Baking and Blood Sugar by Grace Calihan, ND, LAc

Baking and Blood Sugar by Grace Calihan, ND, LAc

Cold winter weather always inspires me to get into the kitchen and do some serious baking.  Last week this got me thinking about blood sugar.  In the Chinese medical tradition, the sweet flavor is associated with summertime, when high sugar fruits and veggies are at their peak.  And what an appropriate and delectable snack in the midst of our busy summer schedules!  But when we slow down for winter, our bodies don’t handle the sugar rush the same way, and blood sugar problems can arise.

Intuitively, when we think of blood sugar disorders like diabetes, we don’t think of savory breads and baked goods as being tremendous offenders.  Sugary drinks, candies, and high sugar fruits are the usual suspects.  But you may be surprised to know that a homemade biscuit, right out of the oven is doing the same thing to your blood glucose levels as would a tablespoon of pure cane sugar.  This is the case with most starchy comfort foods like rice, pasta, breads, potatoes and cereals.  Even thought these foods aren’t always “sweet,” they are causing big spikes in our blood sugar.  Here’s why this is a problem:

When blood sugar spikes (after eating that delicious biscuit, for example), the pancreas secretes insulin in large amounts.  Insulin is the hormone that allows sugar in the bloodstream to enter the cells and be used as fuel.  Large amounts of insulin cause a subsequent dip in blood sugar levels (because all the sugar went into the cells), which can bring on symptoms of hunger, fatigue, irritability, sweating, and shaking.  We usually respond to this type of ravenous hunger by eating again!  You can see how over time, this pattern can lead to overeating.  Additionally, excess insulin will signal the body to start storing circulating sugar as fat, leading to significant weight gain.  This inability to keep blood sugar stable, often called dysglycemia, is associated with anxiousness, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, adrenal burnout, thyroid problems, poor memory, and many other health imbalances.

The good news is that blood sugar imbalance is fairly straightforward to control with diet alone.  This is done by focusing on foods that are high in fiber (which slow down the absorption of sugar from food in the gut) and protein (which has a blood-sugar stabilizing effect).  Eating high-fiber, high-protein snacks every 3-4 hours can help manage the blood sugar swings of dysglycemia.  A good tool to use is Glycemic Load.  The Glycemic Load of a food is determined based on the glycemic response (how quickly food converts to glucose in the body) and a standard serving size of that food.  Here is a comprehensive list:  Try and focus on foods that have glycemic loads under 10.

Your naturopath can also recommend supplements to help you stabilize your blood sugar quickly so you can start feeling more like yourself.  And you don’t need to stop baking!  There are great low glycemic load recipes out there.  I really like the recipes in the back of The Glycemic Load Diet, by Rob Thompson, MD (


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