- What is a refined carbohydrate? How do I spot them?
- What is hypoglycaemia?
- Why do doctors tell me to eat sugar, and "little and often"?
- How does blood sugar work?
- Can I eat honey?
- What are the symptoms?
- What is a glucose tolerance test (GTT)? How do you test for hypoglycaemia?
- How many people have hypoglycaemia?
- Why don't more people know they are hypoglycaemic?
- How does hypoglycaemia relate to diabetes?
- How does the hypoglycaemic diet relate to weight gain?
- How can I lose weight?
- What about calorie-controlled diets?
- Does hypoglycaemia impact on heart disease?
- How much sugar is there in our average diet?
- Does it really affect my eyes?
What is a refined carbohydrate? How do I spot them?
- Any carbohydrate (flour, rice, sugar, etc.) that has had part of it removed, through refining, drying or any other similar process. A hypoglycaemic should not eat any refined carbohydrates ever. Sugar is the worst one (also going under the names glucose, sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, maple syrup, molasses, muscovado sugar, cane sugar, honey, and many others - also often hidden inside other ingredients such as fruit compote, mayonnaise, etc.) and there are others such as flour, rice and pasta which are normally prefixed with whole if they are not refined.
What is hypoglycaemia?
- In mild cases, hypoglycaemia is not really an illness or disease. The Western diet means that we eat refined carbohydrates that were never part of a natural diet. The pancreas, which produces insulin to control blood sugar levels, has difficulty with the modern diet in some people. Moving back to a more natural diet avoids the condition completely with no medication. In more severe cases (in fact, in many cases in North America) it is considered an illness, though it receives very little attention or research. There is no medication available for such conditions (that I know of) and diet control is considered the most effective treatment, though recommendations for the diet vary.
Why do doctors tell me to eat sugar, and "little and often"?
- A crude way of controlling blood sugar lows is to eat refined carbohydrates when the blood sugar is low. It saves 2-10 minutes getting the blood sugar up, but since refined carbohydrates caused the problem in the first place, you end up on a blood sugar level roller coaster ride. Therefore you have to eat more carbohydrates a little later when your blood sugar level drops again. This is really treating the symptoms, not the cause. The name of the condition (meaning low blood sugar) doesn't help as doctors can immediately assume the incorrect but simple solution. Furthermore, it is rare that anything accurate is taught about it at medical school, and most medical texts I have seen are entirely wrong. How can a doctor know how to treat it correctly if they have never been given the proper information?
- Hypoglycaemics are also advised to avoid refined carbohydrates, or sometimes just sugar. In many cases this will be very effective, but personally, I find that have no refined carbohydrates at all, ever is the only really effective way to keep stable blood sugar (though thinking about it this way can make it very difficult to even start giving it up).
How does blood sugar work?
- Blood sugar gets raised when we eat as the body absorbs the sugars from the carbohydrates in the food and from which we get energy. Insulin drops the blood sugar. Insulin is produced by the pancreas which is a very sensitive organ. If the blood sugar drops too low, we feel hungry. If it drops too low, the body goes into "crisis mode" and pumps out adrenaline, causing mood swings and other symptoms (it can affect many hormones in the body in this state, hence the many and varied symptoms of hypoglycaemia). This is to encourage us to go out and get food immediately.
Can I eat honey?
- Unfortunately, this is one of the only naturally occurring refined carbohydrates (the bees did the refining for us) and was a rarely eaten food in the human diet (ancient Greek texts talk about the high from eating it since that is the effect that refined carbohydrates have on us - just we eat so much of it, we don't notice it any more). So no, you can't eat it if you are hypoglycaemic.
What are the symptoms?
- They are varied, from weight gain, deteriorating eyesight (particularly short-sightedness), migraines, headaches, high blood pressure, ineffective immune system to the more obvious such as mood swings, sugar cravings, "hitting the wall" when blood sugar is low, hyperactivity after eating sugar, etc.
What is a glucose tolerance test (GTT)? How do you test for hypoglycaemia?
- This is the standard test for hypoglycaemia. It involves taking a glucose drink and monitoring the blood sugar levels for eight hours at half-hour intervals looking for rapid drops in blood sugar levels. Since no one has actually agreed what defines hypoglycaemia, different doctors will give different interpretations of the results. At the end of the day, if you want to see if you have hypoglycaemia, try the diet for at least four weeks. If you don't notice any difference in any of the symptoms you have then you probably haven't got it - go back to eating what you like. If you are already on the diet, avoid the glucose tolerance test since the large volume of glucose will give your body a major shock.
