Our long-standing war on diabetes in the United States is turning into more of a massacre. One in four Americans has either pre-diabetes or full blown diabetes. If you have diabetes, pre-diabetes or insulin resistance, you know how difficult it can be to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. Understanding how the foods you eat influence your blood sugar level is key in helping you make the right choices. Maintaining a normal range of glucose (70-99 fasting) is the most important thing you can do (now and in the future) to prevent long-term damage to your peripheral nerves.
Through the process of digestion, food gets broken down into small molecules that can be absorbed in your bloodstream and utilized by your cells for energy. Foods containing carbohydrates are converted into sugars during the digestive process and cause your glucose levels to increase, shortly after your meal. Starchy foods are one of the main sources of carbohydrates in our diet, along with fruits and sweets. Let’s take a look at some carbohydrates and their affect on blood sugar:
Any food made from wheat, corn, oats, barley, spelt, millet, buckwheat or rice (to name a few) is a grain product. For example, all breads, tortillas, cereals, pasta, oatmeal, and crackers are grain based foods. Grains are naturally high in starches and, as a result, will elevate glucose levels after eating them. It’s important to know that some grains also contain added sugar. According to the USDA, one slice of whole wheat bread, once digested will release close to 4 tsp. of sugar into the blood stream, while a large bagel contains the equivalent of over 17 tsp. of sugar.
There are two main types of vegetables – starchy and non-starchy. Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, green peas, pumpkin, acorn squash and butternut squash can raise your blood sugar levels. The starches found in starchy vegetables are quickly digested and converted into sugars by the enzymes found in your gastrointestinal tract. The sugars obtained from the digestion of starches can quickly enter your bloodstream and elevate your blood sugar levels. For example, 1 cup of mashed potatoes or a large baked potato has about 35g of carbohydrates, which corresponds to the equivalent of close to 9 tsp. of sugar.
When you eat fruits, the carbohydrates they contain can quickly be converted into sugars in your body. Even if fruits contain natural sugars, they can significantly influence your blood sugar levels. Fresh fruits, canned fruits, frozen fruits, dried fruits and fruit juices all contribute to raising your blood sugar levels. A medium apple has the equivalent of 4 tsp. of sugar, while a 16-oz. glass of unsweetened orange juice has over 13 tsp. of natural sugar provided by the oranges.
The sugar found in foods and beverages are easily converted into the smaller molecules of sugar that can be absorbed into your blood very rapidly, creating a large spike in blood sugar levels. The more sugar you eat, the more your blood sugar levels will raise. Jams, syrups, table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and brown sugar are all converted to simple sugar in your body. Even natural sweeteners, such as raw honey, maple syrup and agave nectar will spike glucose levels.
Spikes in your blood sugar levels (glucose) are the biggest culprit leading to chronic inflammation, which, over time, may damage your peripheral nerves and blood vessels. These habitual spikes in blood glucose will eventually lead to insulin resistance, which ultimately will develop into a full blown case of diabetes—it’s not a matter of if you develop diabetes …it’s when you will develop diabetes.
With regard to neuropathies, chronically elevated glucose levels can damage blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves. This can lead to anoxia—a lack of oxygen to the nerve cells and blood vessels—which can result in poor circulation and nerve damage. This is a large part of the reason that most severe neuropathy sufferers have pain and abnormal skin changes on the legs. These changes can include purple discolorations, extremely dry, flaky skin, and extremely taut skin. All of these things are signs that the skin has lost proper circulation and thus oxygenation and nutrients; it also signifies that the skin is beginning to die.
For this reason, when making good food choices, it is important to choose foods that do not cause rapid spikes in blood glucose levels. In order to learn more about making better food selections….refer to our page titled: Glycemic Index GI (in this Self-Help section).