This one is a little technical, but bear with us, it really is worth reading.
First of all some definitions. You’ll remember that insulin is a hormone involved with energy levels, weight, fat storage and some disease.1
Next up are starches. Starches are made up of long chains of the simple sugar glucose. Glucose is the primary fuel used by the cells of animals and plants.
When we eat, our bodies break down food and its nutrients enter our bloodstream. At the basic energy level this nutrient is glucose. Our bodies naturally work hard to maintain the right level of glucose in our blood.
Insulin is key
Insulin controls this process, it is released to help move glucose from our bloodstream to our cells where it can be used. So, more glucose means more insulin is needed. A meal packed with refined carbs, starches and sugars, means a big spike in insulin. In some people a big spike may mean the insulin goes overboard and ends up removing too much glucose.2 This is the ‘sugar crash’ theory in which you are left hungry and flat – even though you just ate all those carbs.
If you eat too many refined carb meals, day after day, guess what can happen? Insulin stops working and glucose doesn’t get cleared away. This is called insulin resistance.3 When your cells become insulin resistant, they struggle to absorb the basic nutrients we eat. Blood sugar levels get higher and higher. The worst thing is that this extra glucose floating around in your blood starts to cause all sorts of trouble.4-5
Having raised levels of glucose, and in turn raised insulin in your bloodstream is linked to those lifestyle diseases you have heard so much about: diabetes type two,6 cardiovascular disease7 and obesity. Not fun.
So how can you avoid this fate? First easy steps, create your meals around protein, vegetables and good fats. Avoid those refined carbohydrates that are going to make your insulin go into over-drive.
Fructose, find out why we’re so hard on the sweet stuff
We have talked about carbohydrates being made up of starches and sugars. But here’s something you might not know: not all carbs are the same.
Remember how starches are made up of chains of glucose?
Well sugars are a bit different, they are made up of glucose and fructose. Wait, what is this fructose stuff? Take note because it turns out it’s not so good.8-10
Fructose does not directly become fuel for our bodies like glucose does. It has to be broken down by the liver,11 our toxin-processing centre, and this puts a strain on our bodies. It’s harder work to break down fructose.
New research is showing too much fructose may lead us on a path to disease. Some of the effects may include increased blood lipid levels, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and centralized obesity.12-13 Which just means putting on weight around your middle.
An easy rule of thumb – if it’s super sweet it probably contains sugar and in turn fructose. The most common sources of fructose in processed foods are common white sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Find out more about carbs here:
Carbs 101 - We have a look at why not all carbs are created equal and what an ideal intake looks like.
Inverting Your Pyramid - Where did the pyramid as we know it come from and are its recommendations really optimal for our health?
Contributing editors: Diana Archer-Mills, Sarah Wakeman BSc. Biology PGDip. Food science.
Heading up our nutrition project is Dr. Jackie Mills (B Phys Ed, MBCh B, Dip Obstetrics), a specialist in nutritional medicine, an obstetrician and general medical practitioner. Jackie completed her post-graduate studies in nutrition at the Australian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM) and has practiced nutritional medicine for 25 years. As Les Mills’ Chief Creative Officer, Jackie is responsible for the development of all LES MILLS™ exercise programs.
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