I use the concept of “a teaspoon of sugar in the bloodstream” when I teach people with diabetes because I want them to understand that diabetes is a problem of too much sugar (glucose, specifically) in the bloodstream.
When you check your blood sugar it’s usually about 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L). But, if your blood sugar is elevated all day with 110 to 120 mg/dL (6.1 to 6.7 mmol/L), that could be pre-diabetes. It could be frank diabetes where the blood sugar is over, say, 150 mg/dL (8.3) all day long. The reason I teach about the one teaspoon of sugar in the bloodstream is that that’s all there is. If you eat something with a teaspoon of sugar in it or drink something with a teaspoon of sugar it’s going to raise your blood sugar – it might even double it if you absorb it all at once and your insulin can’t go up to keep it down.
It’s really not a difficult calculation. You take 100 milligrams per deciliter and to convert it into grams you multiply 100 milligrams per deciliter by one gram per a thousand milligrams, by 10 deciliters per liter, and then by how many liters of blood there are in an adult. There are about five liters of blood in a typical adult so there would be even less in a child. This is what the equation would look like:
100mg/dL x 1g/1000mg x 10dL/1L x 5L = ? g
Cancel out the zeros, and you are left with an answer of 5. There are 5 grams of sugar in the bloodstream – that’s it. How much are five grams of sugar? Five grams of sugar are about a teaspoon of sugar, which means that there’s a teaspoon of sugar in your bloodstream at any given moment.
If you have a tendency toward diabetes or just don’t want your blood sugar to go up after you eat, let’s consider how many teaspoons of sugar are in foods that you eat:
- A boiled rice serving is the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar.
- A baked potato has 8 teaspoons of sugar.
- French fries, 7 teaspoons of sugar.
- An apple has 2 teaspoons of sugar.
These are commonly consumed foods by those who eat carbs and there’s a lot of teaspoons of sugar. Eggs have no teaspoons of sugar and broccoli has maybe 0.2 grams of sugar. In my teaching, I talk about grams of carbohydrates, but it might be useful for you to think in terms of teaspoons of sugar – roughly five grams of carbs are like the five grams of sugar in a teaspoon of sugar. That’s all you have in your bloodstream. Just imagine you’re eating bread and oatmeal for breakfast and 100 grams of carbs that get digested into 100 grams – 20 teaspoons of sugar – and you only have one teaspoon in your blood. Your blood sugar goes up and insulin goes up to keep the blood sugar down. If your insulin can’t control it and you still have an elevation in blood sugar all day, that’s pre-diabetes. If you had an overshoot of the insulin, your blood sugar might even drop too low. That’s called low blood sugar or hypoglycemia, which is reactive to the carbs that you eat.
I have found it very useful to use the teaspoon of sugar – the five grams of sugar or glucose in your bloodstream – as a rule of thumb for teaching and for reminding ourselves of just how little sugar we have in our bloodstream. We want to be very careful not to overconsume sugar and drinks and really starchy things, for example. Maybe every now and then, but you wouldn’t want to do that day after day after day. It not only is the pathway toward pre-diabetes and diabetes, but it’s also the pathway toward overweight and obesity because some bodies are very efficient at turning that glucose into fat and then storing it in the fat cells. When you then have elevated insulin, it locks up the fat in the fat cells, making it very difficult for you to lose weight. In fact, you’ll be gaining weight if you have a lot of insulin around. Just remember that there’s a teaspoon of sugar in the bloodstream and go from there. Look on food labels – if it says more than five grams of total carbs in a serving, don’t have much of those things. You want to eat things that are low in carbs to protect against an elevation in the blood sugar or blood glucose and keep the insulin as low as you can.
Watch the full video here.