3 ways to enjoy carbs without spiking your blood sugar

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Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the human body, but they can also cause fluctuations in blood sugar, and excessive fluctuations in blood sugar can be harmful to the body. This is not just a concern for diabetics.

So how do we eat carbohydrates without worrying and at the same time reduce the impact on blood sugar?

When a meal is over, blood sugar levels will rise. At this time, the pancreas will secrete insulin, allowing the cells to use the sugar in the blood, and thus the blood sugar level will gradually drop. This curve of blood glucose changes should show constant rises and falls. However, if this curve rises rapidly, rises significantly, or falls rapidly, these blood sugar fluctuations are not good for diabetics, people with metabolic syndrome, or the general population.

Poorly controlled blood glucose and excessive blood sugar fluctuations in diabetics can lead to complications of diabetes, including nephropathy, nerve damage, retinopathy, stroke, and heart disease, among others.

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Because fluctuations in blood glucose increase oxidative stress in people with diabetes, they can lead to cellular dysfunction and tissue damage. Damage to the vascular endothelium is greater with blood glucose fluctuations than with chronic persistent hyperglycemia, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and increased mortality. In a meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal, between 60 and 80 percent of diabetic patients die from vascular disease.

Although patients with metabolic syndrome have no obvious symptoms, they often have abdominal obesity and high blood glucose, high blood pressure, and elevated blood lipid levels. This is also considered prediabetes, and patients who do not control their blood sugar well will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

For the general population, blood sugar fluctuations will lead to obesity, constant hunger, and some physical and mental discomfort, and these symptoms may eventually develop into metabolic syndrome and/or diabetes as well.

With the rapid rise in blood sugar, the body will secrete more and more insulin to lower blood sugar quickly, causing the body to mistakenly think it lacks energy and feel hungry. If you eat again, you will further stimulate insulin secretion, resulting in low blood sugar, thus forming a vicious cycle that leads to insulin resistance.

Excess insulin causes low blood glucose levels, which in turn can cause drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, heart palpitations, tremors, irritability, and/or depression. Also, excess blood sugar that is not used by cells will also be converted to body fat by insulin and stored in the body.

2 main causes of blood sugar fluctuations

The causes of blood sugar fluctuations are related to the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) of carbohydrates.

  1. The higher the GI of a food, the faster it raises blood sugar

Whole grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, milk and other dairy products are common natural sources of carbohydrates.

There are three types of carbohydrates: sugar, starch and fiber.

Sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrate, and because of its simple structure, the body can break it down and use it quickly, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar. In addition to fruits and vegetables, milk, other natural foods and many processed foods also contain sugar.

Starch is a complex carbohydrate that takes time for the body to digest and convert into glucose for use.

Fiber is also a complex carbohydrate, but it cannot be digested or broken down, so it will not affect your blood sugar.

There is another type of starch called resistant starch. Nutritionist Aeris Chen noted that although it is a type of starch, it cannot be digested or absorbed by the intestines, as is the case with dietary fiber. So it won’t break down into glucose, helping to keep your blood sugar stable. In addition, resistant starch can also become food for gut probiotics.

Because a food contains a variety of ingredients, you can look at its glycemic index to assess the impact of different carbohydrates on raising blood sugar.

Typically, refined foods with high sugar content, which have lost a lot of fiber during processing or cooking, are more easily absorbed by the body and then cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. This type of food tends to have a higher GI. Conversely, low GI foods can keep your blood sugar stable.

Common high GI foods they include sugary drinks, pastries, snacks, instant oatmeal, breakfast chips, potato chips, baked potatoes, white bread, white rice, and honey.

In addition, the ripening of the fruit also affects blood sugar. For example, unripe green bananas contain more resistant starch and have a low GI. As these bananas ripen further, their GI will continue to rise, as the amount of resistant starch decreases. Therefore, when considering blood sugar, you should avoid overripe bananas with brown spots.

  1. The higher the glycemic load, the longer the blood sugar rises

Dr. David Gu, director of the HouFeng Diabetes and Hemodialysis Clinic in Taiwan, specializes in the treatment of diabetes and kidney disease. He noted that glycemic load is the total amount of carbohydrates consumed that affect the overall absorption of blood sugar.

