What You Eat

Hannah Wallace talks to Sarasota nutritionists and explores the importance of healthy blood sugar.

By Megan McDonald December 4, 2012

By Hannah Wallace

Some more notes on nutrition.

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When I asked Orioles’ all-star pitcher Jim Johnson for his No. 1 piece of fitness advice, he told me, “I think that nutrition and your diet is as important as anything. It’s important to have a good breakfast to maintain your energy throughout the day. Eating healthy foods will not only provide the energy your body needs to get through the day or a workout, but it will maintain your weight and keep it at a level you are comfortable with.”

But the question remains: What is a “good breakfast”? What are “healthy foods”?

Fluctuating fitness trends in general are maddening, but diet and nutrition represent a particularly frustrating roller coaster of advice: Fat has long been a widely reviled dietary devil, while recent studies have shown its benefits. Red meat has also been decried, though adherents to the currently popular Paleo diet devour their grass-fed steaks with glee. Then, of course, there was the Atkins diet, which vilified carbohydrates of all forms.

One of my favorite responses—from a doctor, no less—to the rabid, ever-changing diet trends came from a hockey teammate’s husband, a young physician working in Tampa, who once emphatically summed up his weight-loss philosophy like this: “I’m going to write a diet book. It’s going to be two pages. The first page will say ‘Calories in.’ The second will say, ‘Calories out. The end.’”

But for part of my upcoming January article about the fit getting fitter, I heard yet another philosophy that’s gaining ground. Kaizen Total Wellness’s Patricia King, who once interned with Dr. Robert Atkins, doesn’t support the idea of completely eliminating a food group. Still, when I called, I just barely got out, “I’m hoping you can give us some nutrition advice,” when King said immediately, “Cut out the sugar.”

I’d heard some talk of the benefits of a well-maintained blood sugar here and there, but King is direct: “Blood sugar stabilization is the key to wellness,” she says. “If it increases, you end ups storing fat; if it decreases, [your body is] eating muscle.”

King describes a lot of elements that go into a healthy blood sugar, including eating balanced meals every two to three hours (proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs, which all work together; protein, especially, is often neglected) and avoiding simple carbs that causes the spike-then-crash blood sugar volatility that can be so damaging. “Fruit juice is the worst thing you can drink—unless you’re running a marathon,” she says. “It can bring your blood sugar way up.” (King’s version of a healthy breakfast? “I get Greek yogurt, chopped walnuts, fruit and protein powder—that’s a complete meal.”)

In a pinch, King’s simple solution is to use the glycemic index, which guides you toward foods that will help keep your blood sugar even.

Read Hannah Wallace's Health Report in our December issue

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