Choosing the right fuel for our bodies
We are bombarded by food products which are devoid of nutrients, often designed to get us hooked, and a potential cause of diabetes. Nutritionist Gaye Godkin guides us on what we should be eating
Published 26/07/2016 | 02:30
The human body is an energy-producing machine that never switches off. From the moment we enter the world until we leave it, it never ceases to perform.
The principal function of this complex machine is the production of energy and to use it to power all bodily functions, both mentally and physically. This is a process called metabolism.
The raw fuel that is required by the body to produce energy is called glucose. Energy is produced in the cells of the body. These cells require a constant steady supply of glucose and nutrients and vitamins to facilitate the production of energy.
Metabolism is a complex function that our bodies are constantly working at. Glucose metabolism in particular is vital for our survival. When it goes wrong, we end up with a myriad of illnesses.
Insulin is a hormone which is pivotal to glucose metabolism. It facilitates the transport of glucose into the cells.
Insulin is produced in the pancreas and is stimulated by the amount of glucose in the blood all of the time.
It also receives signals from the liver, whose job amongst others is controlling glucose availability and metabolism.
Stabilise blood sugars
The food choices we make impact either positively or negatively on our energy levels and glucose availability to the body. Research shows that certain foods provide a slow steady supply of glucose for use while others flood the body with excess available glucose. Carbohydrates are more easily converted to glucose than fats and proteins.
We can classify carbohydrates into two types, simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are often referred to as refined carbohydrates. They start off as a wholegrain which is then processed and the fibre and outside shell of the grain is removed. What is left is the starch only. Simple carbohydrates grains are, for example, white breads, white flours, white rice and white pasta. Complex carbohydrates are grains which have not been processed such as wholegrain rice, oats, wholegrain wheat, whole rye and wholegrain barley.
Whole fruit and vegetables are a natural form of complex carbohydrates. Simple and complex have a very different effect when eaten and in turn on glucose metabolism.
Slow wins the race
The body likes and operates best when it receives a slow steady supply of glucose from the food it takes in. Simple starchy carbohydrates are converted immediately into glucose and, depending on how much of them is eaten, can flood the blood with excess glucose.
Insulin is hardwired to respond to this flood and get to work by removing the glucose from the blood into the cells. But what happens when more and more glucose is ingested results in insulin being under pressure and production of it from the pancreas is increased. Therein lies a big problem. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. It's job is to facilitate glucose into the cells. When the cells are full, the body's automatic response is to store glucose in the liver. Continual overeating and excess carbohydrate intake puts the liver under pressure. Excess glucose is stored as fat in the liver. The liver then decides to send this fat out into circulation where it is most likely stored as fat around the middle or packages it as cholesterol, or store these fatty globules which in turn causes fatty liver disease. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is now very prevalent due to excess glucose availability to the body. Sadly, this has now become a childhood illness.
We live in a sugar-saturated environment, for many it is a concentrated source of pleasure. We also live in a mindless world and many of us just reach for what's in front of us. Many food companies hire psychologists to hack into our brains and market their highly processed foods to us. They also engage scientists to engineer some of the most humanly irresistible habit-forming foods. Sugar is one. After all, it is glucose, and it is the main fuel source for every human.
In reality, we are not designed to have access to glucose 24 hours a day. This is a new phenomenon. As a species, this constantly available glucose is not serving our health needs. Our food supply is making us sick. At no time in human history has our species been so bombarded by so-called food products, devoid of nutrients which in many cases are designed to get us hooked.
Consumption of soft drinks, sweets, confectionery, biscuits, buns, doughnuts, ice-creams and liquid sugar foods are driving many of our chronic illnesses. Besides the weight issue, we have a serious epidemic of type 2 diabetes. This is also referred to as adult onset diabetes. Sadly, this illness which is caused in approximately 90pc of cases by diet and lack of activity has new recruits - namely our children.
Young children who have taken in excess sugars and glucose, and excess calories from their diets are now showing up with this lifestyle-related diabetes. Snacking and providing treats is always a bone of contention with small children.
Babies are born with a sweet tooth to ensure survival. Curbing this sweetness and offering fruit from an early age is key to establishing a healthy relationship with the food environment.
My fatty friends
I see people on a daily basis who tell me that they are confused as to what to eat. I am convinced they are no longer enjoying their food. Food and nutrition is so topical and, unfortunately, there is a division amongst many in the nutritional fraternity as to what is the optimal diet for health. I am a strong proponent of eating healthy fats.
My motto is, if it grows on a tree, God put it there for us to eat it. The problem with fats is; calorifically they contain over twice the calories of carbohydrates and therefore can be seen as 'fatty foods'. The issue is not the calories, the issue is they are an essential part of the diet.
Certain fats such as omega 3 are vital and play a role in facilitating glucose into cells. We need omega 3 fats in the cell membrane to prevent insulin resistance. Olive oil is also a super fat to incorporate into the diet. It has many benefits, chief amongst which is that it protects cells from damage. However, the Irish diet is saturated with processed trans-fats which the body stores and these fats have a direct association with cell membrane integrity and impaired glucose uptake. There is no place in the diet for trans-fats. These fats in conjunction with excess refined carbohydrates accelerate ageing. They produce nasty by-products in the body which are harmful to the cells and organs.
Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Exercise only accounts for 20pc of weight loss but it does have other benefits. Exercising daily has been shown to improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Muscle cells are more metabolically active than fat cells and they soak up excess glucose just like a sponge and store it for fuel which can be used later.
This system takes excess glucose out of circulation. Aim to engage in physical exercise daily. Exercise is a lifestyle behaviour that should die when we die. So whether you are 9 or 90 you need to move.
Foods to keep type 2 diabetes off the menu
WIth confusion around food choices abound, here's what constitute sa healthy diet that can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes:
Olive oil: Coming from the plant kingdom, it is a super food. Olive oil contains plant chemicals called polyphenols which protect the cells from age-related damage. Aim to incorporate olive oil into your daily diet.
Butter: is a saturated fat but also contains a high amount of water. It is a far superior food to margarine which is a highly processed food. Butter is a natural product which contains healthy fatty acids that nourish the body.
Oily fish: Oily fish contains high amounts of available omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fats form the cell membrane and work in the immune system to switch off inflammation. Aim to include oily fish three times a week. Fish is also a super form of protein.
Nuts and seeds: Tree nuts and seeds contain natural oils and complex fibres. They also contain protein and many minerals. Protein and minerals are vital to balance blood glucose availability. By consuming nuts and seeds, you are supporting glucose metabolism.
Avocados: The avocado pear is a versatile fruit that contains many vital nutrients. It is a wonderful source of folic acid which is needed for cells to replicate. It is a super source of fibre. Consuming foods high in fibre have a natural stabilising affect on blood glucose regulation. Fibre is broken down slowly in the body and therefore slows down glucose availability.
Pulses such as beans and lentils: Beans and lentils are a wonderful source of plant proteins. Irish people are consuming far too much protein from animal sources. This group of foods have a low glycemic index which simply means that they are converted to glucose very slowly. They provide a steady supply of glucose over a prolonged period and keep you fuller for longer due to their fibre content.
Natural yoghurt: Yoghurt is a live food and as such increases the immune system in the gut. Choose full-fat natural yoghurt so that you feel fuller for longer. Feeling satiated and full is one of the best defences against snacking on high sugar foods.
- Gaye Godkin
Health & Living