Maintaining the right level of blood sugar or glucose is key to feeling good throughout the day and sleeping well throughout the night. When we experience blood sugar highs and lows, the effects can be devastating to your mood, your energy and your overall health.
While there are many risk factors that contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, unstable and elevated blood sugar levels can increase your risk. Type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes with a typical onset in middle or older age, causes severe health complications including elevated risks for heart disease and strokes, blood flow problems, as well as severe damage to eyes, nerves and kidneys. These dangerous effects are believed to be caused by high blood sugar levels, which develop when the body's cells no longer respond to insulin, the regulatory hormone that lowers blood sugar. (source)
Blood Sugar 101
Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is the sugar that the bloodstream carries to cells in the body to supply us with energy. Your blood sugar levels change throughout the day and are typically at their lowest point before your first meal.
Blood sugar levels rise and fall in accordance with the sugar content in the foods you consume. So, when you eat something high in sugar, your blood sugar levels will rise and your body responds to this by secreting insulin, a hormone which is created by the pancreas. Insulin's job is to keep your blood sugar levels stable so it tries to prevent them from getting too high or too low. This allows your body to either use the glucose from your food, or store it for future use.
When your blood sugar is balanced you'll likely feel energetic, happy, productive, and sleep well. On the flip side, when it is imbalanced, you either experience a brief sugar high or you are at the bottom of a crash.
When you go too long without any food or eat unhealthy foods that are too high in sugar and fat, or have health problems, your blood sugar levels can become dangerously low. As this happens, your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol in order to remedy the situation – this is why you feel cranky and moody when you haven’t eaten for a while. Raise your hand if you know how it feels to become hangry if you don’t eat frequently!
So, how do we combat this? The best thing to do is to eat food that will raise your blood sugar levels gradually – rather than something that will cause a spike in your blood sugar levels, followed by the “crash” where your blood sugar levels will become very low again.
Most of the time, three balanced meals a day is enough to keep your blood sugar levels in check. But if you’re skipping meals and not eating regular, balanced meals, it’s easy for your blood sugar to get out of whack, which can lead to a cycle of blood sugar highs and lows.
This chart demonstrates what happens when you are operating within high, stable and low levels of blood sugar. As you can see, having stable blood sugar levels is optimal and will help you release fat, protect lean muscle, avoid cravings and increase energy.
How do you know if your blood sugars are out of whack? Well, there are several signs that can indicate an imbalance, as well as how you feel throughout the day. Here are some common signs and things to watch out for:
How do we balance our blood sugar?
At a basic level, we need to eat the right foods, in the right quantities and in the proper balance to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Certain foods have little to no effect on our blood sugar, while some have a moderate to significant effects. In order to balance it, we need to eat more of the little/no effect foods, and cut down on the moderate/significant effect foods. And it's actually quite easy in principle because the only foods that affect our blood sugar are foods that turn into sugar in the body... i.e. carbohydrates.
All carbohydrates end up as glucose in the blood no matter how 'complex' the carbohydrate. But, as we recently talked about in The Truth About Carbohydrates, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Some carbohydrate foods will break down much more quickly than others and turn into glucose much faster. A great example of this is highly processed white bread compared to whole grain bread simply because of the nutritional content of the whole grain bread that contains fiber and other nutrients the body can utilize and it will be digested slower. Therefore, whole grain bread will not spike blood sugar levels the way white bread does. In today's standard American diet, the wrong types of carbs are consumed excessively resulting in too much blood glucose.
Protein and fats have little effect on the blood sugar. We are not recommending a high protein diet (as this comes with its own issues and quality matters for protein too, especially for those with diabetes) or an extremely high fat diet. The key to keeping blood sugars stable is balancing the quantity and type of the carbohydrates with protein and healthy fats.
When we eat too much of the foods that have a moderate or significant effect on blood sugar, and too often, our blood sugar levels can go sky high. And what goes up.... must come down…. So we basically get a roller coaster effect of highs and lows. And with this comes highs and lows of energy as well!
However, with a few nutritional changes to your diet, you can regulate the impact of insulin and keep blood sugar levels stable. A lot of these tips are things we have talked about in other blogs as they all correlate to the quality of food you consume and the foundation of living a healthy lifestyle.
Focus on a balanced, lower glycemic diet. What and how much you eat is an extremely important factor in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
Take a look at the glycemic index– a tool that can be used in meal planning, telling us how quickly and by how much a particular food can raise your blood sugar levels as compared to glucose. The lower a food’s glycemic index or glycemic load, the less it impacts blood sugar and insulin levels.
Manage stress. We have talked about the impact of stress before, yet many people don’t take it as seriously as they should. So we will keep hammering it home. When we are stressed, cortisol becomes elevated, one of our body’s main stress hormones, which can increase blood sugar and insulin levels. Cortisol also increases secretion of leptin, a hormone that plays a role in appetite control. Leptin secretion can reduce satiety and make you feel more hungry.
Move your body! Get in a good sweat four to five days a week. All movement is beneficial for health and managing blood sugar levels. However, a moderate to vigorous effort workout to help you break a sweat for at least 30-40 minutes four times a week can significantly help insulin regulation and blood sugar levels.
Add in supporting supplements. Taking high-quality, well-researched botanical or nutrient supplements can help increase insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar levels. Consider these supplements to help support your better blood sugar regimen:
As always, consult a qualified health care practitioner before starting any new supplements, especially if you are taking medications.
Keeping healthy blood sugar levels is important to your overall health and feeling good so this is not about a quick fix or weight loss. It is about eating the way your body naturally wants to be nourished so it can function optimally and maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Comments will be approved before showing up.