The Glucose Crisis — How To Avoid It
A glucose crisis has gripped much of the industrialized world, led by American food conglomerates and fast food ubiquity. The result is prediabetes, diabetes and obesity — all leading to a poor quality of life and premature death. Here’s how to avoid that.
To understand the glucose crisis, it’s helpful to understand that it’s largely responsible for SAD. The Standard American Diet is dominated by sugary processed foods that make us unhealthy, sick and prematurely old.
And, sadly, SAD has been exported. The glucose crisis is not a problem reserved for American, given the ubiquity of U.S. based fast food chains throughout the world.
The Glucose Crisis In A Nutshell
A recent Forbes article tells the story, starting with a startling title, America, Your Diet Is Killing You: Why The Glucose Crisis Will Be Worse Than The Opioid Crisis. Sounds hyperbolic, doesn’t it, given the striking impact of opioids?
But consider the statistics.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than 760,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid. Currently, 1.27 million Americans are receiving medication-assisted treatment.
That sounds a lot worse than some sad little SAD, doesn’t it? I mean, how bad could be a few coca puff breakfasts and pizza dinners?
Well, there are numerous ways to slice and dice the answer to those questions, but let’s stay with Forbes’ angle. As the title of their article reveals, the SAD problem is glucose, a fancy term for sugar, and it’s led to the glucose crisis.
The Forbes article puts much of its focus on Levels, an app company that raised $12 million in funding last year, and connects with the Abbott FreeStyle Libre continuous glucose monitor (CGM). These monitors are small patches containing a tiny enzymes-coated wire that inserts into the skin, and may be prescribed for diabetics. CGMs help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar and keep it within a healthy range without them needing to prick themselves to produce a drop of blood, the glucose in which is read by a Blood Glucose Meter.
Why all the attention on blood glucose?
Fast answer: Because insulin sensitivity and the level of sugar in your blood profoundly affect your health.
Slow answer: Read on…
The reason dietary sugar can be considered more deadly than opioids has everything to do with prediabetes and adult-onset (type 2) diabetes. Both of these conditions have been rising in the USA for decades
This CDC infographic tells the tale of the glucose crisis:
Disturbing data from the infographic:
- One of every 10 Americans has diabetes, and 20% of them don’t know it
- More than one of every three American are prediabetic – that’s 88 million people
- The risk for premature death of diabetics is 60% greater than non-diabetics
- If prediabetic, you can cut your risk of getting type 2 diabetes by half should you lose weight by eating less and exercising
How did things get so bad?
Sugar consumption, mainly.
As Forbes reports, sugar has become infamous in the American diet, leading to a severe rise in cases of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Opioids kill over 100 people a day, but sugar is also addictive and more deadly — type 2 diabetes kills at least twice as many Americans as opioid overdoses on any given day.
Says Dr. Casey Means, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer at Levels:
Most of our chronic illnesses in the U.S.—obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, even Alzheimer’s—are largely rooted in insulin resistance. The thing that most connects them is metabolic dysfunction.
Dr. Means explains that much of this is linked to SAD. Sugar, so prevalent in SAD, causes chronic inflammation when excessively eaten, and it is consumed to excess. More than half of what Americans eat is ultra-processed, and that accounts for 90% of added sugar consumption.
Americans are also sitting more than they ever have before, including five hours a day of watching TV. “None of what we’re doing is normal,” says Dr. Means. “We have this chronic exposure to stress, sleep deprivation, sedentary behavior, and processed food.”
What You Drink is Just as Important as What You Eat
Sweet beverages are another major reason for the glucose crisis in the U.S. and the world. If you have any doubts about that, gulp down some fruit juice, and after about 20 minutes, check your blood sugar level with a Blood Glucose Meter.
The author of the Forbes article, John Cumbers, says that after drinking organic fruit juice after a workout, his blood sugar spiked to 150 mg/dL, which is substantially higher than the upper acceptable range of 90 to 140 mg/dL as measured after eating.
This drink (see pic below), says John, was marketed as a healthy “superjuice”, and yet contained 51 grams of sugar, of which 49 grams of that sugar were added from organic agave syrup. This one drink transfused into John’s blood 96% of the FDA’s recommended daily allowance for an adult!
Realize that an after-meal (postprandial) glucose spike is normal. If your body is properly working, that blood sugar will be adeptly handled by insulin, which will shuttle the sugar to your muscles if needed there, or to be stored as body fat if you’re consuming more calories than using for basal metabolism and physical activity.
But like every other biological system that keeps us alive, the glucose-insulin system can be overwhelmed and impaired. Constantly elevated blood glucose is unhealthy, which about 90 million prediabetic Americans can attest to.
This begs the question: Why do food manufacturers add so much sugar to the foods and drinks they produce?
