About 6 years ago, during my annual visit to my primary health care, he told me that my weight and blood test pointed toward metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetics. He recommended using chromium, a natural compound found in plants from the Liliaceae family, such as onion and garlic, that is known to regulate blood sugar.
At the time, I had this really stubborn disc of fat around the midline that I tried to shed since forever but never succeeded. (Can you relate?) In my mid-twenties, I joined a diet guru in Israel that had weekly group meetings. That was the beginning of losing weight on a caloric restrictiondiet, only to regain it and some more.
When my primary care physician talked about metabolic syndrome, I did not connect the dots to the fat around my waist. I trusted my doctor and followed his recommendation, only to find out a couple of years later that metabolic syndrome is the epidemic of the western lifestyle and has the power to reduce your lifespan.
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolism is all the chemical reactions in the body that produce energy. Every cell in your body needs fuel to function. Once you have irregular energy production, you start to see malfunction in different organs and systems. The first to pay the toll is the biggest energy “eating” systems, the brain (brain fog, dementia, trouble focusing, and mood disorders), and the heart (cardiovascular diseases).
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase the risk for chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
- Fat accumulation around the waistline, that is stubborn and hard to shed.
- High blood sugar.
- High levels of fats in the blood.
- High blood pressure.
Metabolic syndrome and even type 2 diabetes are reversible conditions meaning that you can change the trajectory of your health condition.
Reversing Metabolic Syndrome
The most important thing to know about changing the trajectory of your condition is that IT IS NOT WHAT YOU TAKE BUT WHAT YOU DO!
Reversing metabolic syndrome requires a lifestyle change. There are four stepping stones to reversing metabolic syndrome
- Stress Management
For the purpose of this blog, I would like to focus on your food choices on your chances of developing metabolic syndrome and reversing the condition.
Carbohydrates are essential macronutrients (with fat and protein) that provide the body with an important energy source. But…the proportions of carbohydrates in the western diet are constantly increasing while the quality of these carbohydrates is decreasing.
For many people, carbohydrates are more than half of their diet. Many of these carbohydrates come in the form of processed food. The more a food is removed from the raw natural ingredients, the fewer nutrients it contains. Food is often fortified with vitamins and minerals because it lacks nutritional value.
If you, like most Americans, are eating cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pasta for supper, then your diet is imbalanced.
For the longest time, the assumption was that if you exert more energy than you ingest, you will lose weight. But my experience and the experience of many people who tried restricting caloric intake proved the assumption wrong. In most cases, you lose weight only temporarily and gain it back with some more.
Why is that?
Restricting calories will lead to temporary weight loss because the body adapts to calorie restriction by slowing metabolism and burning fewer calories. If your body got used to using fewer calories to function, and you are now returning to a nonrestrictive food intake, then the body has even more excess calories that it will store as fat.
Research found that this is not true if you restrict only carbohydrates. A low-carb diet accelerates metabolism, leading to more sustainable weight loss.
Carbohydrates are not bad for you by themselves, but they turn into a problem when they become a significant part of your daily plate for a couple of reasons:
Simple carbohydrates (white bread and baked goods) turn into glucose, which is absorbed fast into the bloodstream providing the body with a high spike of energy that drops within an hour. Spikes and drops of sugar (energy) in the blood are one of the first signs of prediabetes. If you are not under exertion, you want your metabolism to be as steady (same rate) as possible. Dips in energy (calories) are not less harmful than too much of it.
The way to prevent spikes and drops in blood sugar is to ingest carbohydrates tied to fibers. Vegetables and fruits do contain carbohydrates, but in them, carbohydrates are bound to fibers.
Why does it matter?
When carbohydrates are tied to fibers, their breakdown and release of glucose into the blood is slower and steady, preventing these spikes and drops in blood sugar. Moreover, the fibers feed your famous gut bacteria. Gut bacteria play a role in regulating insulin, the housekeeper that puts away the glucose in your blood into your cells. By doing so, gut bacteria regulate your blood glucose.
Simple carbohydrates are comforting, so it is easy to get addicted to them. When I started to eat a grain-free diet, I was surprised to discover how much of my diet relied on bread, pasta, pizza, and rice. I was forced to increase the portions of vegetables in my diet, which changed my entire digestion and metabolism. I had far fewer cravings, avoided the energy drop in the afternoon, and ditched my digestive complaints (mainly constipation and bloating)
I advocate eating a grain-free diet for six months to a year, so you get used to eating more fruits and vegetables daily. In the long run, adding a small amount of whole-grain rice or whole-grain sourdough bread can benefit energy, fiber, and vitamin B2.
It sometimes feels impossible to change your food habits, mainly because your brain has been habituated to how you eat for many years. This is especially true for carbohydrates. For ancient humans, carbohydrates were a readily available source of energy. Humans reward themselves for doing the work needed to acquire carbs by releasing dopamine in the brain. By avoiding carbs, you are going against what evolution taught your brain was the right thing to do. So practice some self-compassion when trying a low-carb diet.
Curious about the connection between food and the longevity of your cells and body. Stay tuned, my program Growing Younger will open its doors by the end of the month.