It’s Make Over Time: A fresh look at carbohydrates and healthy blood sugar

As we slow down with the heat and dawdle from June toward July, People magazine (June 11) urges us to make ourselves anew. Check out the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle – even this independent North American is making concessions to palace decorum. Whether change is a matter of necessity or choice, it’s in the air. In the same issue, five women share their stories of how they lost 100 pounds or more each. This feature always fascinates me: how do they do this make over? What’s it mean for me and my clients? I notice that some of the women have shed the weight without excluding healthy carbohydrates; this intrigues me. Independent thinkers who’ve gotten effective results. In this blog I’d like to look more at carbohydrates and healthy blood sugar regulation.

The Basics

There’s three primary “macronutrients”: protein, fat and carbohydrate. We need all of them to stay alive, and use all of them for optimal function. It’s the proportions that get argued over in various diet approaches. As a nation, we’ve had the luxury of swinging back and forth between protein and veggies for faster weight loss and carbohydrate-loading for marathon exertions. Each can be effective for these, respectively.


Proteins build muscle and other tissues; fats lubricate us and provide the raw ingredients to make many hormones. What do carbohydrates do? When used in appropriate amounts, they give us energy, including the glycogen needed in muscles to go that extra mile. They support healthy blood sugar metabolism. Taken in excess, they help us make fat.


How much carbohydrate do we need? This is the rub. Depending on the source you read, it can be as much as 300 grams/day (that’s 4 cups of granola/day) or 120 grams or as little as 50 grams (forget that crunchy stuff, unless it’s measured in tablespoons, not bowlfuls). There’s research that indicates we need that minimum of 50 grams of carbohydrate per day to ensure healthy conversion of thyroid hormones, from T4 to biologically active T3.


If you’re someone who’s been hanging around the wholesome track for a while, you’re well familiar with the idea of healthy carbs (whole food/complex carbohydrates like whole grains and roots, otherwise known as whole-food starches) and not-so-healthy carbs, as in refined grains and simple sugars (“Just skip the white stuff,” Santa Fe physician Dr. Mai Ting succintly advised her diabetic patients struggling to create new healthy blood sugar patterns.). Simple sugars range the gamut from potentially drug-addictive white sugar (for some, not all) to raw honey to fruit sugar (fructose) to maple syrup to…there’s a range.


Not everyone does badly with simple sugars. Yet some people do, quickly experiencing brain fog, lethargy, depression, and an intense and unstoppable desire to eat more of them. If such a person happens to be my client, I strongly support them in eating on the low end of the carb range, and sticking with small amounts of complex carbohydrates, not simple sugars.


Using Whole Foods


Eating whole foods like vegetables, herbs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits offer you much more than just carbs or fats. They give you fiber and phyto-nutrients you simply can’t get from meat. They are important parts of healthy blood sugar regulation. (Conversely, meat can give you concentrated protein and iron. Whether this is positive or negative depends on the state of your kidneys, your blood, your metabolism, and your mind.)


Serving Size Can Matter


Some people find they can have more than the minimum of carbohydrate, as long as they don’t have too much at once. Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, reports that 20 – 25 grams for her, as a “low carb dietician” is plenty at one sitting. (That’s two slices of Dave’s Killer Thin Slice whole grain bread or a small sweet potato.) Add protein and veggies, and you’ve got a meal.



Least Reactive Sweeteners


While organic coconut sugar has a strong record for low-glycemic responses (translate: it is fine in moderation in diabetes), there are zero carb sweeteners that are even less reactive, including stevia, chicory root (Just Like Sugar) and Lo Han Guo (Swanson PureLo). These can be top choices in healthy blood sugar regulation, especially for highly sensitive people.Like anything these days, stevia has been open to trashing: it’s too processed, it’s not natural… Having grown an organic stevia plant last year as an experiment (it grew easily in a pot here in New Mexico), I can report it can definitely be a whole food. It’s also worth trying as a processed sweet, in my humble opinion. There’s a wide range of products out there. Often the zero carb sweeteners can save a soul from the dark road of repressed desire, flowing down into the river of blues and soggy binges.


People’s Women Warriors


In this year’s make over issue of People magazine, Merial Levy took six years to shed 161 pounds, roughly half her total  weight. She said in the interview, “I don’t deprive myself of anything, but now I can just taste it and feel satisfied.” Her healthy carbs included pinto beans, corn, vanilla almond granola, and pretzels, along with plenty of healthy vegetables and proteins. Lauren Council shed 100 pounds after an IBS diagnosis; her old foods weren’t working for her anymore. Sweet potatoes and banana were two of her healthy carbohydrates.


Basic Supportive Metabolism


It takes a healthy liver, pancreas and adrenal glands (we’ve got two of them, on top our kidneys) to metabolize carbohydrate well. If you find yourself struggling with healthy blood sugar metabolism, whether it’s manifesting as pre-diabetes, diabetes, hypoglycemia, or intense carb cravings, it’s worth nurturing these three organs specifically. Is there any make over you’d like to do this June? The adrenals in particular respond well to more rest, less stress and less caffeine.


I wrote Easy Healing Drinks from the Wisdom of Ayurveda, Delicious and Nourishing Recipes for All Seasons in part to offer fun, tasty whole food alternatives to support these organs and healthy blood sugar. If you have the book, there’s a free one page Guide for Optimizing Healthy Blood Sugar with Easy Healing Drinks available. I’d be glad to send you one.


Amadea Morningstar, MA, RPE, RYT is an expert in Ayurvedic health care. She meets you where you are, and is available with respect, bringing over 40 professional years of experience, academic training and hands-on knowledge to her sessions and books. Sessions with Amadea include Western nutrition, Ayurvedic nutrition and herbalism, Polarity Therapy, Marma therapy, Integral yoga, and nature-based approaches. She and Renee Lynn are co-creators together of the Easy Healing Drinks series.


Image: Cooling Coconut Green Drink by Renee Lynn, recipe in Easy Healing Drinks