Complete answer: Because they make money because we buy it. And the reason we buy it is because sugar has similar effects on the brain as addictive drugs, releasing dopamine and other ‘reward’ molecules that get us hooked on foods and drinks all but guaranteed to give us chronic inflammation.
I say let’s starve them of their profits and simultaneously boost our health by making smarter, healthier lifestyle choices.
When You Eat Is As Important As What You Eat
Before I touch on healthy lifestyle choices, you may be surprised to learn that when you eat can be as important as what you eat, notwithstanding coca cola.
This has to do with our circadian rhythms – our so-called “circadian clock” — that runs a 24-hour internal clock ticking in the background of our brain, and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.
The research done by Dr. Satchidananda Panda and others conclusively show that confining caloric consumption to an 8- to 12-hour period –- as people did just a century ago -– might stave off high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.
If this topic is interesting to you, read my post, When You Eat Is More Important Than What You Eat, Says Dr. Panda. Eating when my “clock”is best able to metabolize the calories has worked for me!
Stress Bumps Up Blood Sugar
The primary benefit of using a continuous glucose monitor is that you can see how food and drink affect your blood sugar, and it turns out, you can also judge the effect that stress has on blood glucose as well.
A stressful event can bump up blood sugar levels.
In response to stress, our bodies release cortisol, a stress hormone that spikes up blood glucose levels to prime our fight or flight response to some adverse situation, such as facing a tiger in the woods. (In this case, I don’t recommend either fighting or flighting — unless you’re a bird — but do scamper up a tree real quick.)
In fight or flight mode, your body can use that excess sugar, but if stressed at your desk or doing anything else that’s inactive, that cortisol and resulting blood sugar can’t be utilized, so it lingers, and if chronic, can create health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia—all the comorbidities of metabolic dysfunction.
So, what to do about this blood sugar epidemic?
I have five healthy lifestyle suggestions.
Avoid Your Glucose Crisis — 5 Ways to Create A Healthy Lifestyle
Ideally, you want a fasting glucose level of 85 mg/dL or a bit lower, says Life Extension Foundation is their Diabetes and Glucose Control health protocol. You can achieve that by regularly doing five things:
1. Track your blood glucose
If you eat a lot of processed or fast foods, fruit drinks and soda, or are chronically overweight, it’s a good idea to track your blood glucose levels. Continuous glucose monitors might be too expensive or invasive for most people, but a blood blucose meter might do the trick. You can use it until you get a benchmark for which foods and drinks you need to avoid.
2. Don’t add sugar to anything
3. Subtract the fiber number from the sugar number
Read the labels of the foods and drinks before you buy them. On a food label, the total amount of carbohydrate in grams is listed first. This number includes starch, sugars and fiber. Fiber does not raise blood sugar levels and should be subtracted from the total carbohydrate.
For example, say one serving of food contains 36 grams of carbohydrate, which includes 6 grams of fiber. The fiber portion would be subtracted from the total carbohydrate (36 grams total – 6 grams of fiber), meaning that the serving of food contains 30 grams of available carbohydrate.
According to Heart.org, men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of sugar per day. For women the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day. Know that one 12-ounce can of soda contains 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugar!
If you sit most of your waking hours, you need to disrupt the pattern. There’s a reason for the adage, “Sitting is the new smoking” as detailed in my posts 6 Ways Sitting Will Kill You, Even If You Exercise and How To Counteract Sitting To Improve Your Health. (Apple CEO Tim Cook says sitting is the new cancer.)
You’ll see the evidence in the articles linked to above; suffice to say that you need a plan to get up and get going.
If you rather chew on glass than exercise, then simply have your smartphone chime each hour during the day, and when it does, get up and move. You can take a short, brisk walk, or walk some stairs, or chase the cat — just move and get a bit breathless.
If exercise isn’t anathema to you, then when that hourly chime chimes, get up and do two minutes of vigorous exercise, such as walking quickly up multiple flights of stairs, burpees, squats, jump rope and the like.
If you need an exercise program, read Short Home Workouts You Can Do Now With Surprising Results, and/or my six-part series, The Functionally Fit Fast Workout (don’t I look silly?).
If stress may be the cause of your elevated blood glucose, de-stress yourself with meditation.
OK, if we’re back to the glass chewing, let’s just call it a 10 minute nap.
Meditation need not be mysterious, and watching your thoughts race around isn’t some horror movie. Just think of it as nap time, but with ongoing awareness; you don’t want to fall asleep.
Sit down and focus on your breath. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold, exhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold and repeat. Make the inhale expand your upper body from the chest to the lower abdomen, as well as your back. Once this is automatic, turn your attention to a calming image, or simply observe your thoughts without reacting to them.
If you do any of the above, you’re taking a step in the right direction to reduce the lifestyle-dependent spikes in blood sugar.
You can direct any questions about any of this in the Comments below, and I’ll endeavor to answer them. If you’d like to learn more about blood glucose, insulin sensitivity and the like, check out Blood Sugar in the Library.