How many people have hypoglycaemia?
- Tests on American Air Force pilots suggested between 10 and 50% of them were hypoglycaemic, and they represent a particularly healthy proportion of the American population.
Why don't more people know they are hypoglycaemic?
- Given you are likely to have spent very few days in your life when you didn't have refined carbohydrates, and probably quite a bit of sugar, you have probably never experienced being off refined carbohydrates. We assume how we feel is normal. I was 27 years old before I found out what it was like to be on the diet, and can't believe I didn't know what it was like before.
How does hypoglycaemia relate to diabetes?
- Hypoglycaemia normally precedes diabetes, since the hypoglycaemia puts a strain on the pancreas and leaves it more likely to suffer damage. Hence, as the Western diet contains more and more refined carbohydrates, so more people get obese (1999 survey showed 79% of the American population was overweight, up 15% from ten years before), more people get diabetes, more of us need to wear glasses, more of us suffer heart disease, etc.
How does the hypoglycaemic diet relate to weight gain?
- Insulin is known as the 'fattening hormone'. When your pancreas overreacts, it produces too much insulin, hence the low blood sugar. This excess insulin is what stores fat. Eat refined carbohydrates and you are likely to gain weight (though this does depend on the individual). Eat no refined carbohydrates and it is almost impossible to be overweight. Note that even if you have a fat free diet, you still have fat in your body since it can make it itself, so a fat-free diet with refined carbohydrates will still make you fat, even if you are eating very few calories.
How can I lose weight?
- Follow the hypoglycaemic diet (not the "little and often" method, but the one in these pages). You will move to your natural weight. Changing the number of calories you eat can change your weight in the short term, but it will come back to its natural weight once it is used to the number of calories. Allow quite a long time for the diet to kick in as your body gets used to the new diet and starts to get rid of the fat it stored along with the refined carbohydrates you used to eat (that kind of fat is the hardest for the body to get rid of). Note that if you are underweight, the diet should bring you back into the normal weight range. It will not make you too thin.
What about calorie-controlled diets?
- Calorie controlled diets always work in the short term (shown in experiments in the 1950's). Since then it has been shown that they only work short term unless you change other parts of your lifestyle. Exercise and calorie controlled diets work a bit longer, but if you still have refined carbohydrates in your diet, you will eventually start to put the weight back on, or starve yourself. If you are prone to putting on weight, the choice is either anorexia or being overweight if you don't cut out the sugar and other refined carbohydrates.
- For example, if you eat 2500 calories per day, and your body stores 10 of them because you have refined carbohydrates in your diet, then when you cut down to 2000, your body will use all this energy and some stored fat till it gets used to 2000 calories (in a few weeks). Then it will use 1990 and store 10. As you cut down, it will readjust and still store 10 each day. Eventually you will be starving yourself and still be storing fat.
- Change your diet so you don't store the fat and the calorie changes will still happen, but your body will not store fat due to insulin. It will get used to the number of calories you eat, and will start to lose the excess fat. Doing exercise will help, but it is not absolutely necessary.
Does hypoglycaemia impact on heart disease?
- Yes it does. Experiments in men with atherosclerosis (furred arteries) has shown that removing sugar and refined carbohydrates from the diet actually clears the arteries, in men who are either thin or fat. For people not prone to heart disease, changing the diet made no difference to how susceptible they were to that particular condition.
How much sugar is there in our average diet?
- Only one third of the sugar consumed is sold to consumers as sugar. The rest is already included in our diets. Surprisingly, it is not just in sweets and desserts. It is also in surprisingly large quantities in many savoury foods. Surprise yourself by ringing manufacturers and asking how much sugar is actually in the food they sell, and work out how many teaspoonfuls (or tablespoonfuls) that equates to. Even breakfast cereals such as Bran Flakes have 18% sugar, and its (allegedly healthy and not at all sweet tasting) stablemate All Bran also has 18% sugar! Take a look at the ingredients of the food in your cupboards. That will probably surprise you, too.
Does it really affect my eyes?
- The best link for eyesight defects is diet. As cultures become "Westernised" they tend to end up with deteriorating eyesight in a fairly short space of time. Many suggestions have been made as to why this is, but experiments on rats have directly linked sugar consumption to eyesight deterioration. What is worse is that once deteriorated, these experiments showed that there was some improvement if sugar is removed, but it is nowhere near a full recovery. If you want your kids to have 20/20 vision, you can't give them refined carbohydrates (though that is a lot easier said than done).