To Dunk or Not To Dunk? That is the Question

Seeing as it's Saturday I think it's probably best we stick to short and snappy today.

Now the above conundrum is one that to an untrained individual would seem an innocuous insignificance, but I know we all realise that in actual fact this is one of those choices in life. Its goes along with whether we choose to follow a particular religion, whether you utilise the book mark or are a page corner folder or agree with double denim, it is truly a personal choice.

I think one of the biggest issues facing someone who has decided to jump along on this glorious gallivant to natural health is that they feel they must entirely abandon everything they would consider a 'treat'. Now I don't want to lose you at this point in the game but I will suggest that the concept of 'treats' is actually flawed. Why are we supposedly rewarding ourselves with things that are doing us a disservice health wise?

We go to the gym or stick to a beautiful veggie, fruit and quality protein rich diet all week just so we can chow down on processed chemicals at the weekend? Hmmmm..... Anyway that's not the discussion I was planning on entering into today but I'll just close off that little thought process with the idea that once you allow your mindset to change towards how you nourish your body you may in fact start to associate entirely different things with the word 'treat'. How about some beautifully ripe mango slices topped with the ruby jewels of a pomegranate and scattered with toasted hazelnuts in the place of that chocolate digestive? Not quite there yet? No worries, let's stick to the biscuit tin for today but just don our healthful hat and get on some super swaps to bring afternoon tea in line with our new ideology.

Right so the object of today's onslaught is one I'm sure most of you will have heard murmurings (or loud shouting) about in recent weeks and that is sugar.

Now sugar is actually the preferred energy source for our bodies, if given the choice we will always go for glucose, our greedy old brains absolutely adore the stuff. The problem is though that we are supposed to get it to the glucose stage when it's inside our bodies and actually quite far through the digestive process at that. This is why us nutrition folk love whole grains and starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips, swede and all their friends) as the glucose is all snugly packed up within them to travel down through our stomachs and into the intestines slowly being unwrapped and exposed in small amounts for us to utilise. When this sugar then travels into the blood it's in a steady stream and our blood sugar levels remain on an even keel rather than rocketing sky high. Good stuff.

So what happens when we remove this protective coating by processing our whole grains into white products (flours, rice, pasta, breads etc) or just forgoing the complex carbohydrates altogether and heading straight into the white granulated stuff? What we've done is basically exposed ourselves to that glucose all in one go straight away.

Lets use a present analogy (because everything is better that way).

Imagine walking into a room and seeing a beautifully wrapped gift complete with ribbons, bows, the whole works, oh and your name on it. You've got the anticipation building from the outset and you gradually peel off the layers one by one until you finally get to the gorgeous gift inside. Compare this to someone walking into a room with a plastic bag saying "I've got you a present". Your excitement peaks, they whip it out of the bag, you see it and the excitement dissipates. This is exactly what is happening with your blood sugar levels but as our cells are designed to always want glucose another mechanism must be activated to keep everything in check. It is the failing of this mechanism that we know as Type I diabetes. The reason this condition is so dangerous is because unregulated blood sugar can lead to hyperglycaemia (levels go too high) or hypoglycaemia (too low) which will damage the body and can lead to a diabetic coma. Not good.

Right so what is this process?

To keep our blood sugar within the narrow limits that are considered safe our body releases two substances, for now we are going to concentrate on what happens when blood sugar goes too high and leave low blood sugar for another time. So we've eaten and glucose is travelling into our bloodstream (this process will happen even when we eat 'good' carbohydrates but the difference is that it happens in a calm and tranquil way as the glucose slowly drips into our circulation). In response our Pancreas then releases Insulin as a signal to say right we've got too much of this bally stuff so lets put some of it into storage and our blood sugar falls back to a safe limit. All good. Sort of.

Now we decide we fancy a couple of sugars in our tea, a chocolate bar and a couple of chewy sweets. This glucose absolutely races into our system and poor old Pancreas doesn't even have a moment to get his other sock on before he's got to start pumping out that Insulin again to protect our brains and other tissues from the excess sweet stuff swimming about. It's ok though he sorts it and potters off back to his armchair to have a nice sit down and mop his brow. But wait we're hungry again because our blood sugar has crashed back down so we head off to grab a nice sandwich for lunch.....Mr Pancreas was just getting comfy, ready for a quick nap to calm his jangled nerves and we've gone and eaten again! His red siren starts up and he's heading out the door because he has to, but this time it takes that bit more effort to bring the blood sugar down because the body cells have started to get used to his tricks. In the same way we stop noticing those little things we see on our commute everyday our cells don't immediately notice the Insulin heading over to give them a hand, it takes a couple of molecules banging on their front door before they come and answer. This is what is known as insulin resistance and is what is happening with Type II diabetes. This is why diet and exercise are so important. By altering what we eat and the amount we move the sensitivity to insulin can be increased back to normal levels i.e. we can resolve the underlying cause of the condition.

There is also another common situation which can contribute to the development of insulin resistance and that is chronic stress. In my last post I touched on the stress response and high levels of another hormone known as Cortisol. Cortisol is considered the master hormone in the body as it is involved in the regulation of so many processes, because of its status it will also override the action of any other hormone. If Cortisol is bound to a cell because you woke up late this morning and missed the bus, then grabbed a muffin and a caramel macchiato for breakfast your Insulin doesn't stand a chance. It takes 3 times the amount of Insulin to override the Cortisol bound to the cell to get your blood sugar down (your Pancreas will just keep going until this happens because like we said he has to protect your brain) so over time your cells again become desensitised to this vital mechanism.

So how does this link with biscuits?

Well we all love a biscuit but I'm hoping after that you all want to join me in limiting the amount refined sugars we take in so Mr Pancreas can head out on that long weekend away he's been dreaming about (not literally obviously as we'd be pretty screwed if he packed up entirely!).

Below I have rounded up my favourite teatime accompaniments for you to have try of. The Cantucci are for the dunkers amongst you. They use a small amount of honey but the protein of the eggs and nuts plus their wonderful oils maintain a steady state of sugar release. The Date & Almond Biscuits are the comrades to a cuppa with no submersion taking place and rely on the fruit's natural sweetness which is beautifully balanced by their fibre content to prevent those spikes. I personally devour them all with great gusto so would love any comments or feedback on your preferences.

I'll go and get the kettle on then shall I?

Almond & Ginger Cantuccini

Date & Almond Biscuits