Why do we eat food? There are many answers to this question, ‘it’s sociable’, ‘it’s a comfort’, ‘because I’m hungry’…The basic biological reason that we eat food is to give our body and brain the energy and building blocks needed to survive and carry on functioning. Within our body there are hundreds of thousands of enzyme driven chemical reactions going on, to maintain the internal environment and keep it stable and balanced, so that it works as efficiently as possible. This internal balance is homeostasis, and the body struggles to maintain homeostasis at all costs. Every time we eat or drink the internal chemistry of our body is changed slightly, so the homeostasis is upset. Enzymes, hormones, buffers and other biochemicals start to work, to get the balance back.
When we eat a delicious doughnut with our mid morning coffee, we do many things to our internal chemistry. First we add a lot of sugar and highly processed carbohydrates into our stomach, along with caffeine, water, proteins and fats. Our body needs to break these down the fats and proteins to make the essential building blocks for our survival, but also it needs to keep our brain fed, so the sugar is absorbed quickly through the stomach wall, and directly into the blood stream. Glucose has high priority, it is one of the few things that can pass the blood brain barrier and it is the only thing the brain can use as fuel. This sudden increase in glucose in our blood, forces the pancreas to produce insulin, which is a hormone needed to allow the sugar in the blood, into the body cells, so that it can be used as a fuel source. The insulin tells the cells to open the door, a sugar delivery is coming.
Once the insulin has been produced, it removes the sugar from the blood, which is either used by the cells and burnt for energy, or if there is too much of it, it will be converted to glycogen in the muscles and liver or fat and stored for times of famine. If we have had a highly sugary meal, we will produce a large amount of insulin, which will quickly remove the sugar from the blood, and will leave us feeling hungry again, very quickly. If the brain gets the message that the sugar in our blood is below optimum it sends out hunger messages which encourages us to eat something again. What usually happens is we feel hungry quickly and feel we need to grab something quick to satisfy us. This is often a biscuit, chocolate bar, fruit or bag of crisps, again these are all carbohydrate based snacks and therefore break down to sugars in the body, sending the cycle of high blood sugar, insulin, low blood sugar off again. Our bodies are regularly treated this way 3,4,5,6 times each day, giving our internal homeostasis a really hard time, and can lead to upset hormone balances, enzyme malfunction, inability to process the sugar properly and weight gain.
A diet filled with processed, quick and easy options is usually high in fat and particularly high in carbohydrates and low in protein. The best way to slow down the quick release of sugars into the blood stream is to ingest some protein rich food at the same time as the carbohydrates. Also making the carbohydrate more complex and slower releasing will help reduce the speed in which the sugars are released, this means choosing brown or wholemeal options, bread, pasta, rice etc. Protein rich foods include low fat meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses, legumes, quinoa, dairy foods, tofu and quorn. Having a little bit of protein with each meal, complex carbohydrates and increasing the vegetable portion of our meals helps us to feel fuller for longer and is the best way to keep our blood sugars regulated which helps us to loose weight, regulate our energy levels and helps to regulate hormones too.
Eating small meals regularly and not missing meals is also important. Three meals per day plus 2 snacks, each with protein is recommended. Giving the body slow release, regular meals will reduce the occurrence of peaks and troughs in blood sugar and insulin levels, reducing the hunger pangs and decreasing the chances of us grabbing for the nearest quick snack to fulfil our needs.
Women who suffer from PMS or infertility and anyone who has depression, insomnia, low blood pressure, headaches and cravings (to name a few) may benefit from balancing blood sugar levels, and not only will their weight regulate, but some of their symptoms may be alleviated too.
Suggestions for meals:
Boiled or Poached egg with a slice of wholemeal toast
Porridge with seeds and berries
Chicken and brown rice soup
Lentil soup with rye bread
Salad with chicken/egg/tuna and some oatcakes
Brown bread roll/sandwich with plenty of tuna/ham/cheese/egg and a side salad
Fresh fish/poultry with vegetables and new potatoes (skin on)
Chicken or lentil curry with brown rice
Mixed vegetable tortilla with salad
Dried fruit and nuts
Oatcakes/ryvita/rice cakes/crackers with hummus/olive paste/cheese/taramosalata
Smoothie made with yogurt & fruit