Carbohydrate sensitivity and blood sugar balance

Do you crave carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread, and crackers?

I know in the past, I was absolutely a “carb addict” and highly sensitive and had been since a very young child. Once I learnt and understood what eating these foods was doing inside my body on a cellular level, it made a huge difference to my motivation for changing these habits. Carbohydrates are addictive and have been referred to as “The Cocaine for the Brain”. Cold turkey withdrawal can result in similar symptoms to drug withdrawal, including headaches, moodiness, tension, restlessness, anxiety and depression as well as a sever preoccupation with getting more carbohydrates.

Some common signs of signs of carbohydrate sensitivity are below

  1. Feeling tired and foggy in the afternoon
  2. The need for a sugar, starch or caffeine hit in the afternoon
  3. Having hard time stopping, when eating favourite carbohydrates, starches, sweets, snacks
  4. Reaching for food when stressed
  5. Difficulty going without a favourite carbohydrate
  6. Craving refined carbohydrate foods such sweets, bread, pasta, rice, biscuits and cake
  7. Experiencing carbohydrate withdrawal, headaches, irritability, mood swings, anxiety
  8. Being overweight
  9. Sleep disturbances and trouble sleeping

Carbohydrate sensitive people tend to sustain higher insulin levels in the blood combined with a decreased sensitivity within the cell. This inevitably leads to insulin resistance and then to diabetes. Carbohydrate sensitive people face very real chemical and hormonal changes upon eating carbohydrates. These people may struggle with never really feeling full, and can often overeat. This is an ongoing cycle. Carbohydrate consumption initially produces a pleasurable feeling, followed by an uneasy sensation, then weariness and the craving to snack more, leaving you never really feeling satiated. In carbohydrate sensitive people the carbohydrate-insulin-serotonin connection has malfunctioned, or become desensitised. To change this cycle carbohydrate sensitive people need to eat in a way that manages the delivery of sugars in food which helps to stop the cycle of excess insulin production, and this over time, along with exercise, improves insulin sensitivity. When the right balance of carbohydrate is consumed we can turn things around and bring about change. We can help you break this cycle, working together with your diet, digestive, nervous and endocrine systems. We can help to restore a good balance that will free you from food cravings and help you to balance so many things in your body, you will feel fantastic again.

Changes in food production over the past 40 years, particularly with the removal of fat and fibre with the addition of sugar a highly refined carbohydrate; have created an environment in which foods have become very addictive. Both excess sugar, insufficient fibre and fat promote insulin production and the suppression of leptin activity. Carbohydrates are made up of two main categories, Complex carbs which include most vegetables; these carbs are essential to good health and are full of healthy nutrition.  Simple carbs which mainly include refined carbohydrate are the other category.  These are the problematic  and addictive ones; they are also less nutritious because the processing and refining generally depletes a great deal of the initial nutrition. It is important to know that refined carbohydrates convert very quickly into sugars or glucose in our body, and can flood the body very quickly as is the case with something like fruit juice.

The hormones, Ghrelin, Leptin and insulin are the driving force behind your appetite control and your desire to eat. Understanding Insulin and Leptin, the two most important metabolic messengers is very important. While insulin takes charge at a cellular level, deciding whether to burn fat or glucose for energy, leptin controls energy storage and tells the brain how much fat there is on the body, whether to increase its inventory or to burn some off, in some ways Leptin is the master fat controlling hormone and it plays a key role in metabolism and the regulation of fatty tissue. The more body fat you have the more Leptin you have. When the body is responding well to Leptin it signals the brain that we are full and no longer need to continue eating. A body can become Leptin resistant and Leptin also communicates with several other hormones including thyroid hormone, the master metabolic hormone. Everything in the body is interlinked.

Insulin is also another key player in deciding when to use glucose for immediate fuel or store as fat for later use. Excess insulin makes you fat. It encourages your body to store glucose as fat and also blocks the use of stored glucose (glycogen) as an energy source.  It is this storage of fuel that impacts the waist line. Insulin has a profound effect on the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates as well as the synthesis of proteins and minerals. If our insulin receptors are weak or unable to work properly as is the case with diabetes, this ultimately has a widespread and potentially devastating effect on many organs and tissues. Insulin, when working properly, should ensure harmonious bodily functions, by controlling a steady level of glucose. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas, and without insulin our cells cannot access the glucose in our bloodstream. Our brain needs a constant supply of glucose which is available through glycogen stores from our muscles and liver cells. The liver has the ability to transfer protein and fat into glucose for its use. This is why adequate protein and fat intake are essential on a carbohydrate sensitive diet. The mineral magnesium is a key player  and enhances insulin secretion. Without magnesium, insulin is not able to transfer into the cells. When this happens glucose and insulin build up in the blood causing all kinds of tissue damage. If your cells do not respond to insulin properly your cells can’t store the magnesium it needs, it will be lost through urination. This can cause blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to increase.  This is one reason why exercise is so very important to increase your body’s insulin sensitivity. Increased insulin has also been shown to increase the effect aging. The good news is, you can change this, by altering your diet and exercising more.

