Carbohydrates and insulin

For several million years, humans existed on a diet of animals and vegetation. It was only with the advent of agriculture a mere 10,000 years ago — a fraction of a second in evolutionary time — that humans began ingesting large amounts of sugar and starch in the form of grains (and potatoes) into their diets. Indeed, 99.99% of our genes were formed before the advent of agriculture; in biological terms, our bodies are still those of hunter-gatherers.

While the human shift to agriculture produced indisputable gains for man — modern civilization is based on this epoch — societies where the transition from a primarily meat/vegetation diet to one high in cereals show a reduced lifespan and stature, increases in infant mortality and infectious disease, and higher nutritional deficiencies.

Contemporary humans have not suddenly evolved mechanisms to incorporate the high carbohydrates from starch- and sugar-rich foods into their diet. In short, we are consuming far too much bread, cereal, pasta, corn (a grain, not a vegetable), rice, potatoes and Little Debbie snack cakes, with very grave consequences to our health. Making matters worse, most of these carbohydrates we consume come in the form of processed food.

That 65% of Americans are overweight, and 27% clinically obese, in a nation addicted to sesame seed buns for that hamburger, with a side of French fries and a Coke, is no coincidence. It is not the fat in the foods we eat but, far more, the excess carbohydrates from our starch- and sugar-loaded diet that is making people fat and unhealthy, and leading to epidemic levels of a host of diseases such as diabetes.

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If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, chances are very good that the excess carbohydrates in your body are, in part or whole, to blame:

Excess weight
Fatigue and frequent sleepiness
Depression
Brain fogginess
Bloating
Low blood sugar
High blood pressure
High triglycerides

We all need a certain amount of carbohydrates, of course, but, through our addiction to grains, potatoes, sweets and other starchy and sugary foods, we are consuming far too many. The body’s storage capacity for carbohydrates is quite limited, though, so here’s what happens to all the excess: they are converted, via insulin, into fat and stored in the adipose, or fatty, tissue.

Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates generates a rapid rise in blood glucose. To adjust for this rise, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream, which lowers the glucose. Insulin is, though, essentially a storage hormone, evolved over those millions of years of humans prior to the agricultural age, to store the excess calories from carbohydrates in the form of fat in case of famine.

Insulin, stimulated by the excess carbohydrates in our overabundant consumption of grains, starches and sweets, is responsible for all those bulging stomachs and fat rolls in thighs and chins.

Even worse, high insulin levels suppress two other important hormones — glucagons and growth hormones — that are responsible for burning fat and sugar and promoting muscle development, respectively. So insulin from excess carbohydrates promotes fat, and then wards off the body’s ability to lose that fat.

Excess weight and obesity lead to heart disease and a wide variety of other diseases. But the ill effect of grains and sugars does not end there. They suppress the immune system, contributing to allergies, and they are responsible for a host of digestive disorders. They contribute to depression, and their excess consumption is, in fact, associated with many of the chronic diseases in our nation, such as cancer and diabetes.

I encourage you to delve into this subject in greater detail by clicking on the links below, or by using our powerful search tool above.

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The bottom line is this: Americans need to reduce their intake of grains, including corn-based foods, and all sweets and potatoes, dramatically.

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Chew your Food

Chew On This!
Aug3
Diet Education, Eating Behavior
Most researchers say that it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to realize that we are full. In accordance with this, most people who are trying to change their eating behavior are given advice to do the following – Put your utensils down in between bites, chew your food X amount of times, wait X seconds after you have swallowed to take the next bite, drink water in between each bite, stop half way through your meal and wait 10 minutes. These and other strategies like them are designed to increase the time it takes you to eat your food. The hypothesis is that taking more time will get you towards the “20 minutes mark” that it takes for your brain to register what you have eaten.

For many people such strategies can be quite helpful. They ensure that you are more mindful when you eat and that you pay attention to the signals of your body. One of the most common is – “Chew your food X number of times”. This is a good little habit to get yourself into, not so much because it will take you longer to eat your food, but because it will ensure that you eat foods that actually require chewing. Let me explain…

Food manufacturers know that the quicker that you eat, the more you eat. The more food that you eat, the more you buy, so getting you to eat quickly is of high priority for food designers. This means that they produce foods that are specifically designed to break down immediately in your mouth.  Less chewing time means quicker consumption. Quicker consumption means more food consumed. You get the picture.

They do this in a variety of ways from putting water into chicken which makes it softer and easier to chew, to adding fat, simply to make the food break down easier in your mouth, and even injecting marinade into meat so the connective tissue is destroyed making it almost “pre-chewed”.

As you can imagine, processed foods also contain additives and chemicals that reduce the effort it takes to break them down and swallow. This means that you are often taking the next bite even before you have swallowed the first. So not only are the highly processed foods more calorie dense, but you are also eating more of them because they are designed to be eaten very fast. In most situations your brain will not register the fact that you have just eaten 1,000 calories in 5 minutes, so you continue to eat.

The most important point here is that when you are choosing foods to eat, make sure that you choose foods that you actually have to chew. Foods that don’t require chewing are designed that way, and almost guarantee that you will eat more. Foods that require chewing are usually healthier options and you will eat less because it takes you a little longer to consume them.

In the past we needed to chew a food around 25 times before we could swallow it. Now it may take you 2 or 3 quick munches for the food to be headed into your stomach. Stick to foods that you need to chew and you will magically see yourself eating a lot less.

All this chewing also gives you a fantastic side effect.  Chewing enhances flavor! It’s called savoring your food.  When the food stays in our mouth longer our sense of smell really has a chance to kick in and provide an extra flavor boost.  We all are aware of this on some level – every kid knows if they don’t like the taste of something they should try and AVOID chewing and gulp the food as quickly as possible.

So slow down, chew and savor your food.  Eat mindfully.  Think about choosing foods that are less commercially processed and require a little more effort to chew.  Your stomach will be able communicate fullness appropriately and at the same time your taste buds can be really satisfied.

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