By now you’re wondering, “How can I get off the rollercoaster?” Take heart: It’s not that difficult — and we’ll show you how. Later, we’ll get into much more detail about how our diets contribute to unstable blood sugar (hint: foods like white bread, white rice, potatoes, and sugary drinks are major culprits) and which foods can help solve the problem. But for now, let’s take a deeper look at why you should care.
When you eat a big meal, especially one with a lot of starchy or sugary foods, the food makes its way through your stomach and intestines and then is converted into glucose, the main fuel for your muscles and even your brain. Voilô, instant energy!
But a big starchy meal can give the body more glucose than it needs. In fact, it can raise blood sugar levels twice as much as another, healthier meal would.
Most people’s bodies can bring blood sugar down fairly quickly, within an hour or two of eating. The body does this by releasing insulin, a hormone produced by beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin signals the body to let that blood sugar into cells to use as fuel and to store the rest in the muscles.
But if you eat a huge pile of French fries or a big piece of bread, your body has to deal with a serious flood of blood sugar, so it overreacts, pumping out too much insulin. If you’re overweight, it may pump out even more. All that extra insulin brings blood sugar down — too far. And it hangs around a long time, keeping your blood sugar low for hours. As a result, you can fall into a semi-starved state. Indeed, your blood sugar may be even lower than it was before you ate! Now you’re really dragging. Your energy is low. You may get a headache.
Your body recognizes that your blood sugar is too low, so it reverses course, spewing out hormones that raise blood levels of sugars and fats (the kind that could trigger a heart attack). Your brain also sets in motion signals that tell you that you’re hungry. Even though you ate more calories at lunch than you really needed, your blood sugar is so low that your body thinks it needs more food. Those doughnuts in the conference room sure look attractive right now.
It’s not just low blood sugar but also rapidly falling blood sugar that triggers a powerful hunger signal. In 16 studies, 15 of them found that meals that raise blood sugar quickly resulted in feeling hungrier before the next meal. For example, in a study of 65 women, those whose meals were designed to keep blood sugar stable reported feeling less intense hunger and less desire to eat, especially during the afternoon.
These kinds of meals increase levels of leptin, a hormone that decreases hunger (and boosts fat burning) and lowers levels of ghrelin, a hormone that increases hunger. The women who ate blood sugar-boosting meals reported that they felt hungrier sooner.
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