that the obesity and diabetes epidemic continues to worsen day by day underscores that we are operating under a fundamental misconception: If things continue to get worse no matter how hard you try, it’s time to reexamine the fundamentals. The information we get from advertisements and cereal boxes is frankly inaccurate. I have a special name for the nutritional claims on food products: advertising. Continue reading

The Glycemic Index

Many people have heard of the glycemic index (GI), but they are not exactly sure what it means, or how it works. A low glycemic index diet is thought to significantly lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease and even certain cancers. This is probably true, but not for the reasons people think. Continue reading

Insulin is Like Money in the Bank

Have you ever considered that the amount of insulin you are capable of making over your lifetime is limited? That your pancreas can make, oh, let’s just call it 1000 pounds, of insulin, and that after that it starts to have trouble trying to keep up with demand? Think about that. What would happen if you used up most of your supply by the time you were 40 or 50? Then what? Continue reading

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Wherever I go, people always want to talk with me about the blog.  Lately, I’ve heard a lot of this: “I went to your website and saw a lot of interesting stories, but I didn’t know which ones to read first.  Where should I start?  What is the first thing you would want me to understand?”

There are two things I want everyone to understand. First, that there’s a big difference between real food and manufactured calories. And second, manufactured calories cause all kinds of serious medical problems. Like diabetes and obesity, for starters.

So today we’re going on a field trip.  We’re going to step out the back door, and find a field of wheat.  Then we’re going to pick a single grain, and take a careful look at it.  What do we see?  The grain contains 1) a bran fiber coat, 2) an endosperm, composed primarily of starch, and 3) the wheat germ, where the nutritious oils are.  Strip away the bran coat and wheat germ, like humans learned to do a couple hundred years ago, and all you have left is a pellet of white starch (also known as white flour).  Are you with me?

Now, if you could look at that pellet of white starch (or flour) under a microscope, you would see a long, simple chain of sugar molecules in a row.  It turns out that our bodies are so good at breaking the links between those sugar molecules that when you eat white flour, your blood sugar rises as fast as, if not faster than, when you eat sugar, like from a sugar bowl.  How do I know?  Well, one way I know is from my diabetic patients who check their blood sugars after they eat.  White flour and sugar spike blood sugars like crazy.

White flour and sugar are called “refined carbohydrates.”  “Refined” was picked by marketing folks to get customers thinking that whole grain flour was coarse, or unrefined.  For the most part, refined carbohydrates are not found in nature.  We make them that way.  In nature, carbohydrates are almost always found attached to fiber.  Think about dates and beets, for example.  Both of these are used by industry as raw material for refining sugar.  But in their original state, they are so rich in fiber that they get to be superfoods.

Okay, now what happens?  When you eat, your gut breaks down food into sugar, and it gets absorbed into your bloodstream.  If the food is easily broken down (like white flour and sugar), it gets absorbed quickly and your blood sugar rises rapidly.  If the food is broken down slowly (like produce, nuts, whole grains, beans, eggs, meats), it gets absorbed slowly and blood sugars remain more or less stable.

After the broken-down food crosses the walls of your gut and enters your bloodstream, your body releases insulin to catch the incoming sugar and escort it to the cells of your body.  The insulin comes from your pancreas.

Now, here comes THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of this discussion:  The faster you absorb the sugar, the more insulin you need to release to catch all the sugar and take it where it has to go.  The more slowly you absorb the sugar, the less insulin it takes to deal with the incoming sugar.

How does this work?  Like a valet service.  Let’s say you were invited to a huge party, and the invitation said it started at 7 p.m.  Now let’s say that at exactly 7 p.m., 1000 cars show up at the party center.  If this happens, there had better be a lot of valet staff there to park all those cars.

BUT, your friends could have had an open house.  They could have said to show up any time between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.  At the end of the day, the party center would still have parked 1000 cars.  But they would not have needed to hire nearly as many valet staff to do it.  Right?

So now imagine that the cars are the sugar, and the valet staff are the insulin.  If the sugar shows up all at once, you need a lot of insulin to deal with it.  If the sugar drips in bit by bit, you don’t need to release nearly as much insulin.

Which nutrients do we absorb slowly?  Fiber, protein and oil.  Like whole grains, dates, and beets.  Not to mention peanuts, eggs, beans, veggies, and the like.  Which ones do we absorb quickly?  Refined carbs: Cake. Sugar. Breakfast cereal. Doughnuts. Bagels. Cookies.  Is it starting to make sense?  If not, ask me questions!!

Next week:  Why it’s important to use less insulin.

