If you’re dealing with excess weight, lack of energy or signs of chronic disease, don’t automatically blame your genes or your age. First, look at the way you eat.
Jessie Inchauspé is a biochemist and her book Glucose Revolution highlights the role that glucose plays in all of these. She’s also worked in genetics, so she can say with authority that on the whole food matters more.
She refers to a study showing that 88 per cent of Americans have uncontrolled glucose levels and most don’t know it. You can bet it’s similar in Australia.
This predisposes us to a raft of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, cataracts, depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes.
Of course, glucose isn’t the sole determinant of these. Stress, smoking, alcohol (even when it doesn’t produce a glucose spike) and inactivity play their part but changing the way we eat can transform our health.
As you probably know, when we eat something ‘carby’ like cereal, bread, pasta or fruit juice our blood glucose level shoots up. That initiates a release of insulin from our pancreas to store the glucose away.
It can be stashed in our liver and our muscles, but once they’re full, the excess has to be stored as fat.
For a long time we were told that we put on weight when we take in more calories than we burn up. It sounds logical, but we now know that what makes us fat is this storage of excess glucose.
If we were to plot our glucose response to our daily food intake we’d end up with what Inchauspé refers to as a glucose curve (a series of glucose spikes gives us a curve). The flatter our curve, the healthier, slimmer and more energetic we’ll be.
One solution to this is to eat fewer carbs, and while there’s definite merit to that and we should all take note, carbs taste jolly good.
The beauty of Inchauspé’s book is that she provides tips (or hacks) on how to enjoy them while flattening our glucose curve.
Several of these tips are based on buffering our carbs with fibre, protein and fat to slow the breakdown and absorption of glucose.
For example, she talks about eating foods in the right order. This means eating fibre (i.e. vegies, salad) first. Then protein and fat (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, beans, legumes, avocado, butter, oils, etc). And finally, starches and sugars (bread, grains, pasta, sweets).
A Cornell University study showed that this can reduce our glucose spike by around 70 percent.
Not so easy to do in a meal such as stir-fried vegetables, meat and noodles where everything is mixed in together, but when foods are combined this way there’ll be some buffering effect anyway.
Another suggestion is to have a green starter. Similar idea, but the point here is that we can flatten our curve by eating more.
The French idea of having a small salad before a main meal is the perfect example, but Inchauspé’s list of other (cooked or raw) options includes broccoli, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, coleslaw, grated carrot or even legumes.
In contrast, think about what happens when we typically go to a restaurant. We’re barely seated when the waiter shows up with the breadbasket.
It’s a smart move on the restaurant’s part because eating bread first will make us hungrier. Not so smart for us though.
Inchauspé explains that if the rest of her group are ordering starters she orders a salad. If they’re not having starters she orders a vegetable side (such as steamed greens) with her main and eats that first.
But she also provides the example of a 50-year-old Mexican called Gustavo who does this differently. Gustavo was overweight and a candidate for diabetes. While he knew he needed to change his eating habits, at restaurants he didn’t want to deal with his friends asking why he was eating a salad, was he on a diet, and so forth.
So before going out for dinner he’d eat grilled broccoli with salt and hot sauce. At the restaurant he wasn’t so hungry which helped him resist the breadbasket, but this also lowered his glucose spike. After 18 months he’d lost 40kgs.
Another of Inchauspé’s tips is to ‘put clothes on your carbs’. Again, this means combining starches and sugars with fibre, protein or fat. Breakfast could be a place to think about this.
The last thing we want to do is kick off our day with a big glucose hit, so we need to rethink the idea of toast or cereal for breakfast.
If you want a slice of toast, have it with an egg, cheese and tomato, avocado or nut butter, rather than jam.
You probably remember the Special K ads. Great for weight loss. Only 114 calories. But a glucose disaster that would set us up for all-day cravings. Especially if we had it with skim milk and a glass of orange juice.
A lot of women love rolled oats. If that’s you, buffer the glucose spike by adding nuts or seeds, nut butter, protein powder, yoghurt, or berries Rather than something sweet like dried fruit or honey. Unless you’re off to run a marathon.
Alternatives to toast or cereal could include savoury options such as vegies, scrambled eggs, leftover dinner, cheese or avocado.
Two more tips.
An interesting one is having a glass of water with a tablespoon of vinegar in it a few minutes before eating something sweet or starchy.
This flattens our glucose response by up to 30 percent and the effect of the vinegar’s acetic acid on our DNA makes us burn more fat. Of course, we could also add a vinaigrette to our pre-meal salad.
There’ve been a lot of weird and wonderful claims made about apple cider vinegar in the past but here’s something backed with science.
The other tip is to move after you eat. You could go for a walk for 10-20 minutes or do a few squats or push-ups. Inchauspé has found she needs to do about 30 squats to shift her glucose level. This activity needs to be done within 70 minutes of eating to be effective.
Of course, if we do a few of these things — manage the way we eat carbs, add the vinegar in water, and go for a 15-minute walk after meals — we start to compound the benefits. And they’re simple enough to do.
It’s a book with a lot of practical suggestions (and some recipes) so if you’re grappling with the issues I mentioned at the start, or you just want to age healthily, it’s worth getting your hands on a copy.
Yes, genes and age play their part. But don’t look to them until you’ve dealt with the food side of the picture.
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