5 Reasons to Keep your Blood-Sugar Balanced

You may have heard of the world “blood-sugar,” and probably know it’s talked about by diabetics, but you may not know why it’s important. Most food is broken down by our bodies into sugar, and we use that for energy. Eating too many “simple sugars” can make our blood sugar too high. On the other side, waiting too long to eat, or crashing from a sugary meal, can make our blood sugar too low. Here’s why it’s important to keep it at a balanced medium:   Grouchy from low blood sugar

1.  Low Blood Sugar can make you really grouchy. In my family, it’s well-known that none of us can go hungry for too long. I have 3 sisters, and if our blood sugar gets too low, we turn from sweet, loving women into a bunch of crazed, angry people in need of an exorcism. If you go too long without eating, you can get yourself a permanent condition of hypoglycemia.
How to Fix It: Eat small meals every few hours, and keep snacks on you at all times. I always have a bag of trail mix in my purse, and baked veggie chips in the car. I don’t overeat at meals, but I eat smaller meals more often. I do this for the sanity of those around me and the people I love, so they don’t have to witness my wrath of hunger.

2.  High Blood Sugar can make you really hyperactive, then crash into a unproductive coma. If you eat a high sugar/high starch meal, you can have a “tweak out” as the sugar surges through your body. Sugar is absorbed into the bloodstreaHyperactive Cat from too much sugarm as soon as it enters the mouth, it doesn’t even need to be digested. So that innocent little frappicino or soda can send you into a hang-shaking, mind-racing state of blood sugar mania. Then, to make matters worse, your blood sugar will sharply drop back down causing a crash. Then a state of exhaustion and lack of energy will occur. And how do people pick themselves back up? More sugar! It becomes a vicious cycle.
Cat SleepingHow to Fix It: Eat tons of fiber and some healthy fat in every meal. This will lower the glycemic load and slow the break-down of sugar in the body. Also, avoid sugary snacks and treats on a daily basis. Give yourself a “treat day,” and just eat sweets once a week or so.

3.  Consistently high/low blood sugar increases your risk for diabetes. Don’t think you’reDiabetes Treatments too young to be at risk for diabetes! There are children being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, which is very preventable. It can happen at any age. And do you want the expenses and the annoyance of daily injections, medications, and strict diet guidelines?

How to Fidiabetes pillsx It: Make the choice to be healthy today. And eat more vegetables!!! This isn’t just an annoying thing our parents say, it’s a true key to health. Increase whole gluten-free grains, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats. If you can’t live without ice cream and chocolate cake, give yourself one day a week to indulge.

4.  Low Blood Sugar can slow your metabolism down. If you wait too long in-between meals to eat, your body goes into fasting mode. All of your systems slow down, and you your body holds onto fat reserves. Also, if you get too hungry, you’re more likely to eat a huge meal and consume access calories all at once.
How to Fix It: Continuing to eat small meals throughout the day will keep your metabolism revved up, and your body will even burn more calories as you sleep.

5.  Balanced blood sugar makes you smarter! Ok, not exactly smarter…but it will keep your mind clearer! Low blood sugar leads to “fuzzy brain” syndrome, where you have trouble thinking clearly. You can forgot things more easily, and will have more trouble functioning. High blood sugar can make you hyperactive, and your fast Human Brainmoving brain can have trouble concentrating and holding on to information. So balanced blood sugar can improve your memory and your brain functioning! So eat those vegetables, I swear there’s a million ways to make veggies tasty. Just listen to Einstein, he was all about it!

The Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut!Saturated fats have been villainized in  as the definitive root of heart disease and the many other degenerative ailments so common in our culture. Yet, cultures throughout the world have eaten saturated fats throughout their histories. Coconut oil has been a victim of this treatment, being composed of nearly 90% saturated fats. Has it received an unfair treatment?

The coconut hails from the Pacific Islands, where it has been a food staple for thousands of years among the islands’ inhabitants. Coconut oil is the product of pressing the meat of the coconut to extract the pure fat. Similar methods are used to produce coconut cream (a pressing of the meat, but keeping a whole product and not merely extracting the oil) and coconut milk (a pressing/pureeing of the meat with a liquid, frequently the coconut’s own water). Various cultures throughout the Pacific Islands, such as the Trobriand Islanders, derive a large percentage of the calories from the coconut, from which nearly all their fat calories derive. And yet, these people have a near absence of heart disease or other degenerative diseases as our culture.

