Many people will be looking for a new start in the New Year – which often means losing weight. Of course, being overweight can lead to a range of potentially serious health issues. With that in mind, how does the emerging 'sugar crisis’ impact on weight gain and can anything be done to control the process?
What happens after eating?
After a meal or snack, our digestive system releases sugar from food and into the bloodstream resulting in what's typically known as elevated blood sugar. If left unchecked, high blood sugar is harmful as it may bind to proteins in the body in a process called glycation. In response to this, our bodies (specifically the pancreas) release insulin - a hormone that opens the sugar channels of our cells, allowing transport of sugar into the cells where they may be metabolised for energy and out of the blood where it would do harm.
What is insulin resistance?
Insulin is able to regulate our blood sugar, keeping it steady. So what happens when our cells no longer respond to insulin? In a symptom known as 'insulin resistance', sugar levels continue to rise in the blood, so the pancreas responds by producing more and more insulin to finally convince the cells to open their sugar channels and remove sugar from the blood. This insulin overload promotes two main health issues: weight gain and diabetes.
Excessive insulin production caused by insulin resistance can contribute to weight gain. Insulin is an anabolic hormone and, in excess, encourages us to store fat. Not only this, but producing large amounts of insulin over time can also exhaust the pancreas, leading to diabetic conditions when we can no longer produce adequate amounts of the hormone.
Worryingly, insulin resistance both causes and is caused by being overweight. Body fat (especially in the abdominal region) is hormonally active, contributing to inflammation which may also damage the cells’ response to insulin. This damaging cycle is difficult to break out of and is the main reason why many of us seek help to control our blood sugar.
The sugar cycle
So what causes our cells to become resistant to insulin in the first place? Various factors including sedentary lifestyles as well as diets high in sugar and calories. Simple sugars are a source of calories that provide little in the way of nutrition or satiety (the feeling of fullness). As a result, it's quite easy to consume sugary foods in excess, especially as they have an addictive quality.
Simple dietary sugars are released quickly into the blood, rapidly elevating blood sugar. The body's response is to mass-produce insulin to bring the blood sugar down again. Sometimes this is overdone, leading to low blood sugar. The result is sweet cravings, our brain's way of telling us to eat sugary foods to get our blood sugar up again, starting the cycle again. This may also lead to poor concentration, fatigue and weight gain - especially if we eat sweet, high calorie snacks.
Sugar is a large contributing factor to global obesity, but it's something we can do something about.
The Government recommends that free sugars should not make up more than 5% of energy obtained from diet, daily. Adults should aim to consume no more than 30g of free sugars, which include sugars added to food, drinks or syrup, honey, fruit juices and purées. Starchy carbohydrates (wholegrain breads, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, etc.) are generally more slowly absorbed than their counterparts, making you feel fuller for longer and steadying blood sugar levels and subsequently, steadying the insulin response as well.
Adequate fruit and vegetable intake is vital, but the emphasis should be on vegetables. Vegetables offer a high density of micro nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and typically low intrinsic sugar. Fibre-rich foods, healthy fats (such as oily fish) and lean protein are all healthy additions to a diet.
The impact of chromium
Adequate chromium intakes are necessary for optimum function of insulin and therefore, blood sugar regulation. High blood sugar can also be a sign of chromium deficiency, and it can even resemble diabetes.
Chromium is able to enhance the cells' response to insulin. This allows for better blood sugar control as our cells willingly take sugar from the blood and metabolise it to energy. Chromium is clinically proven to support healthy blood sugar levels.
When choosing to supplement with chromium, chloride or picolinate forms are common and typically have very low bioavailability (0.5-2%), meaning poor absorption from tablet to bloodstream. ChromoPrecise (an organically bound chromium yeast) demonstrated up to ten times the bioavailability of chloride or picolinate forms and has been approved by The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) after extensive investigation.
What else can you do to reduce your risk?
There are various natural steps that can be taken to control blood glucose levels and to ensure uncontrolled blood sugar is avoided. Research published in Panminerva Medica in June 2014 showed that an extract of maqui berries (known as Delphinol) can assist in controlling blood glucose by reducing the rate at which glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive tract. The active ingredient delphinidin was shown to inhibit the sodium glucose co-transporter (SGLT), which facilitates the uptake of glucose from food into the intestinal tissue and the blood, thus avoiding the sharp spikes in blood sugar which can result following eating.
Breaking the sugar cycle!
Taking blood sugar levels under control is incredibly beneficial for health, considering that good blood sugar control supports the maintenance of healthy weight, stable energy and concentration levels - all while helping to control sweet and sugar cravings, breaking the sugar cycle.