We all know that oxygen is very essential for survival. But oxygen can also wreck havoc in our body. How? Let me explain. The generation of oxygen free radicals is caused by smoking, air pollution, radiation, stress etc. It is a common occurrence these days.  And it is the generation of such “oxygen free radicals” that lead to various degenerative changes in our body or chronic degenerative disorders like heart diseases leading to heart attacks, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Macular degeneration (a condition of eye that is a frequent cause of blindness) and arthritis to name a few. Basically, the free radicals destroy our DNA and lead to injury to “wall of arteries in various organs of our body”, as akin to “rusting”. Which is the basic mechanism of the causation of those aforesaid illnesses? Such generation of free radicals can be caused by excess sugars in our body too. And, let our further discussion center on this particular issue: of how increased blood sugar can harm our body in myriad ways and what is its solution.
Let’s start by learning few key terms like “Glycemic Index”? What is Glycemic index? The ability of a carbohydrate-rich food (or any food for that matter) to spike sugar in your blood is known as “Glycemic index”. This index is a very important marker of testing which food contains high “sugar spiking” potential. There are certain foods that are digested fast and absorbed quickly in our body. These foods are said to have high Glycemic Index. So, the question arises, “Why are we discussing Glycemic index or what is the role of Glycemic index of foods in our health? The answer: As mentioned earlier, the increase in the level of sugar in our blood leads to the generation of free radicals, which cause inflammation of arteries in various organs of our body. In heart vessels or arteries such constriction or spasm can lead to heart attacks. In the brain, various chronic degenerative diseases like Stroke and Parkinson’s disease, and in eyes, macular degeneration. Also, premature aging too is related to such phenomenon.
What are the problems associated with eating foods with high Glycemic Index?
If we consume foods with a high glycemic index for a prolonged period, we can suffer from “insulin resistance” and “type 2 Diabetes”. Why? The foods with high glycemic index, foods like white rice, cereal, pasta, bread, flour, potatoes etc are rapidly digested and absorbed into our blood stream leading to spiking of our blood sugar levels. Moreover, there is a condition associated with excess carbohydrate intake called “carbohydrate craving”. Basically, when you take more carbohydrate-rich foods, you crave more of it. Even researchers done in America have shown it to be a fact. It is also called “emotional eating” when a person takes carbohydrate-rich foods in excess amounts and starts to “feel good” for a while. Studies have suggested that at these times there is a temporary surge or increase in the “feel good” central nervous system neurotransmitter, serotonin. And in the absence of such carbohydrate-rich foods, people start to feel irritable, jittery and restless. As a result, they start to pursue or eat “carbohydrate-rich” food religiously. It becomes a habit. The result is “carbohydrate craving” and subsequent “Insulin resistance” that will invite “type 2 diabetes” and more detrimental is the causation of something called “Metabolic syndrome”,  where Type 2 diabetes occurs with various other conditions like obesity and elevated blood pressure or hypertension and elevated blood sugar levels. And, Metabolic syndrome leads to increased mortality via way of causing heart disease and stroke. Also, such phenomenon of “carbohydrate craving” and the aftermath in the form of aforementioned killer diseases (heart attacks for instance)–the aftermath and accompaniment of “carbohydrate craving” is   “metabolic syndrome”. And it is turning out to be an epidemic of Modern day, particularly in the advanced Western Nations. References abound. There are thousands of people all over the World, even in developing country like Nepal, where they suffer from ” metabolic syndrome”. It is a vicious cycle: Eating foods with high Glycemic Index, suffering from “Insulin resistance” and the causation of metabolic syndrome with eventual heart problems and stroke. And needless to say, Type 2 Diabetes goes hand in hand.  But there is a solution.
What is the solution?
We should eat carbohydrates or foods with low glycemic index. And what are those foods? They are soy, various fruits and green leafy vegetables, milk, whole bread, lentils, oatmeal, oat bran, barley, (basically the carbohydrates that have insoluble fibers), corn, carrot, sweet potato etc. Also, our diets should be a balanced one, one where carbohydrate-rich food is mixed with protein and fat. So,  our diets we should include multicolored vegetables and fruits and in multiple servings of four-five times per day. Vegetables and fruits have low Glycemic Index. Likewise, we should eat protein-rich foods like meat, chicken (without skin), beans, lentils, yogurt, egg, cheese etc. Protein takes a longer time to digest and stays in our stomach for a longer period of time giving us the sensation of satiety. Hence, it also helps decrease “carbohydrate craving” and subsequent problems.
And how do consuming green leafy vegetables and a balanced diet help our body?
These green leafy vegetables, fruits and other Vitamin A and E rich foods like almonds, avocado, wheat germ, spinach, etc have anti-oxidant properties. They reduce the “oxidative stress” created by the free radicals, thereby reducing our chances of suffering from those aforementioned “chronic degenerative diseases”. Likewise, stopping smoking, and performing aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming etc. can help reduce the “oxidative stress” in our body and stops the generation of free radicals. So, diets and a healthy lifestyle is the key to remaining free from the havoc created by free radicals and internal inflammatory state.
Dr. Ujjwal Bikram Khadka, is a  Medical doctor, coach,  and author of multi-genre books and many health related articles. He has also successfully completed a nutritional course, a lifestyle coach certification, with an American doctor and nutritional medicine expert in America.