Simply put, the GI shows how quickly your blood sugar rises and the GL shows how long your blood sugar rises.

A large-scale study conducted by Harvard University found that long-term intake of high-GL foods is associated with the development of type 2 diabetes.

Even if you eat low GI foods, you still need to pay attention to things like the amount of food and the balance of your GL. For example, eating too much low-GI pasta will increase your carbohydrate intake and also cause your blood sugar to rise too high, because its GL has increased. In addition, bananas do not have a high GI, but their total carbohydrate content is relatively high, which will cause a moderate increase in blood sugar; however, the blood sugar level will continue to rise for a long period of time before slowly falling.

3 ways to eat staple foods without fear of blood sugar spikes

When you eat carbohydrates, especially whole grains, cereals, fruits, and dairy products that raise your blood sugar, there are several ways to avoid excessive blood sugar fluctuations.

  1. Add resistant starch

Increasing the amount of resistant starch (RS) in foods can help control blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. There are four common types of resistant starch:

RS1: It is found in grains, seeds and legumes. It is embedded in the food matrix and cannot be digested or absorbed by the digestive enzymes of the intestines. However, crushing or chewing food can reduce its amount of resistant starch.

RS2: It is found in some starchy foods, including raw potatoes and green, green bananas. This type of starch is inherently resistant, but decreases as the food matures or is cooked.

RS3: It is produced by cooking and then cooling. For example, rice, pasta and potatoes that have cooled after cooking and bread that is baked and cooled.

RS4: It is made by chemical processing and used as a functional food additive to replace refined grain flour with low nutritional value.

In addition to lowering postprandial blood glucose (after meals), resistant starches can also extend this effect to the second meal. For example, eating a breakfast with resistant starch can reduce the peak blood glucose at lunchtime.

Among natural foods that contain resistant starch, legumes are considered one of the best sources of resistant starch. Compared to other foods, resistant starch is less damaged when beans are cooked, and the amount of resistant starch increases after cooling.

A 2018 study found that adding RS4 to muffins significantly reduced the postprandial glycemic response. Compared to the control group, subjects who consumed resistant starch had 33% lower postprandial blood glucose, 8% lower peak blood glucose, and 38% lower postprandial insulin levels.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism compared the effects of RS2 and RS4 resistant starch on blood glucose. It was found that both resistant starches significantly reduced blood glucose, but RS4 performed better.

2. Pay attention to the cooking methods and the order of consumption of the food

It is important to note that the duration and method of cooking will change the structure and nature of the starch.

The longer you cook starchy foods like pasta and rice, the softer they become, the easier they are to digest and absorb, and naturally the higher their GI.

Baked tubers such as sweet potatoes and potatoes will have increased GI. Frying can lower your GI, because the oil can delay the breakdown of starch, but fried foods are unhealthy, so it’s not recommended. However, boiling foods and letting them cool can increase the amount of their resistant starch, which helps control blood sugar.

The order of food consumption is also important. According to Dr. Gu, the correct order of food consumption for blood sugar control is: dietary fiber (vegetables) → protein (beans, eggs and meat) → starch (rice and noodles).

Because fiber can slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, and protein has a buffering effect, your blood sugar won’t spike. Eating vegetables and meat first can also increase satiety, so you won’t end up eating too many starches.

  1. Consume high GI foods together with low GI foods

Many natural high GI foods have good nutritional value, such as bananas, mangoes and papayas. So they can be consumed in moderation or with low GI foods to balance the impact on blood sugar levels.

Some high GI refined staples can also be consumed with low GI foods. According to Aeris Chen, when cooking white rice, you can mix in some grains, cereals, or brown rice to lower the overall GI. Toasted sandwiches with vegetables, eggs or meat also promote blood sugar control. For noodle lovers, you can choose spaghetti or buckwheat noodles instead of white flour noodles, or use higher-fiber Shirataki noodles (made from konjac yams) to replace some of the noodles.

You can also choose more low- to medium-GI foods, such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, pasta, peanuts, taros, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, pears, apples, and strawberries.

Low GI foods have several characteristics: they are less processed foods, all-natural foods, foods not made with white flour, foods with high fiber content, and foods with fat or acid content, which turn into sugar slowly. However, as mentioned above, it is still important for us to watch our food intake to avoid high GL.