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Insulin Talk

Insulin.

If you don’t know what it is, it’s okay, you’re not alone. I imagine most of us who don’t have a close relationship with diabetes only really get a picture about insulin from the movies; syringes, blood pricks to test sugar, that sort of thing. Let’s explore a little so we know what we’re talking about, and I promise, we’ll soon get to the good bits: LC recipes, side effects like carb flu (I know, sounds awful, but it’s good to know about!), and foods you can enjoy to the end of the world. They’re coming, I promise.

So. Insulin. Master hormone, expert sugar manager, secreted by the pancreas. It can kill you, save your life, or just go about its business without you ever knowing a thing about it. A couple of years ago someone very close to me nearly died of pancreatitis (this is what happens when the pancreas goes postal for whatever reason) and one of the godlike nurses said: ‘Forget liver failure, we can fix that. If your pancreas goes you drop dead, no questions asked.’  That’s the thing: when your pancreas fails, it can dump insulin into your system, and too much insulin in your system will kill you.

But apart from that morbid anecdote, insulin is quite awesome. Wikipedia will tell you that insulin is a ‘peptide hormone’, which means a lot of complicated medically things that aren’t really important; what we need to know here is that insulin is vital in the regulation of carbohydrates and fat metabolism. Here, let me give you an excerpt from Diabetes Australia – an excellent source of information for diabetics, I must add:

“Insulin is a hormone made by beta cells in the pancreas. When we eat, insulin is released into the blood stream where it helps to move glucose from the food we have eaten into cells to be used as energy. In people with diabetes the body produces little or no insulin.

For Type 1 – In people with type 1 diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin as the cells that produce insulin have been destroyed by an autoimmune reaction in the body. Insulin replacement is required by daily injections.

For Type 2 – In people with type 2 diabetes the body produces insulin but the insulin does not work as well as it should. This is often referred to as insulin resistance.  To compensate the body makes more but eventually cannot make enough to keep the balance right. Lifestyle changes can delay the need for tablets and/or insulin to stabilise blood glucose levels. When insulin is required, it is important to understand that this is just the natural progression of the disease.”

At this stage, insulin can only be injected.

Insulin cannot be given in tablet form as it would be destroyed in the stomach. This means that the insulin would not be available to convert glucose into energy.”

In a nutshell: insulin makes sure that the sugars we consume don’t stay in the bloodstream where they can become poisonous. This means that the moment you eat something carby, like a piece of bread, your body releases a certain amount of insulin to turn the sugars you get out of the bread into energy that you then use for energy. What we need to remember here is this: sugars are considered toxic – glucose toxicity I believe it’s called, please correct me if I’m wrong! – so the body will burn them up as quick as it can. People with diabetes (I & II) or high insulin resistence (pre-diabetics, for example) don’t get enough of the hormone to deal with the sugars in their food, thus the insulin injections and blood testing. Insulin aims at keeping the body running by maintaining a steady flow of energy – i.e. high blood sugar = bad, too low blood sugar = can also be bad. When there’s no sugar left to burn, insulin turns its attention to sugar it’s put aside earlier which is when we finally start losing weight. Your liver – a big player in all this right along side your pancreas – is where this all really happens; your liver, with the aid of all that insulin, transforms sugars into fuel and once the fuel guage is full, it’ll turn it into fatty acids (there’s the fat you were looking for!) that’s then stored throughout the body – which is where body fat comes from.  Too fatty can lead to organ damage, which (obviously!) be extremely detrimental to your health! It raises blood pressure, decreases metabolism, and can mess up your immune system – all of which can lead to things like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hormonal imbalances.

This is why a lot of people turn to Low Gi or Low Carb lifestyles: one of the goals of these diets is to keep your blood sugar as level as possible.

So, summary: Insulin is important, you need it to turn carbs into fuel. Excess sugar carbs turn into fat. Too much fat is bad.

And that’s enough about insulin for now. There’s a lot more information about it out there online, from far more reputable people than I so if my ramblings haven’t made too much sense, do a Google search.

Most definitely check out http://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/, and as always, make sure sources you use are reliable, don’t just use Wikipedia as gospel. Be smart.

Clear Skies, Vee

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What are Carbohydrates anyway?

Alright, here’s round two!

Firstly, a big ‘Hello! And thanks!’ to my new followers – honestly, your interest is an inspiration to get me writing! I hope you’ll bear with me while I get the hang of WordPress and adjust my themes – I’m a WP newbie.

And now onto the matters at hand.