Research into the benefits and structure of coconut oil have produced surprising results. Such benefits include: improved immune system, boosted thyroid, more efficient digestion and metabolism, and increased weightloss. Additionally, coconut oil has been used in the tropics for skin conditions, and simply as a beauty aid for skin and hair. Coconut sports a unique profile of fat molecules, unique in almost all the plant kingdom. It is from its unique molecular structure that its benefits can be attributed.

Coconut TreeOther than mothers milk, coconut oil the most dense source of lauric acid known. Lauric acid is an important fat molecule for our bodies, especially as infants, as it helps to build our immune systems. Lauric acid converts in our bodies into monolaurin, a substance known to be anti-bacterial and anti-viral. This fact alone has led coconut oil to be proscribed to individuals with severely compromised immune systems, such as HIV patients.

Coconut oil’s other unique attribute is that is composed of mostly mono-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a saturated fat, and compose about 50% of the fat found in coconut oil. MCTs vary significantly from other fats in how our bodies metabolize them, whether this be saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, or polyunsaturated fats. Commonly, other fatty acids are considered to be long-chain fatty acids, which are large molecules that take a significant amount of energy for our bodies to break down. As such, they are much more likely to be stored as fat within our bodies. MCTs on the other hand, are efficiently broken down by our liver, and almost immediately utilized for energy. Benefits attributed to coconut oil such as increased metabolism, energy, and athletic stamina can be traced back to this fact. Additionally, coconut oil is now frequently recommended for Alzheimer and dementia patients because of its potential ability to help with cognitive function – a fact that can also be traced back to how it is metabolized.

Another benefit of coconut oil is simply that it is composed primarily of saturated fats. This in beneficial when it comes to cooking, as many commonly used oils for cooking are polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats break down quickly when exposed to heat, and thus become rancid. This can occur even at seemingly light heat. Saturated fats break down much more slowly when exposed to heat, especially the more saturated they are by nature. Coconut oil’s 90% saturated nature makes it ideal for cooking, even at heats high enough for frying. Additionally, coconut oil is ideal for baking, as its highly saturated structure makes it ideal for prolonged exposure to heat. You may even want to consider using coconut oil exclusively for your cooking needs!

Liquid Coconut OilCoconut oil is again becoming a mainstream oil, and is now relatively easy to find. While you can find it numerous health food stores, it is now being offered at many more ‘conventional’ locales. When buying coconut oil, look for virgin cold-pressed unrefined oil. While other varieties can also be beneficial to your health, cold-pressed and unrefined oils are extracted at lower temperatures to maintain the integrity of the fat’s molecular structure, and unrefined to not contain chemical agents to help the extraction (which can be harmful to your health). Coconut oil is typically hard a room temperature because of its saturated nature, but can also be a clear liquid at above 70°F.

Give coconut oil a try, you’ll be wonderfully surprised, even if only for its flavor!

Sugar Substitutes – Are They Safe? (Part 2)

In this article we’ll cover the most commonly used sugar alcohols, Stevia, and how sugar substitutes may affect our appetites.

Be sure to check out Part 1 of this article here if you haven’t already! Get the lowdown on what a Sugar Substitute is, as well as info on the most widely used artificial sweeteners!

Sugar alcohols are a hydrogenated form of a carbohydrate, similar but slightly different to the molecular structure of other sugars. Unlike artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols are actually less sweet than sugar, with their sweetness compared to sugar varies depending on the sugar alcohol. However, because they taste much more similar to table sugar, they are frequently mixed with artificial sweeteners to create a taste comparable to table sugar. Additionally, sugar alcohols do have calories. On average, they contain approximately 2 kcal per gram. Because of this slight amount of calories contained, sugar alcohols can have an affect on an individual’s blood sugar levels. However, sugar alcohols are partially absorbed by our bodies in the small intestine (rather than almost immediately with common sugar), and so have a much more negligible effect on our blood sugar – again, a very important concern for diabetics. Depending on the country you live or purchase sugar alcohols, they can either be labeled as calorie free (as in the United States), or labeled as having few calories (as in Britain). A word of caution: our bodies are not able to fully breakdown and assimilate sugar alcohols, and thus over-consumption can lead to bloating, flatulence, and even diarrhea. Moderation is key.