The more carbohydrate sensitive you are, the more prone to higher insulin levels due to insulin resistance, you will become thus increasing your need for metabolic repair. We naturally become more insulin resistant as we age, that is why diet and exercise are so important. Skin tags on the body especially around the neck, armpit and breast area are a sign of high insulin. Irregular and painful periods, hair loss, acne and increased body hair can also be common. Infertility issues can be impacted by high blood sugar and studies have shown that children of mothers with high blood sugar during pregnancy are more likely to develop insulin resistance. The more insulin your body has to produce to keep blood sugar down, the more insulin and leptin resistant you become, unless you take action to reverse the trend. Dietary and exercise habit changes can reverse the trend.

Studies have shown that the consumption of sugar and carbohydrates causes the release of dopamine in the brain, similar to that of addictive drugs. Serotonin our happy hormone can be seriously affected by an imbalanced diet.  A diet lacking in Vitamins b6 for example and the amino acid tryptophan, may bring about a deficiency, along with the stress hormone cortisol, which robs us of our serotonin. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has projected that depression will soon be the number 1 disability experienced by adults in modern society. Can you understand how a lack of serotonin may cause you to crave and eat high carb foods, and this in turn causes weight gain, it can be a viscous cycle? Insulin resistance, blocks the activity of serotonin in the brain.

Signs of insulin imbalance include heart palpitations, sweating, poor concentration, weakness , anxiety, foggy brain, irritability, depression, poor sleep , cravings and addictions to drugs, alcohol and caffeine. Insulin causes a spike in Dopamine, a desire to eat in order to receive pleasure, similar to the rush from addictive behaviours. With insulin resistance the insulin boost after a meal no longer offers satiety. The effect of this communication breakdown within the body, impacts on almost every organ, as is the case with diabetes. Before that point is reached, weight gain, fertility and endocrine issues will have begun to impact on your quality of life.

As a cautionary message, it is important to also beware of artificial sweeteners. Although the artificial sweeteners do not cause the blood sugar to rise, your body still responds as though there is sugar in the blood stream by secreting insulin. With low leptin and high insulin our appetite and cravings go haywire. Studies have shown weight gain is common in those that consume them regularly.

Many of the side effects of stress also conspire to make you fat. High cortisol as a result of high stress, impacts on your metabolism and appetite in many ways. Cortisol depresses your metabolic rate by interfering with your thyroid hormones. Cortisol fuels your desire for carbohydrate foods, cortisol boosts your abdominal fat storage, cortisol depletes your happy hormone serotonin, cortisol causes blood sugar imbalances, cortisol causes you to eat more, cortisol saps testosterone and can have serious effects on your libido. Cortisol eats away at muscles and slows metabolic repair, cortisol decreases cellular insulin resistance. There are so many reasons to not become stressed and raise your cortisol levels. Stress comes in many forms, however, environmental, biochemical and  emotional. The importance of quality sleep cannot be underestimated and even short term sleep disturbances can impact your metabolic system and cause weight gain, this adds to the stress on your system. One study found that those that have only 5 hours of sleep per night had less leptin and more ghrelin and experienced an increase in their BMI regardless of exercise. With the help of your thyroid hormones, muscle tissue dictates your metabolic rate. For most of us metabolic damage and insulin resistance is the cumulative result of a life time of poor choices.  The good news is that many of these are lifestyle choices and can be modified, to steer you back in the direction of good health and vitality.

A huge 60% of our immune system is clustered around our digestive tract. That is why anything that compromises digestion, including, food allergies, gut flora imbalances, enzyme deficiencies, yeast overgrowths, parasites and stress negatively impact not only on the process of digestion itself but our whole immune system. When our bowels are not working properly waste and toxins build up impacting our overall health. The frequency and quality of your poop can give you a real insight into how well your digestive system is working. A good balance and variety of gut flora is essential to good health, in the past our ancestors knew this, and all cultures consumed probiotic and fermented foods to nurture and feed the gut. In modern day life, this habit has, in many cases stopped, making a real impact on our microbiome along with regular assaults of antibiotics that wipe it out almost completely, and allow the less beneficial stands to become predominate. We cannot underestimate the detrimental impact of pharmaceutical medicines are having on our microbiome also. Combined with a more processed and less nutrient dense diet this depleted gut flora is a recipe for illness and chronic disease. A healthy gut flora promotes healthy immune function and thereby decreases inflammation and increases overall health.

Macronutrient ratios of proteins and fats are very important when dealing with carbohydrate sensitivity and insulin resistance. The inclusion of good quality fats in our diet slows down the absorption of sugars and carbohydrates and can become a real game changer when trying to heal your insulin sensitivity and manage your blood sugar. Exercise, particularly resistance training improves diabetes and insulin resistance and is a vital part of the lifestyle changes required to change insulin resistance and diabetes outcomes.  

If you can relate to the symptoms of cravings and fatigue, you are already riding the blood sugar roller coaster; this will be having a serious impact on your blood sugar regulation. Nutritional Therapy Practitioners (NTP), such as myself, can assist you with achievable diet changes, to free you from these cravings and the added weight gain that comes with them.  We can also work with you in managing your diabetes. Don’t weight for the diagnosis, take positive steps now and take control of your health and enjoy a better quality of life!

Article by: Donna Larcom NTP

Pure Core Nourishment, in person sessions in Townsville or Skype sessions elsewhere. Find more information at

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