Before we can really understand a Low Carb (LC) lifestyle, we’ve got to look at what the heck a ‘carb’ actually is and why we might possibly want to cut it out of our diet. This has been explained to death all over the Internet and if you’ve stumbled onto this site after a long day of research you’ll already know this bit, but for those who’ve just tuned in, here we go:

We’ll skip the science-y bit where I talk about the molecular structure of a carbohydrate; no one’s really here to listen to that – and if you are, I’m sure Wikipedia will deliver such information quite readily. For our purposes we need to talk about the carbohydrate in terms of nutrition. In most diets, carbs are the primary source of fuel for the body – I remember hearing somewhere that ‘carbohydrates are the building blocks of life’; I don’t know how accurate that is but there you have it. Most people consume carbs as part of every meal. Essentially, they are sugars, starches, and cellulose (which, as I understand it, are all kind of similar anyways). When we eat these carbs our body burns them for energy and keeps all our body functions going.

‘It’s been doing this since the beginning of humanity, why would we want to mess with that?’ you ask.

‘Great question,’ I say.

The problem with the human race is that we’re all about convenience. Back in the stone age, we didn’t have access to sugar, we didn’t process our flour so that it was white and shiny, and we certainly didn’t grow hybrid potatoes to make them sweeter, or creamier or whatever. (Aside: I’m not against any of these things, just putting them into context!) So, while our food production and sources have developed at a massive rate, our body’s evolution hasn’t kept up. The long story short is that we can’t always cope with the amount of sugar/starches/carbs in general that our modern day diets supply us with. Take for example a loaf of supermarket bread – just a generic white loaf, sliced for the toasted, nothing special, nothing too boring – you’re looking at around 50g of carbs in a 100g, with only around 3g of fibre. Put into basic terms this means that just under half of what you’re eating is sugar/starch/cellulose that you’re body’s going to burn up for energy. What it doesn’t burn is what gets stored as fat.  Which is fine, by the way, unless you’re sensitive to carbs and have a tendency to crave the sugar!

So, foods that contain carbs:

  • Bread, Pasta, Rice
  • Fruits & Veggies – and juices!
  • Candies – and chocolates!
  • Milk – Dairy, Soy, Rice, Almond, Oat, etc…
  • Soft drinks – including energy drinks!
  • …basically every section in that Food Pyramid from Year 9/Grade 8 science class has some sort of carb in it.

Now, here’s the thing. Before my GP suggested I try a LC diet, I had no idea what carbs were doing to me; I didn’t even realise they were a possible thing – I just assumed that fat was the culprit and that cutting that out and regulating ‘sugar in general’ might help, until I started doing all this research. I’m one of those people, because of my genetic makeup – and my PCOS, I suppose – that is sensitive to sugars – and has a sweettooth to boot, yay, go me! My body tends to need very few carbs to keep going. This is most likely due to the fact that I don’t get enough exercise and my body has decided that I don’t need extreme amounts of fuel to maintain that type of metabolism. Again, this would be fine, if I hadn’t been eating a diet that was high in the wrong type of carbohydrates.

“Wrong??? There’s a right?” you demand, possibly slightly fed up with my rambling.

Well, strictly speaking: yes. We’ve got ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ carbs. In case I haven’t really been clear about it: carbs aren’t technically bad for you, it’s the overeating of the wrong types that will kill you – or at least cripple you with obesity, diabetes, some sort of cancer, and a host of other issues. So, what’s the difference between the carbs?

Simple carbs = straight up sugar. Stuff that the body doesn’t have to break down to get energy out of; these are products with white flour, honey, milk, yoghurt, candy, chocolate, fruit, fruit juice, cakes (and cookies, crackers and biscuits!), jam and preserves, molasses (corn syrup, maple syrup, agave extract, etc), soft drinks and a lot of store-bought cereals.

Complex carbs = carbs your body has to work for. Basically, if your body has to work to get energy out of these things you’re burning energy to get them, so you’re not just flooding your system with instant fuel, you’re using up calories to get to them and releasing them a bit at a time rather than all at once. This steadier release of energy means that you’re not likely to feel hungry straight after you’ve eaten, and you’re maintaining a steadier blood-sugar level. This means you’re burning energy at a slower rate – but steadier! (i know, I’m overusing the word) – and you’re not likely to store the sugar.

That brings us to INSULIN, which I will save for the next post because it’s incredibly important and I’ve rambled enough for one post – the last thing I need is for you all to go ‘she talks way too much!’. Overloading the brain with information is nearly as bad as overloading your bloodstream with sugar. Trust me.

Clear Skies, Vee