Carbohydrates, Insulin Overload, Metabolic Syndrome

and the Glycemic Index of Food


Sugar and starch are carbohydrates. Sugar is a carbohydrate with a sweet taste. Some carbohydrates are not as sweet as sugar, other have a stronger sweet taste and some carbohydrates have no sweet taste at all. Their presence in food is undetectable by taste.

Sugar is made of one molecule of glucose attached to one molecule of fructose.

Starch is also a carbohydrate. Starch is made of long chains of glucose only and has no sweet taste. Dissolve some starch in your mouth, the sweet taste that follows is the sweet taste of glucose from the breakdown of starch by saliva enzymes.

Sugar and starch are the main carbohydrates in our food. Sugar and starch eventually end up as glucose in our blood after a short or longer process involving the digestion and the absorption in the intestine and the action of enzymes.

The intake of sugar and starch triggers a surge of the blood glucose level. The level of glucose in our blood may vary widely. Physicians use the word “hyperglycemia” when the level of glucose in the blood circulation is high. (Hyper = high and glycemic = glucose in blood.) The word “Hypoglycemia” defines the opposite situation where the level of glucose in the blood circulation is low (Hypo = low).

Carbohydrate Excess in The American Diet

The average American diet is too rich in sugar and starch. Starch is found in grain and in potatoes. For more information on carbohydrates, please see "Cartbohysdrates" in the Longevity Institute website. With too much sugar and too much starch in the diet, the blood glucose level tends to stay high. The consequences of a constant high blood glucose level have only recently been unfolded.. It has become evident that a constant glucose overload is damaging by itself and by the insulin overload it triggers and maintains.

Damage by Hyperglycemia

Carbohydrates have other functions in our biochemistry than only supplying energy. Carbohydrates also have other functions. They are parts of complex molecules, like the molecule embedded in the cell membrane that assume cell recognition and communication. When cells attach carbohydrates to proteins to make complex molecules, they attach the carbohydrate at a specific site of the molecule and on a specific molecule for a specific purpose only. In contrast, carbohydrates (mainly glucose and fructose) can also haphazardly attach to any of several sites along any available protein or other molecule. This happens most in hyperglycemia. We all know that sugar sticks and the random attachment of carbohydrates to proteins and other molecules reduces their mobility and function. The consequences affect all organs, brain included. Red blood cells exposed to a high carbohydrate level have their hemoglobin altered by the random binding of glucose. Bound hemoglobin is called glycosylated (or glycated) hemoglobin (Hb A1c). A Hb A1c level of 5 to 6 is considered acceptable, 3 or 4 is better. The Hb A1c level is a good measure of the overall damage by sugar and starch excess in the diet.

Insulin Overload

The pancreas gland monitors the blood glucose level. The pancreas gland produces the hormones insulin and glucagon and releases them according to the variations of the level of glucose in the blood circulation. Insulin is the storage hormone (Insulin stores all kinds of food, not only glucose). Insulin lowers the blood glucose level by pushing glucose into the cells. Glucagon restores a crumbling glucose blood level by releasing stored glucose. If we eat much sugar and starch, the jump of the glucose blood level triggers a fierce reaction of insulin release by the pancreas. Hypoglycemia may follow with its symptoms of anger, irritability, impulsiveness, and severe craving for sweet in a repetitive pattern cycle.

Another aspect of a sustained high glucose level in circulating blood is the insulin overload it triggers and maintains;

A - A higher insulin release tends to push glucose in the cells beyond the cells’ capacity. To defend themselves cells down regulate the activity and the number of their insulin receptors. Cells become insulin resistant.

B - The pancreas—monitoring the glucose blood level, not the level of glucose in the cells—continues to release more insulin, which increases cell’s insulin resistance. The resulting constant high insulin level create disturbances in several cell’s and organ functions and triggers other hormone irregularities. The condition is named “Metabolic Syndrome”
C - With time diabetes will appear.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome contributes to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, stroke, cognitive disorders, depression, worsening of many other conditions (like arthritis), exaggerated immune response resulting in a multitude of other ailments. Metabolic syndrome is also the precursor of diabetes.

The presence of at least three of the following symptoms defines the Metabolic Syndrome: Abdominal obesity - A blood pressure greater or equal to 130/85 . - A fasting glucose level greater than 110 milligrams per deciliter. - A serum triglycerides level higher than 150 milligrams per deciliter. - A serum HDL level lower than 40 milligrams per deciliter.

The Glycemic Index of Food

The glycemic index—a system of ranking carbohydrates and the foods that contain carbohydrates according to how fast they affect blood sugar levels—started out years ago as a dietary tool for people with diabetes. Now the GI concept has spread as a way to evaluate carbohydrates for people who are not (yet) diabetic. High-GI carbohydrates (to be avoided) include processed breads, most cereals, potatoes, short-grain white rice, and some fruits. Low-GI carbohydrates (fine to eat) include whole grains, brown rice, pastas, legumes, sweet potatoes, oats, and some fruit. (Table 1).

.Table 1 - List of food with its Glycemic Index

A Glycemic Index (GI) is low if under 55 (green in the table), high if greater than 70 (red)

More information

- Download a comprehensive list of Glycemic Index of food published by Rick Mendosa. Both GI and Glycemic Load (GL) of foods are listed there.

(The GI of food is based on the glucose index—where the GI of glucose is set to equal 100. The GL of a food is the glycemic index of that food divided by 100 and multiplied by the available carbohydrate content (i.e. carbohydrates minus fiber) of food in grams)

Copyright: 2003-2011  Edmond Devroey