Blood sugar. What does it mean? Does it conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications, or insulin injections? Who needs to pay attention to it? In my opinion, everyone.
Anyone who has ever worked with me or attended one of my workshops, has heard me talk about this a lot. I strongly believe learning to manage our blood sugars can be the key towards managing our health and our weight.
Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. When we eat anything containing carbohydrates, our body recognizes those molecules as sugar. Recognizing that all fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates, as are crackers, breads and pastas just to name a few. It does not have to be something sweet to affect our blood sugars. How much they rise is dependent on what and how much of these carbohydrates we eat. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles. Too much as well as too little can cause issues.
The thing is, blood sugars can fluctuate. A lot.
This fluctuation is the natural balance between things that increase it; and things that decrease it. When carbs are ingested, they are broken down into simple sugars. This is an important thing to remember when planning our meals. All carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars. What that means is from a cellular and blood sugar perspective, your body doesn’t know the difference between a piece of bread and a chocolate bar. Its all broken down into sugar molecules. When you eat food with sugars or starches (“carbs”), your digestive system absorbs the sugar into your blood. To regulate the levels of sugars in your blood, the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get it out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues for energy. Eating a diet that consists of regular consumption of processed foods and refined carbohydrates will take your blood sugars on a roller coaster ride. You will spike the sugars up, followed by a dramatic fall, cravings for sugars, and the cycle starts all over again. Not only that but the excess insulin in your system triggers your body to store fat!!
Why Should I Keep my Blood Sugar Stable?
Your body wants your blood sugar to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough, so you’re not light-headed, fatigued, and irritable. It should be low enough that your body isn’t scrambling to remove excess from the blood.
When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia.” This is when feeling lightheaded comes into play. Cravings kick in and we find ourselves irritable and tired.
When blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia. Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to “insulin resistance.”
Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high.
Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes. Elevated blood sugars can also lead to chronic inflammation causing joint pain, the overgrowth of negative bacteria which will limit our bodies ability to absorb nutrients which can contribute to a host of other issues including anxiety and depression, poor immune function and cognitive abilities. Elevated blood sugars can also lead to cardiovascular and coronary diseases.
Let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.
Food for Stable Blood Sugar
The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat. To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks for water, choose whole grains vs white breads and pastas and limit deserts to only special occasions.
Opting for whole grains vs white breads and pastas will provide fiber. Although these foods are still carbohydrates, the fiber will slow down the process by which the sugars enter the blood stream. It reduces the “spike” in your blood sugar level. This will also require less insulin to be needed to push it into the muscle cells. Eating more fiber is helpful too. Fiber is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods removed fiber). Eating nuts, seeds, and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fiber intake.
Including good quality fats and lean protein in your diet will also help to minimize the blood sugar spike. Fats from raw nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil are all great choices. Saute your veggies in coconut oil, sprinkle some nuts and seeds onto your salad or soup at lunch. Include lean meats and proteins at each meal. A hard boiled egg on your way out the door or add it to your salad. Some sliced turkey breast rolled up wit mustard on a celery stick is a great snack.
My recommendation for all my clients to ward off hunger and to manage their blood sugars to support their health is to eat in balance. Macro-nutrient balancing. That’s a fancy term for ensuring that you have a portion of protein, some healthy fat and good quality, fiber rich carbs at each meal. Don’t worry, this doesn’t meal you have to be a chef over night and create a complex menu. A simple example is grabbing an apple and a handful of raw almonds as a snack. The apple is the fiber rich carb, the almonds act as the protein and fat source. Simple. Or a veggie omelet. The veggies are the fiber rich carbs, the eggs are the protein and fat source.
FUN FACT: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar. I put it on everything! Apples, oatmeal, in my coffee, smoothies, sweet potatoes.
Lifestyle for Stable Blood Sugar
Exercise helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don’t ignore insulin’s call to get excess sugar out of the blood. Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood. But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn’t you?
Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels? Yup! Stress hormones increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the “fight or flight” stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to “fight” or “flee”? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels. Consuming too much coffee can do the same thing. By constantly adding a stimulus to your body, it triggers the stress response. Limit your intake of caffeine to 1-2 cups a day at most and ideally drink it black, no added sweetness or whiteners. Try to reduce the stress you’re under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are getting out in nature, meditation, deep breathing, or gentle movement.
Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have a higher appetite, and trigger sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable. Make sleep more of a priority – it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.
Click here to read more about the importance of sleep and how it can affect your health.
What we are recognizing more and more is that the consumption of sugar and processed foods is having a detrimental affect on our health. The unfortunate thing is that sugar seems to be in everything, and processed foods are too convenient with our busy lives. Taking the steps to balance your blood sugars is important to manage our health. Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble. Minimizing excessive carbs, and eating more fiber, good quality fats and lean protein, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar and overall good health.
Need a more focused approach? CLICK HERE for my Free Guide to Managing your Blood sugars and Kill cravings in 5 Days. Complete with a 5-day meal plan and recipes.