Erythritol and Xylitol are two of the most commonly used sugar alcohols for food consumption, as they taste most similar to table sugar and have little if any after taste. Erythritol is approximately 60-70% as sweet as sugar, while Xylitol is approximately 90% as sweet as sugar. However, both are frequently labeled and sold as being the same sweetness as table sugar. Erythritol is more fully absorbed by our bodies than any other sugar alcohol, and thus has the least amount of flatulent or laxative affects. Research on Xylitol has been shown it to reduce harmful strains harmful micro-organisms. Specifically, it has been shown to reduce strains of Mutans streptococci, a group of bacteria shown to be a significant contributor to tooth decay.

Stevia is one of the newest sugar substitutes widely available for sale and used for food consumption in the United States, although has been used for decades to centuries in other countries (such as Japan). It is an herb of the species Stevia rebaudiana, and frequently referred to as sweet leaf. Stevia is approximately 300 times sweeter than sugar! Stevia does has marked aftertaste that some find undesirable, and is thus frequently mixed with sugar alcohols when used in food products. If small amounts of Stevia are used, the aftertaste is less marked. Stevia extract is used for processed food consumption, and is labeled as rebaudioside A. Stevia has been used for centuries by the indigenous people of Paraguay, where it was used a folk remedy to help control blood sugar. Recent research has validated this remedy, showing Stevia as being beneficial to help regular blood glucose levels.

Do Sugar Substitutes Affect Our Appetites? Various studies have been conducted through the years regarding whether sugar substitutes affect our metabolism in direct ways that could trigger our body’s desire to consume more calories or even directly affect our body’s metabolism and systems for storing fat. Sugar substitutes generally do not exist in nature (perhaps other than Stevia), and thus our bodies have evolved to associate a significant number of calories with a sweet flavor. Studies within the past few years on rats have shown that rats fed a surplus diet sweetened with saccharin (an artificial sweetener) gained more weight than rats fed a surplus diet sweetened with glucose or sucrose. When the rats’ core temperature was analyzed, the rats fed artificial sweeteners had a lower core temperature than those fed with glucose or sucrose immediately after eating. Core temperature is an indication of metabolism – a lower core temperature in rats fed artificial sweeteners indicated that the mechanism in the rats’ required to burn excess calories was not triggered, leading to lower overall metabolic rate. Additionally, the rats fed artificial sweeteners ate more total calories than rats fed glucose/sucrose.

While no studies have been conducted on humans regarding artificial sweeteners and metabolism, it is important to understand that artificial sweeteners recreate a taste our bodies are equipped to handle in a very specific manner. While we can’t say if they will in fact slow our metabolism, we do know that many people will crave more sweets the more they eat. Simply because a food contains artificial sweeteners, it does not mean it can be eating to excess – it still contains whatever calories it would have without sugar.

If you’re going to eat a cookie, eat a cookie. Don’t eat the whole box!

If you’re having trouble with sugar cravings, be sure to check out: Understanding Sugar Cravings!

What’s a Calorie?

Most people aren’t concerned with the nature of calories unless they are trying to either lose or gain weight, the former being the more common in our culture. The common knowledge of calories usually doesn’t extend beyond the fact that if you use more calories than you ingest you’ll lose weight, and if you ingest more calories than you use you’ll gain weight. But what is a calorie, exactly?

A calorie is measurement of a unit of energy, similar to how a Joule is also a measurement of a unit of energy. More specifically, it is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. In nutrition, it is used as the basis for measuring the energetic potential of food, as well as a measure for gauging the energetic requirements of an individual, which in turn is influenced by their Metabolism.

Calories in Food.

All food contains calories, but calories in food are more than the little demons that sew your pants tighter in the night. Everyone needs a certain number of calories to eat throughout the day to survive, and it’s important to know how many calories your food contains.

