Weight gain; biology or willpower?
The dietary survival mechanism that benefitted our ancestors is now compromising our health and driving the interlinked epidemics of obesity, diabetes and the energy deficit.
IN the mythical Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve grazed on nature’s bounty. Easy access to low-glycemic foods kept blood sugar and energy levels steady, signaling to the body that food was in abundance. There was no need to store calories as fat to survive the lean times, as there were none.
An active and grazing lifestyle left Adam and Eve with endless energy and healthy body weights. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, their food supply became erratic and fat storage became a matter of survival.
To live outside the Garden, nature equipped the descendants of Adam and Eve with a metabolic survival mechanism known as “spike, crash and crave,” with insulin as the master fat storage hormone. As the benefi- ciaries of this frugal gene, we now know that weight gain is more a process of biology than of willpower.
The survival mechanism that benefit- ted our ancestors is now compromising our health and driving the interlinked epidemics of obesity, diabetes and the energy deficit. There is a mismatch between our 50,000-year-old body design and our modern diet and sedentary lifestyle.
To sustain energy, manage weight and experience the vitality that is our birthright we need to make adjustments to be in step with Adam and Eve. We have to be physically active—our ancestors didn’t hunt in stores. And we need to choose low-glycemic snacks that keep blood sugar and insulin levels in check.
Grazing with Adam and Eve
The eating pattern of Adam and Eve involved “grazing,” meaning eating small amounts of low-glycemic foods throughout the day. Grazing helped to keep Adam and Eve’s weight within a healthy range by stabilizing blood sugars and hunger levels.
Unlike appetite, hunger is a biological drive controlled by our inner physiological survival mechanisms. When we eat, our blood glucose rises in the bloodstream as food is digested and broken down for energy. If we eat small amounts consistently throughout the day, blood glucose levels gently rise and fall, providing us with sustained energy and controlled hunger levels.
The carbohydrates found in the Garden of Eden (roots, bark and unripened fruits and vegetables) would be classified as “low glycemic index” (low GI), which means their energy is slowly converted to blood glucose, allowing for a gentle rise and fall of blood glucose levels.
Unfortunately, our modern food supply is full of fast-acting, high-GI carbs that are quickly digested and assimilated into the bloodstream. This raises blood sugar and insulin levels, perpetuating a “rollercoaster effect.” It works like this: After consuming high GI foods, blood sugar levels spike. The pancreas releases a flood of insulin to remove the sugars from the blood stream. The flood of insulin crashes the blood sugar level, causing a “crave” for more food to lift the blood sugar level back up.
Unlike appetite, hunger is a biological drive controlled by our inner physiological survival mechanisms.
The spike and crash of blood sugar is extremely taxing and can leave you feeling drained and lethargic. This process has also contributed to “diabesity” and the energy deficit, as more calories are converted to fat and the beta cells that produce insulin become exhausted, leading to Type 2 Diabetes.
Keep blood sugar in the “happy zone”. The “crash” literally triggers the release of hunting hormones. You feel wired and ready to kill. With gnawing hunger and frustrating mood swings, you feel “hangry.” This emotional response prepared our ancestors to kill for survival, but it doesn’t serve us well today.
The solution is not to eliminate carbs but to substitute high-GI snacks (gushers), with “slow-release,” low-GI snacks (tricklers) to keep blood sugar and insulin levels in the “happy zone.” Although most meals are moderate glycemic index, a challenging time of day is between meals when people are on the go and grab a convenient energy snack.
To stay in the zone and keep blood sugars steady, graze on low glycemic index snacks and eat every three to four hours. Most convenience options such as granola bars, potato chips and even most energy bars are high GI. Channel your inner Garden of Eden and choose “better-for-you” options like fresh fruit and nuts, yogurt and berries, raw veggies and hummus.
Embracing a lower-glycemic lifestyle is one step in the right direction. While it may not be the key that gets you into the Garden of Eden, it can open many doors leading to a vital and healthier life.
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Author: Saul Katz is a leading authority in functional food and founder of New Era Nutrition, the Kelowna, BC, developer of award winning low glycemic and gluten-free SoLo Bar.