LoveBites: Blood Sugar Balance and its Effect on Your Heart Health

It’s Heart Health Month! I talk a lot about hormones and blood sugar balance, so what does blood sugar balance have to do with heart health?

There are some indications that chronic high blood sugar may contribute to atherosclerosis, a condition that damages blood vessels and may lead to buildup of plaques that affect the ability of blood to flow through. This is why people with conditions like insulin resistance, diabetes, and PCOS may be at higher risk for developing heart disease.

Eating a variety of beneficial foods to improve blood sugar balance may in turn support heart health! So let’s turn our focus to two types of nutrients with that in mind: fiber and resistant starch.

Fiber

This nutrient is important for regulating both heart and hormone health.

Eating a variety of whole plant foods, which are rich in soluble and insoluble fibers, may be helpful for:

  • reducing total cholesterol by binding to it
  • helping manage blood sugar by slowing release of glucose into the bloodstream and keeping you full longer
  • helping eliminate the (excess) products of hormone metabolism to keep sex and stress hormones in better ratios

A great time to focus on fiber for your heart and hormone health is breakfast.

Foods like oats, berries, banana, and chia seeds are high in soluble fiber, which could help keep cholesterol in a better range – as well as a ripple effect of keeping you feeling full until lunchtime by slowing the release of sugars into the bloodstream, easing the insulin impact, and setting you up for fewer cravings later in the day as well.

Try putting these foods together for overnight oats, chia pudding, or right into a smoothie for breakfast!

Resistant Starch

Isn’t starch bad? (Real quick, no, it’s not.)

Resistant starch gets its name because, a lot like fiber, it *resists* digestion. It occurs naturally but also builds up in certain starchy foods, such as potatoes, after they’ve been cooked AND cooled.

Starches add a filling heft to foods like root vegetables, squashes, grains, and pulses. Resistant starches also aid satiety and may act as a prebiotic (source of food) for our gut microbes as it makes its way through our intestines, fermenting as it goes.

If you’ve had “new vegan gas” switching to WFPB, this is likely a contributor!

But beyond that, resistant starch shows benefits for helping reduce cravings, and improving blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity! And as mentioned above, that could be great news for your blood vessels.

So what foods contain resistant starch? The best sources include: potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, rice, lentils and other legumes, and green bananas.

I love adding cold leftover cooked rice or potatoes to my winter buddha bowls! And overnight oats…

Grab this Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats recipe to make this weekend!

And be sure to download this month’s heart-focused free recipes: Heart Beet WFPBNO February Bundle

blueberry oats

Why Eating Lots of Flax May Not Meet Your Omega-3 Needs

Eating lots of flax, which is a rich source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), may still not be enough to convert in adequate amounts to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the forms our bodies most readily use.

EPA is considered potently anti-inflammatory, while DHA shows benefits for cognitive function.

Our bodies need to convert other omegas into these usable forms.

They need cofactors – vitamins like B6, minerals like selenium and zinc, and enzymes that buddy up with the omegas to assist the conversion.

But they also get diverted off the conversion path by nutrient deficiencies, alcohol, caffeine, drugs and medications, sugar, inflammation, environmental pollution, and of course stress.

This means a lot of factors need to “just so” for those conversions to happen in the first place, let alone to yield sufficient amounts!

Not to mention that flax seeds in particular have an outer shell that’s basically indigestible fiber. And even if we grind them up before eating them, the omegas are prone to going rancid very quickly, needing to be protected from air, light, and heat.

This is why I suggest getting whole flax seeds in small amounts, ideally in sealed opaque packaging, stored in the fridge or freezer, and ground fresh as needed.

Now, this is not to say that flax is useless as a source of omegas! Quite the contrary.

seed cyclingI’ve mentioned seed cycling [in a previous LoveBites post], which is a nutritional practice of consuming specific types of seeds at specific times in your menstrual cucle to promote better hormone balance.

Part of the reason for this is because the seeds contain lignans, a type of fiber which supports estrogen and progesterone balance. These seeds also contain different proportions of omega-3 and omega-6, which moderate both anti- and pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that may be formed from ALA as well as arachidonic acid (AA).

High presence of AA is another contributor to the diversion of omega-3 off the EPA-DHA conversion pathway, promoting more of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. These prostaglandins in turn may contribute to menstrual cramping, and the pain associated with endometriosis and PCOS.

The balance of omegas in these seeds – flax, along with pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame – taken during the particular phases of the cycle may help to increase anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and reduce the painful effect of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.

[See the Seed Cycling post for more on how to incorporate it to your routine]

But what about EPA and DHA?

This is also why I suggest anyone eating even a whole-food plant-based diet incorporate a variety of omega-rich seeds and nuts, as well as an algae-based vegan EPA+DHA supplement. I love liquids that I can add to my smoothies!

[Check out some of my favourite omega-3 sources here – Peopletail affiliate link]

 

The Protein-Hormone Connection and How It Involves Chocolate

I love chocolate. If I had to live on one flavour forever, I feel like I’d be perfectly content choosing chocolate.

Loving chocolate and craving chocolate are not the same creature.

For the first week of World Vegan Month, I’ve been focusing on plant protein and how to get enough. Now I’m going to take a look at how protein intake is connected two-fold with chocolate cravings. Continue reading “The Protein-Hormone Connection and How It Involves Chocolate”