The rollercoaster of glucose spikes and troughs unleashed by eating sugar-heavy foods can trigger a cascade of chemical reactions that exacerbate illness, ageing and disease.
However, you can take a few simple steps to flatten your blood glucose levels and, as a result, dramatically improve your health and vitality. What’s more, it doesn’t mean having to forgo a glass of wine, a slice of cake or a plate of pasta. Nor is there a need for calorie-counting, fasting or exhausting exercise regimes.
After sifting through swathes of research and by closely monitoring my own blood glucose levels, I have fine-tuned simple ‘hacks’ that work – separately or together – to slow the rise of blood sugar and limit the potential damage glucose spikes might cause.
In yesterday’s Daily Mail, I explained how by changing the order in which you eat (starting with the vegetables, then having the protein and leaving carbohydrates to last), you can flatten the glucose curve and lose weight without dieting.
Today, in the second extract from my new book, Glucose Revolution, I want to show how eating salad before your evening meal can help protect you from Alzheimer’s.
JESSIE INCHAUSPE: The rollercoaster of glucose spikes and troughs unleashed by eating sugar-heavy foods can trigger a cascade of chemical reactions that exacerbate illness, ageing and disease
Recipes for a vinegar fix
Five handy ways to boost your vinegar intake 20 minutes before, during or less than 20 minutes after eating a sweet
1 Stir a tablespoon of vinegar into a tall glass of water and drink it through a straw (to minimise damage to teeth).
2 Add vinegar to the dressing on the green salad that precedes your meal.
3 Mix a tablespoon of vinegar with hot water and a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
4 Add to hot water with a wedge of lemon and a slice of ginger root.
5 Mix with sparkling water over ice.
Also, how sipping a glass of water with a splash of vinegar can neutralise the toxic onslaught of a slice of cake – and can potentially help protect you against type 2 diabetes.
Crucially, glucose plays a key role in our digestion of food. It is created when the digestive system breaks food down and then the glucose is released into the blood system for delivery around the body to the cells where it is used for energy.
If there’s more glucose circulating than the cells need – as the result of over-consumption of highly processed or sweet foods – the hormone insulin is released to remove the glucose from the blood system and store it as fat for future possible use.
This is a carefully calibrated system which works well when blood glucose levels are relatively stable.
Unfortunately, an estimated 88 per cent of adults have dysregulated glucose levels, which cause peaks and troughs – and which jeopardise many different aspects of health.
When cells are flooded with too much glucose, they release tiny molecules called free radicals which poke holes in the membranes of cells, making them malfunction.
Free radicals have been shown to create mutations in the genetic code which activate harmful genes and can lead to the development of cancer. They also damage collagen, the protein found in many body tissues, which causes sagging skin and wrinkles and can lead to inflammation in joints, rheumatoid arthritis, crumbling cartilage, and osteoarthritis. With too many free radicals, the body goes into a state of oxidative stress – which is known to drive heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline and ageing.
You probably recognise the feelings of lethargy and fatigue, low moods, cravings or brain fog which can accompany a blood sugar dip. But you are unlikely to be aware of the long-term damage that high blood sugar levels do to your body and brain until it’s too late.
The combination of too many free radicals, oxidative stress and a process called glycation (by which glucose molecules damage collagen and elastin protein in the skin, causing it to become stiff and malformed) leads to a generalised state of inflammation in the body. The fact is that inflammation is the source of most chronic illnesses, such as stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, liver disease, and diabetes, and Alzheimer’s as well as obesity. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels are well known to be a driver of heart disease, and studies show each additional glucose spike increases the risk of dying of a heart attack. It is also a major reason for the ever-escalating rates of type 2 diabetes.
JESSIE INCHAUSPE: However, you can take a few simple steps to flatten your blood glucose levels and, as a result, dramatically improve your health and vitality
Walk it off: How a stroll can flatten that glucose curve
The more and the harder a muscle is told to contract, consciously or unconsciously, the more energy – in the form of glucose – it needs.
We can use this knowledge to flatten our glucose curves.
You might not erase an entire glucose spike through movement, but you can make a sizeable dent in it. By nipping out for a walk or pushing out a few squats or press-ups just as the glucose from a meal is moving from your intestine into your bloodstream, you can increase the chance that the glucose goes to the muscle cells to be used as fuel.
This also means insulin levels stay low because inactive muscles require insulin to help store glucose as glycogen, whereas active muscles can soak up the glucose without the need for insulin.
And the more glucose the muscles are taking out of the blood, the smaller the glucose spike and the lower the requirement for insulin.
You need to fire up some muscles within 70 minutes of eating, to ensure they are contracting before your glucose spike reaches its peak.
Exercising after a meal seems the best option, but beforehand is also useful. In a study of obese people, a weightlifting workout timed to end 30 minutes before eating lowered glucose and insulin spikes by 18 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively, as opposed to 30 per cent and 48 per cent if the exercise was started 45 minutes after dinner.
