I have a friend named Sam. She’s dope. She also likes cupcakes.
Now that you’ve met her, we’re going to get real intimate. She’s kindly allowed us to take a tour of her Friday afternoon glucose curve.
Read on to understand how to interpret the glucose curves from your continuous glucose monitor. I promise you’ll also feel smarter because you’ll have learned a thing or two about metabolism.
4:06pm – Sam eats two cupcakes
It was Friday afternoon, there were cupcakes at work, one thing led to another and Sam ate two chocolate cupcakes.
Your glucose levels don’t respond immediately to food. It takes about 15 minutes for your glucose curve to show any sign of increase after a meal. For Sam, no sign of glucose increase for 20 minutes post-cupcakes.
4:30pm – Sam’s glucose starts increasing
It takes 15 mins for an increase in glucose levels because food has to go through a few steps.
Food starts getting digested by your saliva, then by your digestive enzymes in your stomach. Only once your food has been broken down into molecules small enough, does it become glucose and enter your bloodstream through your digestive lining1.
5:40pm – Sam’s glucose peaks, her pancreas responds
A meal’s glucose levels peak around 1 hour and a half after you eat. Here, the cupcakes Sam ate led to a spike in the undesirable range.
As more and more of the cupcakes-turned-glucose enter your bloodstream, your body starts sending an alert signal: yo, high glucose happening! High glucose is not something your body wants.
Long-term high glucose levels lead to organ damage and a host of other issues2. (See this other post for more details.) That’s why your pancreas sends a hormone, insulin, to the rescue. Insulin’s job is to steady your blood glucose levels.
6:20pm – Sam’s glucose is dropping, she puts on weight
Insulin gets to work. It gets rid of the high blood glucose levels in a few ways. First, insulin sends glucose to any cells that are in immediate need of energy (if you are working out for example). Once those are fed, insulin stores excess glucose in muscles and liver. Finally, when those are full, insulin stores excess glucose as fat3.
That’s the relationship between glucose spikes and weight gain. More glucose spikes means more insulin, more insulin means more glucose stored as fat, hence weight gain. Would a diet that reduces glucose spikes also reduce weight?
A note on sleep: Sam felt very tired while her glucose levels were dropping.
Here is a candid, not fake, photo of her tired during while her glucose is dropping. Sugar crash, anyone?
A few of us have noticed the same thing – feeling really tired while our glucose was dropping from a high point. Now we have confirmation of the “afternoon slump”. Could you avoid these afternoon crashes by eating meals that don’t spike your glucose high? There is certainly scientific evidence supporting it4.
8:00pm – glucose levels are low, hunger ensues
Glucose levels are back to normal, but they’ve actually dipped a little below the starting levels at 4pm. We’ve noticed a link between this sort of pattern and feeling very hungry. It seems that low blood glucose after a spike precipitates hunger.
The danger here is to choose some other sweet food, that will send your glucose through the same roller coaster all over again.
What does this mean for cupcakes?
Could eating things that keep your glucose curves steady and in the green avoid sleepiness, weight gain, and more hunger? Maybe. That’s my theory.
What’s certain is that when you eat meals that send your glucose levels into the red, you’re definitely in for an insulin ride. Hence the objective of keeping your glucose levels steady by finding the foods that work for you.