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Why Blood Sugar Should Matter To You, Even If You Are Not Diabetic (In Layman's Terms).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The past few years there has been quite a lot of hype about insulin and how it affects fat storage. It's super-confusing, but I think I've managed to whittle it down to something both understandable and practical for the every day person.

Here goes...... (Er, this isn't going to be real technical, so if you are into splitting hairs or are going to suggest I should have included more information, you may just want to skip this blog.)


Carbohydrates make your blood sugar go up. Your body doesn't like this (high blood sugar is dangerous), so it sends out a storage hormone we call insulin to bring it back down. (BTW- the pancreas is what produces insulin, so that's why you hear so much about the pancreas when people talk about blood sugar.)

Insulin turns the carbs into glycogen and stores the glycogen in different parts of the body, namely the muscles and liver. BUT it also turns any excess glycogen that doesn't fit into the muscles and liver into fat and stores them in your fat cells. If there aren't enough fat cells to hold the fat that has been made, the body has to do something with it, so it makes more fat cells to store it in. And who wants more fat cells?

Okay, now lets add in one more thing Insulin does: It keeps another chemical, called hormone-sensitive lipase, from doing it's job properly. And that job is releasing fat from your fat tissues to be used as energy.

Sooooo..... when you eat a ton of fast-burning carbs (generally the kind that don't have much fiber in them), not only are you promoting fat storage because the muscles and liver can only hold so much, but you are also KEEPING the fat you do have from being burned off as energy. This is the main reason why low-carb diets work so well for weight loss.

Having said all of this, you don't need to run from carbs like they are the enemy. Slow-digesting carbs- like oatmeal, whole-grain breads (the real whole-grain stuff, not the kind that has white flour in it, too) and starchy vegetables- are just that: Slow digesting. They release the carbs slowly into your body so that you don't have an excess all at one time to be stored as fat.

Also, when you exercise heavily the body uses up the glycogen in your muscles very quickly. So you need to eat carbs to replace them so that you have power to not only get through your workout, but also through your day.

If you are anything like me, you are asking "So why do people go low-carb when they are exercising heavily?" The reason for that is another big, long technical explanation, but I'm gonna give the very-condensed-but-not-very-sc
ientific answer: The body will turn fat into glycogen and burn it when your muscles and liver run out of it. And the process of turning the fat into glycogen burns calories in and of itself, so it's kinda like you are getting a little calorie-burning bonus when this happens.

The thing with this is that you want to be very careful: When I have gone too low-carb I have wound up with all sorts of not-so pleasant side effects, the scariest of which is that I started to lose my long-distance vision. It was to a point where I was beginning to question whether I should drive at night because depth perception was thrown off. Other interesting side effects for me were running out of steam very quickly, getting confused easily, feeling mentally "fuzzy", headaches, becoming incredibly irritable (my daughter thought this was the worst side effect- She'd of rather I be blind than a wench), tripping over things, falling down frequently when doing cardio (Once I fell off a bench when doing step-ups, making quite a racket. People were rushing from all of the gym to help me- embarrassing!), and general lack of coordination. Clearly, super-low carb (under about 100g a day) for me is not healthy. I think different people have different thresholds, but if you are experiencing things like this while on a low-carb eating plan, I'd suggest adding a little whole-grain, fruit, or starchy veggie into every meal. Non-starchy veggies ARE a carb source, but they are not a very condensed form of carbs and would take so much of them that you would no longer be practicing portion control, which I believe to be a key factor in losing weight and getting fit.

And as a final and fairly unrelated note, if you are working with a coach who is helping you with your eating and experience any of these symptoms, TELL THEM! Any responsible coach will alter your diet and get you out of the too-low-danger-zone. If they don't, dump them immediately and find someone else to help you. Your health is not worth having a super-svelte appearance.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Thanks for breaking it down!
    2287 days ago
    Good info. I have a co-worker who is doing a low carb diet. She has a lot of information about how to keep carbs low. Information which may not be as useful for me because I workout a lot. What's important here is to educate myself and keep in mind my own needs and plan. Thanks for keeping us informed. I appreciate the info,
    2308 days ago
    This is good info. Thanks
    2308 days ago
    Hey NancyAnne, I'm finding that alot of people seem to dismiss the blog thinking it's strictly about diabetes.....and of course NO ONE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT DIABETES (jeezsh!).
    I'm spreading the good word though, thanks again for writting this!
    2308 days ago
  • 23KAIYA
    Thanks for posting!
    2310 days ago
    Thanks for the info!
    2311 days ago
  • TERESA159
    I've been doing low carb for over a week and haven't noticed any of these side effects yet. I feel fine, actually. The book Good Calorie, Bad Calorie explains it really well too. Basically, if you eat too many carbs, you never give your body a chance to burn its fat.

    2311 days ago
    Ahhhh....Grasshopper now holds the pebble. Thank you Master! You made this complex subject simple.

    2311 days ago
    Nicely put!!! And with a touch of personality as well. Thanks!!!
    2311 days ago
    Your side effects from low carbing sound brutal! I have a lot of food sensitivities...mostly to grains...gluten and yeast are also on that list. I have a hard time finding foods to eat, but try to stick to veggies and meats/seafood.

    Great blog thanks for the information!
    2312 days ago
    Thanks for making that easier to understand. I've seen articles on this subject many times, but generally I lose interest because I don't fully understand. The way you explain it makes sense.
    2312 days ago
    the dizzy spells is a pretty good description of hitting the wall besides running out of energy. that is because the brain runs almost exclusively on glycogen / glucose , so when you bonk or go into a low BSL state, you get the dizzy, headache, fuzzy feeling. I totally agree, if your coach wont make adjustments, find another.

    good break down of the carb question.
    2312 days ago
  • ERINEC11
    I just started going crazy reading all about this stuff, and it is pretty confusing, but also incredibly interesting. I have been "trying" to lose weight for so long, just listening to what people/organizations/etc. tell me. I've just started reading/watching everything I can, and drawing my own conclusions, experimenting, and seeing what works best. I think that is so important.
    2312 days ago
    Thank you for passing along this gem of information.
    I do believe that this is the answer to why I run out of steam so quick when I work out now.
    Still trying to find the right balance.
    2312 days ago
  • JENNYD97
    thanks for the info! My mom has diabetes so I have tried to figure out what I need to do to help prevent me from having it. I too kept running into the technical jargon which I understood some of it but my brain would go into overload and just say I'm not remembering any of it :)
    I really think if I went to a nutrionist it would help me tremendously, just need to come up with the $$$ to do so.
    2312 days ago
    Once again, my Friend, YOU are right on the money AND you sharing this golden nugget of plain-speak info with us is further proof that you may actually BE Wonder Woman!

    Can I copy and paste (crediting you, of course) and send it to friends/family and/or link them to this blog? For sure I'll be linking this log on SP everywhere I go.
    2312 days ago
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