What is Metabolic Health? Metabolism is the complex chemical processes your body uses for normal functioning and sustaining life, including breaking down food and drink to supply energy and building or repairing your body. It’s been estimated that every second there are 37 billion chemical reactions in the human body! Your metabolic health is directly related to the quality of all those reactions, and it significantly impacts your overall health and wellbeing.
Carbohydrate Metabolism We’re particularly focussed on how your body is metabolizing (processing) carbohydrates (carbs) because this affects so many factors related to your health. When you consume foods containing carbs (everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foods including sugars and flours), your body processes those carbs into glucose which then enter your blood stream. Since too much glucose circulating in your blood can cause all sorts of damage, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin which helps remove the excess glucose. Insulin also tells the liver to stop producing more glucose. In healthy people most of the excess glucose is stored in muscle cells where it’s available for energy. Excess glucose can also be converted into fatty acids and stored in our fat cells.
The term Metabolic Syndrome has emerged to describe a set of conditions that result when carb metabolism is impaired. This impairment typically involves a reduction in the effectiveness of insulin in removing glucose from the blood (insulin resistance), a reduction in the production of insulin, or both.
There are five characteristics of metabolic syndrome:
- Elevated waist circumference (≥ 88cm for women; ≥ 102cm for men
- Elevated triglycerides (≥ 150mg/dL) or drug treatment for triflycerides
- Low HDL cholesterol (< 40mg/DL for men; < 50mg/dL for women) or drug treatment for low HDL
- Elevated blood pressure (systolic ≥ 130mm Hg or diastolic ≥ 85mm Hg) or hypertensive drug tretment
- Elevated fasting glucose (≥ 100mg/dL) or drug treatment for elevated glucose.
Normal Postprandial Response to Insulin
For people struggling to reduce their weight, reducing insulin levels (by reducing carb intake so glucose levels stay low) can be very beneficial. Some people will use fasting or intermittent fasting as part of their plan to reduce Carb intake.
It’s been estimated that almost 90% of Americans have at least one of the five characteristics of metabolic syndrome. Furthermore, this sort of metabolic dysfunction (in addition to causing obesity and diabetes) is a significant factor in cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia. Aside from not smoking, maintaining good metabolic health is the most important thing you can do to support a longer healthspan.
The keys to maintaining metabolic health:
A. Limit carb intake and especially processed carbs.
- Consume lots of fresh vegetables (aside from potatoes and rice) and fruits (primarily berries).
- Avoid fruit juices and sugared beverages like soda.
- Limit processed foods made with added sugars and flours. This includes breads, chips, cookies, crackers, energy bars or drinks, pasta, etc.
- Understand what glycemic index and glycemic load mean and what foods are high and low in each measure here.
B. Stay active. It’s been observed that just one exercise session begins to reverse the abnormal pattern of carb metabolism in insulin resistant people.
- High intensity workouts are great but just walking (try for at least 30 minutes) is very effective in maintaining metabolic health.
- Moderate, so-called Zone 2, workouts are particularly beneficial. One way of estimating your Zone 2 range is keeping your heart rate at about 180 – your age.
- Adding muscle using various forms of resistance training provides more storage for glucose instead of depositing it into fat cells.
C. Get a good nights sleep. Recent research indicates that poor sleep disrupts the hormonal balance we need to effectively manage blood glucose levels.
D. Manage your stress. When we are experiencing chronic stress, our hormone cortisol remains elevated and, like poor sleep, sets us up for poor metabolic health.