During these unprecedented times for you and your family members, lets explore strategies for cooking and preparing meals that will hopefully help balance both your energy, mood and stress levels.
Key to achieving this is balancing blood glucose levels!
LETS BEGIN WITH A QUICK EXPLANATION ……
WHAT IS BLOOD GLUCOSE? HOW DOES THE BODY USE AND STORE IT?
When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into a simple energy form, glucose. This is often referred to as blood sugar. These levels are tightly regulated by the hormone insulin. It is insulins’ job to help the body use blood glucose from food, for energy, or store that energy in the liver and muscles, as glycogen (a short-term energy source). Any excess is stored in fat cells. (This is one of the mechanisms by which a high sugar diet can lead to potential weight gain.)
Carbohydrates however, are not created equally and the speed of this breakdown can vary based on the Glycaemic Index (GI) and Glycaemic load (GL) of the carbohydrate content.
• GI ranks foods on how quickly they are digested into blood sugars and how quickly it impacts our blood sugar, however whilst helpful… it does not reflect the portion size.
• The GL is based on the relative GI of the food in relation to the portion size.
In other words, the GI = is how quick, and the GL = how much and how quick.
WATCH OUT FOR THE BLOOD GLUCOSE “ROLLER COASTER”!
Foods with a high GL, e.g. a slice of white bread, will be rapidly broken down into blood glucose causing a sudden spike. Consequently, insulin must quickly remove any extra glucose, which then causes a “sugar low”.
This creates what’s known as the ‘blood sugar roller-coaster’ (see image below) which can have a detrimental effect on mood, potentially making you feel more jittery and anxious. The “roller coaster” also causes sudden dips in energy, leaving you feeling hungry shortly after eating, increasing the desire to reach for sugary snacks and caffeine, only to create another unwanted “roller coaster” shortly after. Conversely, foods with a low GL keep blood sugar levels consistent, enabling both your mood and energy levels to remain more constant and controlled.
You may have noticed this “roller coaster” with your kids after they’ve eaten sugary snacks or drinks. One minute they’re buzzin around and then all of a sudden, they’re irritable and grumpy.
OR IS THAT JUST MY HUSBAND!
Imagine your digestion and metabolism as a fire!
• If you pour petrol on to it, it will burn bright and hot, but the flames will soon die
• If you feed it regularly with small well-seasoned wood, it will burn long and warm.
• High GL food is the petrol.
• Low GL food is the seasoned wood.
5 TOP TIPS TO MANAGE YOUR ENERGY AND MOOD!
As well as choosing lower GL carbs……. supply permitting, here are my 5 top tips!
(I have included a link at the end of this article to a list of GL levels of common foods)
1. Choose a BREAKFAST that will KEEEP YOU FEELING FULL, your brain fuelled and reduce those mid-morning energy dips. Here’s some ideas:
• Yoghurt (ideally full fat and unsweetened)
Add toppings like fresh fruit, a handful of nut and seeds, a dollop of nut butter. Add some honey or maple syrup if you need a hit of sweetness.
• Poached egg on a slice of wholemeal bread
Add some avocado or spinach…. if you can get some! Sprinkle with seeds, paprika and a drizzle of olive oil.
• Overnight oats
Make this up for all the family the night before. Per person take approx. 50 grams of porridge oats, add 350ml of milk of your choice. Add ½ tsp of cinnamon, which has been shown in studies to help to reduce sugar cravings by controlling blood glucose levels. Leave in the fridge overnight.
In the morning heat through on the hob. Add flacked almonds, sunflower seeds, or walnuts. Serve with a dollop of full fat Greek yoghurt and drizzle with honey.
• ‘Dippy eggs and soldiers’
Lightly boiled eggs with a slice of wholemeal bread and butter “soldiers”.
2. COMBINE low GL CARBS, PROTEIN and HEALTHY FATS with EVERY MEAL.
Imagine your plate divided into three sections:
Half, or more of your plate, should be a wide range of leafy greens, salad items and brightly coloured vegetables, basically anything that grows above the ground.
One quarter should consist of lean protein, roughly the size of your fist.
Final quarter, add complex carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, quinoa and root vegetables.
By doing this you will slow down your digestion and reduce the affects of any high GL foods on blood glucose and insulin levels.
Which in layman’s terms means….…. you’ll feel fuller for longer!
3. REDUCE your CAFFEINE intake, found in tea, coffee, chocolate.
It’s easy to forget that caffeine is in fact a drug and as such, at times of high stress can have a detrimental effect on both your energy and your mood…. plus, your sleep. We all love the hit we get from caffeine, but it is actually interacts with 3 powerful hormones in the body.
• Adrenaline: Caffeine causes the release of adrenaline into your system, giving you a temporary boost, but this will put you on the “roller coaster” that we discussed earlier. This is again pouring “petrol on your fire”! Right now, we also have many other reasons for surges in adrenalin so anything that adds to that may not be helpful.
• Cortisol: Caffeine can increase the body’s cortisol levels, the “stress hormone”, which in turn floods the body with glucose. The body will need to remove this rapidly. Another unwanted “roller coaster ride”.
• Dopamine: Caffeine increases dopamine levels in your system, which can make you feel good initially, but after it wears off you can feel ‘low’. It is this dopamine hit which makes coffee hard to give up.
If you love your cup of tea or coffee, avoid drinking after midday to ensure your sleep is not affected, and also think about reducing to 1 or 2 cups daily.
You could choose herbal teas such as Green Tea, which although still contains caffeine, it’s affects are offset by the calming affect l-Theanine. You could also try chamomile, peppermint or dandelion.
4. AVOID HIGHLY PROCESSED FOODS, SUGARY SNACKS AND DRINKS BETWEEN MEALS
Sometimes when we feel stressed and anxious we look to food to help support these feelings. And with so many us at home self-isolating, the sweet treats in the kitchen are more easily accessible and seem to be calling your name! However, if you begin to better balance your blood glucose, with the advice above, your mood will be more stable, your energy should feel more consistent, so hopefully there’ll be less need to add “petrol to your fire”.
Here are some healthy snack suggestions:
• Half a slice of wholegrain bread with nut butter
• Raw veggies (carrot, pepper, celery, cucumber) plus ½ small tub of hummus
• Piece of fruit with 5-10 nuts
• Berries plus small tub plain full fat yoghurt
5. Remember to stay hydrated, 6-8 glasses per day.
When my kids were little and they asked for snacks, I would often suggest they have a glass of water instead. They still tease me about this now, saying how annoying it was, but actually the science supports this. Dehydration can make us feel tired and irritated, so have a drink first before you reach for a snack.
Choose filtered water if you can. Add some mint or lemon for some variation…. if you can get any….
If you struggle to drink water, then dilute your fruit juice, gradually increasing the amount of water you add. Avoid sugary drinks which will again pour fuel on you fire.
Set an alarm on your watch to remind yourself to stay hydrated with small sips taken regularly throughout the day.
Water is vital for keeping all our cells hydrated and allowing absorption of key nutrients and removal of waste substances.
A FINAL THOUGHT….APPLYING THE 80:20 RULE!
During this difficult period, it’s important to remember that food is more than just calories, nutrients and minerals. Taking time to sit down to eat with those you are self-isolating with is a precious time, a time to be thankful for what you have in front of you. Practice gratitude that you are able to share your mealtime with the those you love, those who are supporting you.
As such, let’s be sensible about the tips I’ve suggested. I like to apply the 80/20 rule, which means let’s try to stick to this way of eating 80% of the time. I will certainly be enjoying both a glass of wine and a few crisps (my guilty pleasure) this coming weekend…..and I hope you can too.