Blood sugar is a huge topic in our society today, and it isn't an issue that is only reserved for people dealing with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Many people have blood sugar imbalances, and it may be a surprise that blood sugar imbalance may or may not show up when measuring blood sugar via blood tests. Imbalanced blood sugar starts much before the typical ordered tests signal there is a problem. Many people experience imbalanced blood sugar (glucose levels that are too high, then too low, and struggle to maintain healthy blood sugar levels without producing too much insulin), and it shows up as excess weight around their gut, mood swings, foggy thinking, difficulty focusing, low energy, and much more. Having imbalanced blood sugar can get in the way of you leading a happy, balanced, and healthy life, attaining the goals you want to reach, feeling good in your body, and losing excess weight that seems impossible to drop. Could you be someone who is dealing with this problem that many Americans and people in the modern world are struggling with?
I began thinking heavily about the idea of blood sugar when I started my nutrition program several years ago. I was still feeling imbalanced in my body, even though I was eating in a way that seemed to be healthy. I was mostly vegetarian, eating many fresh fruits and veggies, and ate a fairly low fat diet. But, I was also drained, moody, and was experiencing intense food cravings. I started to change the way I ate and to focus on balancing my blood sugar, instead of subscribing to a rigid lifestyle (i.e. vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, etc.) in hopes for feeling better in my body. I started eating regular meals with a good amount of plants, some animal or plant protein, while cutting down on refined carbohydrates (bread, crackers, etc), and increased the amount of fat in my diet. The impact? I lost weight, had way more energy, and felt amazing. It was the start of balancing my blood sugar, tuning into my body, and taking care of myself on a higher level.
So what is blood sugar anyways?
Glucose is a simple sugar known as blood sugar that feeds 60 to 100 trillion cells in the body and is produced mainly through the breakdown of carbohydrates (i.e. starch + sugar) during digestion.
Our bodies' have to regulate our blood sugar very closely. Large amounts of glucose (high blood sugar) is harmful to our brain, gut, + kidneys. Having too much sugar in the blood for long periods of time can cause serious health problems if it's not treated. High blood sugar can damage the vessels that supply blood to vital organs, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve problems. Not to mention, day to day issues, including mood swings, food cravings, overwhelm, and loss of energy. And then there is low blood sugar. When our blood sugar is too low, our organ's do not receive the energy they need in order to function. And, when our blood sugar fluctuates between too low and too high we wreck havoc on our systems. Thus it is essential for your health to maintain healthy and stable blood sugar; not too high and now too low.
You may have also heard about the importance of insulin in conjunction with blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas to help shuttle glucose from the blood to the cells and also lowers blood sugar. For instance when you eat a piece of cake, insulin is released to make sure your blood sugar does not get too high. But, what happens when you eat foods that raise your blood sugar dramatically + constantly, your body is continually releasing insulin to reduce the amount of sugar in your blood stream. When insulin is continually being released at elevated levels, over time your cells become unable to receive and utilize the insulin. This is called insulin resistance. When insulin cannot be utilized we start to see chronic elevated blood sugar and type 2 diabetes. (Type 1 diabetes is when the body produces too little insulin; type 2 is when the body is unable to utilize insulin properly) So, simply measuring your blood sugar does not give you the whole picture of whether or not you are balancing your blood sugar well. If your insulin levels are elevated, because if you are producing and releasing more insulin on a regular basis, this is a precursor to high blood sugar levels. You may have high insulin levels, but normal blood sugar readings. Insulin levels should really be measured to catch diabetes and pre-diabetes before they become a problem that has to be regulated with medication and/or insulin.
So, how can we manage and protect ourselves from imbalanced blood sugar levels? First, we need to know what to look for. We need to tune into our bodies' and recognize if blood sugar may be an area of concern.
What are signs that I may have imbalanced blood sugar or dysglycemia?
- difficulty thinking clearly/ brain fog
- poor word finding ability
- carrying excess weight around your midsection/ difficulty losing weight
- blurred vision
- feeling weak/ lethargic
- craving for sweets
- feeling faint/ shaky
- increased thirst
So what contributes toimbalanced blood sugar?
- too much stress
- eating poor/ low quality foods (convenience foods, packaged foods, refined flours in breads, crackers, pastas, + cookies)
- inflammation (caused by excess exposure to toxins, chronic infections, chronic stress, + nutritional deficiencies)
- too much sugar in your diet (i.e. sodas, packaged foods, excess refined starches + alcohol)
- food allergies (stress on your body)
- hypothyroidism or other hormone imbalance
- sedentary lifestyle
- regular alcohol intake
- impaired digestion
What can I do to take charge of my health and how can I eat to balance blood sugar?
An optimal diet to balance blood sugar is a meal plan higher in protein with small, frequent meals. Making sure to up your intake of fat, protein, and lots of veggies is extremely helpful in attaining more balanced blood sugar. Make sure to include carbohydrates in your diet that are of the non-starchy variety (think lots of veggies + legumes) and that rank lower on the glycemic index. The lower a food is on the glycemic index, the longer it takes to raise your blood sugar, so you don't experience a dramatic spike and then plummet in your blood sugar) And another extremely important element: make sure you are eating real food. Ditch the processed breads, crackers, energy bars, and the like and opt for real food that contains high amounts of vitamin, minerals, and nutrients. Below are some great meal and snack ideas to help balance blood sugar:
- Scrambled eggs with lots of kale + broccoli
- Full fat, organic yogurt with nuts and seeds
- Hummus + crudite
- Spiced turkey and zucchini meatballs
- Grain- free, sugar-free blueberry pancakes
- Lettuce wraps with egg salad
- Lentil, chicken, + veggie stew
- Sauteed swiss chard + slivered almonds
- Include regular exercise into your daily routine
- Ask a doctor about adding chromium (supplement) into your regime
- Include a high quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral
- Eat breakfast.... and add protein.
- Add herbs! Specifically fenugreek seeds, bitter melon, onions, garlic, and mulberry
- Manage stress; Try yoga, deep breathing, journaling and doing more of what you enjoy
To recap, if you start to balance your blood sugar, you will see a difference in your body, mood, and emotions. You will be more balanced, have more energy, and feel less overwhelmed. When your blood sugar is balanced, your body finds balance much more easily. If you are someone who thinks they are having a difficult time balancing blood sugar, it is imperative to make an appointment with a doctor you trust and discuss your signs and symptoms of blood sugar imbalance. I also love this book by Dr. Mark Hyman to do some of your own research. He has wonderful things to say on how to balance blood sugar and feel your best. After all, you have this life, and you should feel amazing. If you feel as though one on one support with a health coach would help you to reach your goals and optimize your well-being, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info on how to work one on one for ongoing and personalized support.