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Editorial: The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

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The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

(or What's for Breakfast?)

by Morgan Jones

22 April 2003

I wish The Natural Epicurean (the healing-cuisine cooking school in Austin) had time to teach people how to make a truly healthy breakfast in their Fundamentals of Cooking for Disease Prevention classes. After all, what's more fundamental than learning how to start the day? But they include so much basic information about nutrition, physiology, and so many great recipes for lunches and dinners that they have to save the breakfast wisdom for a separate class.

Many people in our culture start each day by climbing aboard the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster. What's the price of a ticket? Just eat what the TV ads tell you to eat for breakfast: Fruit juice, toast, honey, boxed cereals, pancakes, waffles, maple syrup, muffins, sweet rolls, milk—even those fruity breakfast bars that are marketed as healthy alternatives to junk food breakfasts—all of these are mostly sugar. As fuel, these simple carbohydrates provide a powerful jump-start for your day, but come 10 AM these shallow wells of energy dry up and you are left desperately needing another fix (soft drink, coffee, bagel, doughnut, candy bar, etc.). And it doesn't make any difference if you choose Kellogg's Frosted Flakes from Safeway or Health Valley Organic Raisin Bran (sweetened with honey or fructose) from Whole Foods, it's all the same to your blood.

What's behind the 10 o'clock sleepiness? It's easy to understand, even if you don't have a degree in nutrition. Unlike complex carbohydrates that can take hours to be fully digested, these simple carbohydrates are converted into blood sugar in 20 minutes or so. This unnaturally quick conversion results in an excess of glucose in your bloodstream; so much so that your body has to deal with it quickly to prevent serious consequences. So your pancreas responds by pumping out insulin; and it does this in large quantities to match the high level of sugar in your blood. The extra amount of insulin means your blood sugar level will begin to drop almost as quickly as it rose, and soon your blood sugar is so low that you start to feel tired, weak, and even sleepy.

So what do you do when your blood sugar is low? You do what comes naturally; you eat some carbohydrates to try and restore it to a normal level. And when we are in a state of low blood sugar we are most attracted to—you guessed it—more simple sugar.

And so it goes—all day long. Up and down, up and down. Once you get on the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster, it's almost impossible to get off for the rest of the day. String a lot of such days together (like, say, 20 years or so), and your poor pancreas just gets worn out. You end up with hypoglycemia, and you are well on the way to a myriad of other ailments (diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, immune system dysfunction, arrhythmia, arthritis, allergies, bingeing, panic attacks, AIDS, PMS, various cancers, chronic fatigue, etc.) that this way of eating promotes.

Eating a lot of protein doesn't really help—at least not over the long-term. Bacon, sausage, eggs, cheese—all these concentrated animal products have the same affect. They may make you feel full and energetic at the time, but they will eventually make you crave the expansion you get from simple sugar to balance the extremely contractive energy of such animal foods. And all of these foods also harden your pancreas, so it works less and less efficiently year after year. This hardening, especially when combined with the extra burden of dealing with a constant overload of simple sugars, eventually just wears out this vital organ.

So what should you eat for breakfast? The answer is just as easy to understand. And you can learn it for yourself. Check out the class schedule for The Natural Epicurean to see when they will next offer the class called What's for Breakfast? In this class you can discover how whole grains can give you time release energy to keep you going strong until lunch (or even longer), how fresh vegetables can provide the up energy you need to start the day, and how naturally fermented ingredients in recipes like miso soup or Vega Morning Tea can make you feel strong and grounded while they provide essential minerals to alkalize your blood and body to help strengthen your bones and immune system.

Take the class and learn how to start each morning in a way that provides you with good energy throughout the day and good health for the rest of your life? It doesn't cost much (even less if you bring a friend), they'll feed you lots of tasty food, and it's a fun class.

It's really pretty fundamental.


Peace, love, and brown rice,


Last modified: 02/21/05