Food is broken down into three major groups, the Macronutrients. These three groups are: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats. Protein and Carbohydrates have a potential 4 calories per gram. Fats, on the other hand, have a potential 9 calories per gram. This is important to note, as the same measure of fat has more than double the amount of calories for the same measure of either protein or carbohydrates! This doesn’t mean you should stop eating fats altogether if you’re trying to lose weight, or even eat fats exclusively if you’re trying to gain weight! Fats are extremely important to your physiological functions (would they be so delicious, if not?), which we’ll cover in future articles. Simply, it’s important to note that if you indeed are trying to lose weight, fat is much more calorie-dense than other foods, and thus it is much easier to overeat.

Notice that I stated foods have a ‘potential’ calorie amount. Each macronutrient differs from the others in its chemical structures, and there are even differences within each macronutrient group. For example, proteins have a high Thermogenic Effect (See Thermogenic Effect of Food in Metabolism), meaning that amount of energy required for your body to breakdown protein is much higher than for any other macronutrient! Some studies estimate that almost 30% of the energy your body would be able to utilize from protein is actually required to digest the protein to begin with! Another example is Fiber (Cellulose). Fiber is a form of Carbohydrate that is mostly indigestible by humans, so while it may have a potential 4 calories per gram, it cannot be broken down by our digestive system and so yields 0 calories per gram.

Note: I’ll be covering the Macronutrients in more detail soon!

Metabolism! How does it affect me, really?

So often we hear people blame their metabolism for many things…their ability to eat anything and stay thin, or why they eat salad but can’t lose weight. But what is this “metabolism” thing, anyway?
There are actually several different “types” of metabolism. I’ll explain the basics, so that you can get a better understanding of the way your body deals with calories and energy.

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): Very closely related to “Basal Metabolic Rate,” (but we’ll stick with RMR, as its easier to remember and pronounce), our RMR makes up the largest percentage of our metabolism. (Between 65%-75%!!!!) Your RMR is the amount of calories your body burns at “rest.” (So your energy expenditure when you are sleeping, sitting, basically doing anything that isn’t physical). This part of your metabolism is pretty constant. And a lot of it is genetic; hence why some people can just “eat whatever they want” and stay thin. But before you get upset that your RMR isn’t “naturally” high, there are certain things that affect it, (and there are parts of your metabolism that you do have control over!)
Things that affect RMR:

    • Age (our Resting Metabolism goes down as we age.)
    • Percentage of Muscle Mass (Muscle burns more calories than fat).
    • Sex (Not how much you have, but men tend to burn more calories than women, usually because of their percentage of muscle).
    • Height and Size (The taller and larger you are, the more surface area you have. The more surface area you have, the more calories you burn.)

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Your body’s TEF is the amount of calories burned by digesting food, processing nutrients and food storage. That’s right, eating burns calories! It makes up 5-10% of your metabolism. But before you make yourself Thanksgiving dinner every day, there’s a balance between eating too much and optimizing your TEF. Nutrient dense food (i.e. food that contains a lot of fiber, vitamins, Omega fatty acids, etc. compared to how many calories it contains), insures your TEF is running high while you’re not storing too many excess calories. Potato chips and candy are not nutrient dense…they have very little nutrients compared to their calories. So if a lot of “good stuff” is packed into everything you eat, your body will use its energy more efficiently. (Most “whole” foods). I also recommend eating smaller meals, as you will have less “extra calories” that will go into storage after you eat. (And you’ll probably have more energy, since your body won’t have to use all its resources to keep digesting.)

Physical Activity energy expenditure (PAEE): Can you guess what this is?? Exercise! Physical Activity usually makes up 15%-35% of your metabolism. Why such a large range of calorie burning? Because there’s such a large range of activity you could be participating in. If you spend your day off watching TV, a lot less of your calorie burning will come from PAEE. If you go jogging, lift weights, and then go dancing, your PAEE will make up a much larger percentage, and usually burn more calories. Physical activity is anything that requires physical effort. Construction workers often get their activity on the job. Europeans often walk and bike for transportation, getting their physical activity that way. But this isn’t just about weight loss, having a high rate of physical activity usually gives you more energy, as your body burns more calories even after you stop. Plus you get lots of the happy hormones, as exercise releases serotonin in your brain! (Bonus).
Of course you can overdo it, since it is using your body’s energy stores. (When hiking the John Muir Trail, I needed a nap after a few mountain peaks.) But most people in America under-do it, so find a way to get active, your body will thank you for it.

Note: I will be writing many more articles on the benefits of exercise, ways to avoid injury, the best work-outs for you, etc.