For those of us who are blessed not to have diabetes mellitus, we may incorrectly scan over or dismiss any mention of the words ‘glucose, insulin or glycemic index’ as not relevant to us. The reality is however, that understanding our body’s glucose response, can be one of the most important factors in managing performance and improved daily functioning.
A quick recap of glucose of insulin
Glucose has its origin in the Greek word meaning “sweet.” Glucose is a sugar found in the carbohydrate foods we eat and our body uses it for energy. It travels through our bloodstream to our cells and is referenced as blood glucose or blood sugar. Insulin is the hormone that is released to move the glucose from the blood into the cells to be used for energy (or stored for energy for future use)
Figure 1: Glycemic variability in three hypothetical patients who have the same mean blood glucose concentration. Patient B has relatively small variations during the day and on different days; this patient should have little difficulty in lowering daily mean blood glucose concentrations without inducing hypoglycemia. In comparison, patient A has marked blood glucose variations on the same day and patient C has marked blood glucose variations on different days.
Our goal for thriving is to maintain glucose levels that are as stable as possible– that is, to avoid large spikes or ‘highs and lows’ in blood sugar response. Perhaps you can attest to the post midday slump when your energy levels drop considerably after enjoying a nice pasta lunch? This is a hypoglycemic event and is often referred to by athletes, as ‘bonking.’
Or the ‘pick me up’ (a hyperglycemic event) you feel after drinking a Coke, swiftly followed by a dip in energy levels- the hypoglycemic pendulum. These variations in glucose response after food consumption, are referred to as postprandial (prandium= Latin for meal) spikes and point to a high glycemic variability. These types of spikes are often blamed for increased cardiovascular events and high blood glucose over time, can damage our kidneys, eyes and other organs.
Our goal should be to reduce our variability of glucose response to keep our blood glucose as stable as possible.
Ways to test blood glucose
The most accurate way to test glucose levels is with a quick pin prick blood test onto a strip inserted into a blood glucose monitoring unit and to test glucose in the morning and evening at similar time periods. Made To Thrive stocks and sells the Freestyle Neo Optium units for this purpose (R670 incl. VAT- includes 25 glucose strips; R100 courier fee for central Johannesburg orders). Contact us to purchase. Alternatively, you may wish to invest in a Continual Glucose Monitor– as I have. This unit consists of a tiny sensor inserted under the skin (usually on the belly or arm). The sensor tests the intestinal glucose levels of the fluid between your cells, every few minutes and a wireless transmitter sends the information to a monitor.
Using the biohack data to change behaviour
This data from blood glucose testing enables us to biohack our glucose. Whilst your average blood glucose levels may be considered ‘good,’ our goal is to try and ensure the lowest possible glycemic variability. Having access to this data allows us to understand our body’s unique response to the consumption of various foods, and to tweak our intake to minimise the highs and lows of a pendulum glucose response.
A surprising discovery when I started biohacking my glucose is that upon ingestion of my traditional, ‘low carbohydrate’, green smoothie containing all the good stuff such as celery, kale, moringa and spinach, my glucose shot up to levels well above 8 mmol/l units. This then left me with a confusing postprandial low and so I have changed my behaviour as a result. I experimented with adding raw eggs to the smoothie or consuming 2 hardboiled eggs before the smoothie and my glucose didn’t spike- allowing me to perform better over a longer period without ‘bonking.’ Even just adding a few nuts to my smoothie has a similar, less variable response on my glucose readings.
The learning for my body in this is that consuming carbohydrates, without any fat, especially in a compressed form like in smoothies or juices, causes a high glycemic variability response to my glucose which then drops me into a low which is not good for my focus, performance and stability of mood. Through having access to this self-quantification information and making adjustments to my behaviour, I am able to manage my glycemic variability to optimal levels.