The path to diabetes and beyond
My last post ended with guidance on how to test your blood sugar. Here is what I said.
“Cook a medium potato without any additions. No butter, no sour cream, nothing but the potato. Test your blood sugar and write the number down. Eat the potato (you can salt and pepper it). An hour later check your blood sugar again and write that number down. If that number at one hour is higher than 110 you may be heading in the wrong direction.”
Technically, at the earliest stages of your diabetes progression, your blood sugar might look okay at one hour. So it seems worthwhile to describe how the whole progression typically happens and how insulin is the key.
First you eat
Eating is just what we do. We do that for two reasons – to provide energy to our trillion or so body cells and provide the vitamins and minerals required to build and maintain those cells. At least that should be the reasons but some of us are just into taste.
Any carbohydrates (sugar, also called glucose) in the food signals to your pancreas that the hormone insulin is required to move the sugar into your cells. Carbohydrates are in plants. Above ground vegetables have minimal carbohydrates. Root vegetables like potatoes, grains like wheat (in the form of flour), corn, oats, etc. and beans have lots of carbohydrates and lots of calories.
If the amount of glucose in your diet is matched to the amount of glucose your cells require, all is good. Any extra glucose in your food gets converted to fat by your liver and delivered to your fat cells. So it is no doubt obvious that extra body fat usually means too much glucose.
In the beginning
Your pancreas initially pumps out enough insulin to handle whatever you eat. Insulin is in the storage business. It stores glucose, protein, and fat in different places as required. But only glucose increases blood sugar.
You can’t see the insulin surge. You can only see the result of the surge by looking at your blood sugar. Your blood sugar (glucose) remains normal. This explains why you might test your blood sugar after eating that potato and not see a serious blood sugar surge. A blood test done by your doctor might say you are fine.
As time progresses
As time progresses on an excess energy diet, the pancreas can be overwhelmed and not enough insulin generated. Your blood sugar goes up, and up, and up. The blood tests (including your finger pricks) give you higher numbers. Your A1c (glucose adherence to red blood cells) goes up and up.
That extra sugar sticks (glycates) to the red blood cells and the walls of the blood stream.
So if you do the potato test at this time, your one hour reading might be at 160 or 250. A test at 2 hours might be even higher. Instead of your blood sugar going down over time it continues to go up.
It’s All About the Food
Many folks are getting up to 70% of their food from from ultra-processed food including grains and root vegetables. There are certainly many people who will tell you quickly they don’t like any vegetables other than these. And even if they do, they will definitely pick bread or french fries over green beans.
The processing breaks down the original food ingredients, reducing or eliminating most of the inherent nutrients, adding other ingredients including sugar, fats, salt, preservatives, and flavorings. The largest problem is the grains (most often wheat which seems to be in everything and corn) and root vegetables.
If the food comes in a sack, a box, or even a bottle with more than one ingredient it is probably ultra-processed. Just walk down the cereal, bread, bakery, pasta, cracker, and chip aisles in the grocery store and you will find them. Look at the label, consider the calories and carbohydrate totals. Consider how much of your diet contains those items.
There is just so much room in your personal fat cells. Everyone is different. Seems that about 20% of us will not be visibly fat because we don’t have much room.
Unfortunately when the fat cells are maxed out for anyone but fat is still being produced by the liver (due to excess glucose consumption) that fat will be redirected around and into organs like the liver itself, the pancreas, even the heart. It has to go somewhere. This is not flabby fat, this is firm, hard fat strapped around your middle.
So in the end
So now we have a fatty liver, high triglycerides (fat in the blood), high blood pressure, kidney damage, damage anywhere in your blood stream including even tiny vessels in eyes, fingers, feet, nerves. Circulation is impeded, healing slowed or prevented, amputations likely. And of course, a heart attack is always possible.
The medical community will be glad to provide you with medications to treat these conditions. But treat and fix are two different things.
What should you do?
What you should do depends on where you started – the balance of blood sugar and insulin. If you are diabetic you already have some or more of the conditions described above (and probably others) whether you know it or not. And you can rest assured that your immune system is overtaxed.
You cannot resolve your issue without losing the extra weight. And you will not lose the extra weight without modifying your diet. The more your diet contains food made with flour and potatoes, the more you challenge your blood sugar.
If you do the potato test and find your blood sugar is okay, that is good news. Start (or continue) to eat in a fashion that does not increase your weight. Check your blood sugar on occasion just to be sure.
Yes, this whole thing is way more complicated. I wrote a whole book about it so obviously this one post doesn’t tell everything you might need or want to know.
It’s All About the Food can be purchased on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. In Montgomery County, AR, the paperback version is available at Marilyn’s Old County Store, Bob’s Food City, the Chamber of Commerce office, and the Mount Ida Pharmacy. And I have a supply in my car. Just give me a call.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 870-490-1836. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks. Her website is http://www.allaboutthefood.org/