Alternatively, a ten-minute walk will do the trick or let your food digest and hit the gym later.
Resistance exercise (weightlifting) has been shown to cut the glucose curve by up to 30 per cent and the size of further spikes over the following 24 hours by 35 per cent.
The best news? Your overall glucose levels will start decreasing as you put on muscle mass.
During the recent Covid pandemic, people with raised glucose levels were found to be more easily infected with the virus and more likely to suffer complications. Worryingly, such people were twice as likely to die from the virus as people with normal glucose levels.
The reason is that the inflammatory response to a glucose spike renders the immune system temporarily faulty and if glucose levels are chronically raised, the body’s immune responses against invaders will fail. The evidence is clear: Keeping blood sugar levels stable could be a matter of life and death.
START MEALs WITH SALAD … OR CARROT STICKS
One of my most important pieces of advice is to start each meal, whenever possible, with a salad or a plate of green vegetables. The key is getting fibre into your gut before you eat anything else.
For fibre fuels the good bacteria in the gut, lowers cholesterol levels and ensures the digestive system works optimally.
But, importantly – for glucose control – it creates a mesh in the intestine which slows down and reduces the absorption of molecules from food across the whole intestinal lining. This means we absorb both fewer calories and glucose during the meal that follows the green veg or salad – and with flatter glucose curve, you’ll stay full for longer and avoid the dip that leads to cravings a few hours later.
My favourite vegetable-based meal-starter is a fresh spinach salad. Alternatively, eat raw carrot sticks dipped in houmous, or toss salad leaves in an oil and vinegar dressing and top with crumbled feta cheese and toasted nuts, pesto or grated parmesan with toasted seeds. Soup, too, is great as it contains plenty of nutrients, is filling and healthy – though not as healthy as eating the whole vegetable.
THE CLEVER COCKTAIL TO CURB CRAVINGS
Stirring a tablespoon of vinegar into a tall glass of water and sipping it before eating biscuits, chocolate or a bowl of pasta is a great way to flatten your glucose curve and stop an insulin surge. It is a clever way to curb cravings, tame hunger and burn fat.
You can use any vinegar, but apple cider vinegar tastes best. It works because the acetic acid temporarily inactivates the enzyme alpha-amylase which transforms sugars and starches into glucose. This means the glucose hits our system more softly. Also, once acetic acid gets into the bloodstream, it penetrates the muscles, encouraging them to make glycogen faster – leading to less glucose being stored as fat. With much less free-flowing glucose in your body, you’ll have less of a glucose spike, and less insulin in your system. What’s more, acetic acid has a remarkable effect on DNA – telling it to reprogramme slightly so that our cells burn more fat.
Adapted by Louise Atkinson. Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspé is published by Short Books on March 31. © 2022 Jessie Inchauspé. You can pre-order a copy from WHSmith for £6.49 (RRP £12.99).
Hunger pangs? Reach for a hard-boiled egg
You may think you get an energy boost from eating something sweet. But that’s just an impression caused by the release of the feelgood hormone dopamine in the brain, giving a mini high.
In fact, a sweet snack doesn’t give more energy than a savoury snack – and can actually make you more tired shortly afterwards.
A biscuit, cup of sweet tea or a chocolate bar on an empty stomach are sure-fire ways to create an unhealthy blood sugar spike.
Moreover, a glucose spike from a sweet food is worse than a glucose spike from starchy food (such as toast). This is because it contains sucrose, which is made up of glucose and fructose molecules, and any glucose spike from sweet food will be matched by a corresponding fructose spike. Fructose is potentially more damaging as it inflames the body, ages cells and turns to fat more rapidly than glucose does.
A blood sugar spike triggers the body to release insulin to take that excess glucose into storage units throughout the body and protect us from damage. While glucose can be turned into glycogen and stored in both the liver and muscles, fructose can only be stored as fat.
By flattening our glucose curves, we also naturally flatten fructose curves.
Ideally, your body would prefer you to forgo all snacks to give longer gaps between meals, allowing cells to get on with the essential housekeeping they are unable to do while you’re digesting.
If you do feel hungry between meals, choose something savoury. But if you cannot resist something sweet, it’s best to delay and have it after your next meal – preferably enjoying it (risk-free) as a dessert, causing a minimal glucose hike and less damage.
- Spoonful of nut butter.
- Spoonful of five per cent Greek yogurt topped with pecans or nut butter.
- Carrot sticks and houmous.
- Square of 90 per cent dark chocolate and handful of nuts.
- Chunk of cheese.
- Apple slices with nut butter.
- Peppers with guacamole.
- Celery with cream cheese.
- Hard-boiled egg.
- Lightly salted coconut slivers.
- Slice of ham.