(KRON) – Last week we discussed how high blood sugar impacts the immune response to COVID-19 and how it affects those with and without diabetes.
Today, our health expert, Karen Owoc, is here with some diet strategies that prevent or blunt blood sugar spikes — and therefore, reduce the risk of a life-threatening inflammatory reaction to the virus.
Why Blood Sugar Causes Inflammation
- Prolonged high blood sugar is associated with chronic inflammation.
- Tissue injury is followed by a cascade of events that results in the release of PRO-INFLAMMATORY cytokines (immune cells) to help stop further tissue injury and start the healing phase.
- These are the same pro-inflammatory immune cells that we talked about last week — the ones that go into overdrive when blood sugar is high in the presence of COVID-19 (referred to as the “cytokine storm”).
Why People Don’t Know They Have Blood Sugar Spikes
- When doctors test for diabetes, the blood glucose test is performed when FASTING, but the blood sugar spikes occur AFTER MEALS (postprandial). Blood glucose will continue to rise and peak at 1.5 hours.
- These spikes may not show up when your doctor tests your blood sugar since you’re tested in the lab BEFORE you eat.
- You live most of your life in as FED state, not a fasting state.
Three Key Diet Strategies to Survive COVID-19
Your diet is a strong moderator of inflammation and blood sugar. To lower risk for the deadly cytokine storm:
- Prevent blood sugar spikes
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve insulin sensitivity (blood sugar control)
Food Q & A
QUESTION: Which meal do you think will spike your blood sugar and produce more inflammation?
A. A peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich on refined white bread? OR
B. A poached, shredded skinless chicken breast sandwich on refined white bun?
ANSWER: The chicken sandwich will cause exaggerated spikes in blood sugar and fat in the blood.
The Chicken Sandwich Spikes Blood Sugar – Studies show that the amount and quality of fat in the diet affects blood glucose control (insulin sensitivity).
Saturated fats found in meat, dairy, eggs, and tropical oils caused the following:
1. Accumulation of fat in muscle cells.
- Studies show saturated fats in skeletal muscle (think “marbling” as you would a steak) triggers insulin resistance. Blood glucose can’t get into the muscle cells, so it builds up in the blood.
- Meat eaters accumulated more intramuscular fat than vegans.
- Studies show a direct correlation between saturated fat buildup in muscles and insulin insensitivity or “insulin resistance”.
2. Oxidative stress (think of this as “rusting” cells) — Post-meal blood glucose and fat spikes increase oxidative stress. More oxidation means there’s more inflammation.
3. Free radicals (scavengers that circulate in the body and damage cells, proteins, and DNA) The higher the blood sugar spikes, more free radicals are produced.
- Fat cells filled with saturated fat produce an inflammatory response.
- Saturated fat causes anti-inflammatory HDLs (good cholesterol) become pro-inflammatory — that is, they do not suppress the inflammation-promoting molecules.
5. Arterial dysfunction
6. Thickening of the blood (“sludge”) – Eating a fatty meal consisting of saturated fat causes a PRO-inflammatory response and causes blood to thicken and slow down like sludge.
ALERT! If you repeat this pattern of eating three times a day, you’re on course for not only an out-of-control immune response to COVID-19, but chronic inflammatory diseases, e.g., heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
The PB&J Sandwich Blunts Blood Sugar
1. Plant-based Monounsaturated Fat (peanut butter): When monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are stored, they are more likely to be stored without the toxic inflammatory effects.
- Foods high in MUFA’s: extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocados.
2. Plant Antioxidants (all-fruit strawberry jam): Studies show a diet high in antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory whole (minimally processed), high-fiber plant foods blunt the post-meal increases in sugar, fat, inflammation, AND excess free radicals. These foods include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts.
3. Plant Soluble Fiber (e.g., oats, beans, berries, barley, onions, yams)
- Soluble fiber binds with water and food becomes very viscous which slows down digestion.
- The good gut bacteria feed on soluble fiber (prebiotics), which has been linked to increased insulin sensitivity.
4. Resistant Starches (RS) – Resistant starches are carbohydrates that resist digestion in the small intestine, so they do not raise blood sugar. They travel intact to the large intestine where they ferment and feed the good gut bacteria.
- Plantains, green bananas, legumes, whole grains
- Cooked and cooled carbohydrates like rice, pasta, potatoes, beans
5. Vinegar (Acetic Acid)
Studies have shown that consuming 1-1/2 tablespoons of vinegar with a meal improved insulin sensitivity after a meal in people with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance.
The Takeaway: A whole-food, plant-based diet improves blood sugar control and reduces inflammation — both of which are going to help lower your risk for underlying medical conditions, which will also improve your survival rate if you contract COVID-19.