Beverages to Spike Your Blood Sugar

Many people wrote to me about my recent post on soda and juice, so I thought it would be worth talking about the various kinds of drinks that are marketed to us right here in Ohio, the middle of America.  Remember my vignette about the diabetic character on TV?  Suddenly the character begins to act a little strangely, but she’s not too confused to murmur to her friend, “Help me check my blood sugar.  I think it’s too low.”   Sure enough. Now everyone on the set starts to run. What are they getting?  Something with loads of sugar, something she will absorb very quickly.  Like orange juice.  Or a fruit drink, or maybe a coke.

So…sweet beverages like juices and sodas (many with 12 teaspoons of sugar per can) are good choices if you want to spike your blood sugar.  None for me, thanks.

I decided to visit the “beverage center” at our local Walmart to see what’s in stock.  I especially wanted to look at the names of some of these beverages.  My hypothesis, borne out of experiences with margarine and breakfast cereals, is that the more manufactured the product type, the more creative the brand names.  

Here’s what I found in the beverage aisles:  Excluding carbonated drinks entirely, there was Sunny D, Powerade, Gatorade (11 flavors), Juicy Juice, Country Time, Tahitian Treat, Hawaiian Punch (many flavors), “Propel vitamin enhanced water beverage mix” (raspberry lemonade naturally and artificially flavored, and berry naturally flavored), and “Dasani Natural Lemon Flavored Water Beverage.”  V8 Splash (not the well known V8 tomato juice) was available in mango peach, fruit medley, berry blend, and tropical blend, which also has a “diet” version.

Caffeinated or coffee-flavored beverages included Red Bull energy drink (original and sugar free), Monster (regular, mega and lo-carb), Starbucks Frappucino coffee drink in 3 flavors (coffee, mocha, vanilla), and Starbucks doubleshot espresso & cream premium coffee drink (regular and light).

Country Time Lemonade Drink Mix gets consumed in quantity around these parts, so I thought I’d check it out online. According to the official website, Country Time’s name is “reminiscent of a time when it was easier to get good old-fashioned lemonade.”  The powdered mix was first marketed in 1975 by a TV character named “Grandpa.”  Cans and bottles hit the market in 1982.  Then came Pink Lemonade (1995), Iced Tea with Lemon (2003), Strawberry Lemonade (2004), and Country Time Light Lemonade (2005).  The Strawberry Lemonade is “the perfect blend of two favorite flavors:  sweet, sun-ripened strawberries and the classic taste of lemonade.”  Or, you could buy strawberries and lemons, and mix them with sugar and water.

In addition to V8 and V8Splash, V8 makes a fruit juice product called “V8 Vfusion.”  No matter which V8 Vfusion you buy, the first ingredient is sweet potato juice.  The flavors at Walmart included acai-mixed berry, strawberry-banana, pomegranate-blueberry, goji-raspberry,and passionfruit-tangerine.  The acai was listed 6th, the strawberry 7th, and the banana 8th in the list of ingredients.  You’re not really eating tangerines, passionfruit or berries; you’re just eating the names.  You’re not even eating sweet potatoes.  And you’re paying a price that is much higher than the one marked on the bottle.

Among the powdered mixes, Crystal Light took the cake.  The juxtaposition of the words “natural,” “flavor,” and “artificial” was curious.  I didn’t even know about Crystal Light live active (with 3g of fiber), Crystal Light energy, Crystal Light focus, or Crystal Light sunrise prior to my Walmart excursion. Wouldn’t it be better just to get some sleep and exercise?

I also found Crystal Light natural lemonade flavor, natural pink lemonade flavor, peach artificial flavor, raspberry lemonade flavor, white grape artificial flavor, crystal light red tea, crystal light white tea and, believe it or not, “crystal light green tea natural honeylemon flavor with other natural flavor.” You can’t get a whole lot more creative than that.  The word “natural,” which appears twice, describes not the product itself, but its flavor.  It surely took a lot of work to figure out how to make those eleven words sound so natural.

So what else is there to drink?  If you don’t care for a glass of cool water, right from the tap, or a glass of milk, or unsweetened iced tea, then try this recipe:  Dissolve ¼ c. sugar with ¼ c. water in a saucepan over low heat.  Set aside.  Mix 2 cups of water and 1 + 1/2 c. lemon juice (fresh squeezed if you’d like) together in a large pitcher filled halfway with ice while you allow the syrup to cool.  Stir the syrup into the contents of the pitcher. Add lemon slices, strawberry slices or mint leaves, slightly bruised, to garnish.  Serves 4-6.  To your good health!