Everything You Need To Know About Keeping Your Blood Sugar In Balance
Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, plays a vital role in maintaining your overall health. It is the primary source of energy for your body’s cells and organs, contributes to energy levels and even mood.
To function optimally, it’s helpful to keep your blood sugar levels within a “healthy” range, as when our blood sugar levels become imbalanced or yo-yo up and down, it may result in health issues further down the line, such as diabetes, heart disease, and more. In this article, I’ll be providing you with practical tips on all you need to know about balancing your blood sugar levels…
WHAT IS BLOOD SUGAR
Blood sugar levels refer to the concentration of glucose in your bloodstream. Glucose is a type of sugar that comes from the food you consume in your diet.
When you eat these foods, your body breaks most of them down into glucose, which is then transported in your blood to be used as ENERGY.
When you consume protein, it generally has a slower impact on blood sugar compared to carbohydrates. Proteins are broken down into amino acids during digestion, and this process tends to be slower than the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars. As a result, the release of glucose from protein into the bloodstream is more gradual and moderated.
The impact of fats on blood sugar is also relatively minimal compared to carbs. Fats do not directly raise blood sugar levels because they are not converted into glucose during digestion.
THE ROLE OF INSULIN
The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, helps to regulate the uptake of glucose into your cells, ensuring that blood sugar remains within a healthy range. Insulin has the ability to tell your body to “unlock” your cells, this way they can absorb glucose from your bloodstream.
After a meal, blood sugar levels typically rise as the digestive system breaks down food into glucose. Insulin helps cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream, reducing blood sugar levels.
In a fasting state, such as between meals or during overnight periods without food, insulin levels decrease. This allows the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream to maintain blood sugar levels within a normal range.
Some foods that cause a sudden spike in blood sugar, trigger a large release of insulin. The foods to blame here are mostly high GI (glycemic index) foods.
Over a period of time, the body can get used to this extra boost of insulin and can become comfortable with it, reducing how much glucose our cells absorb from our bloodstream. This can raise blood glucose levels, increasing the risk of prediabetes and diabetes and may lead to insulin resistance.
THE BLOOD SUGAR ROLLERCOASTER
Ever heard of the “blood sugar rollercoaster”? It’s the wild ride our blood sugar levels can take during the day, going up and down. Picture this: when we eat sugary snacks or processed carbs, our blood sugar shoots up fast. Then, our body releases insulin to deal with it, causing a rapid drop in blood sugar. That’s when we start feeling tired, cranky, and super hungry. To cope, we often grab more quick-fix snacks, starting the rollercoaster all over again.
Being on a blood sugar rollercoaster can often show as:
- Low energy/ tiredness/ fatigue
- Weight gain
- Low mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of focus
WHY KEEP THINGS BALANCED?
Trying to maintain balanced blood sugar levels is key for our overall health. Here are some of the main reasons blood sugar levels need to be kept within a healthy range…
ENERGY- Balanced blood sugar levels provide a steady supply of energy, helping to prevent energy crashes and fatigue. Used to that 3pm crash? There’s a good chance your blood sugar levels are out of whack.
WEIGHT- Stable blood sugar levels are associated with better appetite control and weight management, due to less cravings and hunger in between meals. Blood sugar balancing meals can help you feel fuller for longer, which prevents the need for mindless snacking.
MENTAL CLARITY- Stable blood sugar can help to stabilise mood and cognitive function, reducing the risk of mood swings and brain fog. This can help you feel more balanced all round, with less fluctuations in mood throughout the day.
SLEEP- Blood sugar levels can have a significant impact on your sleeping patterns. Sleep and glucose have a bidirectional relationship – how well or poorly you sleep will directly impact your glucose levels. And fluctuating glucose levels may be the reason you are having trouble sleeping. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity, resulting in the body producing more insulin to help stabilise blood sugar levels. (1) Aim for 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night, and consider investing in an Oura ring to help track your sleep cycle if this is something you struggle with.
HORMONES – Blood sugar and PCOS go hand in hand. High insulin levels are a major driver in PCOS. High insulin can impair ovulation and cause the ovaries to produce excess testosterone. (2,3) Some studies have shown that obesity-associated insulin resistance alters the function of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain, increasing the production of androgenic hormones, which can contribute to PCOS. (4)
MENOPAUSE- Talking of hormones, when it comes to menopause, the decrease in oestrogen seen during and post menopause means your body may find it more challenging to control blood sugar levels. The hormonal shifts in menopause also play a big part in where women tend to gain weight, during and after menopause, women tend to gain weight around the abdominal area.
STRESS – Stress triggers an increase in the body’s fight-or-flight hormone cortisol, and in response, the body releases extra energy into the bloodstream in the form of glucose. When cortisol is heightened, it works against glucose control and can make it harder for insulin to work as effectively.
TIPS FOR MAINTAINING BALANCED BLOOD SUGAR
So what can we do to avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster and aim for great, stable energy levels?
AIM FOR BALANCED PLATES- Consume a healthy balanced diet, made up from a variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Aim for ½ of your plate to be colourful veggies, ¼ of your plate a lean protein, ¼ complex whole grain carbs and 1-2 tbsp of healthy fats. This will keep those blood sugar and energy levels in check till your next meal!
SAVOURY BREAKFAST FOR THE WIN – That first meal of the day is fundamental to setting up your balanced blood sugar levels. Whilst a bowl of porridge or apple overnight oats may feel as though it’s giving you a short boost of energy, this sweet and starchy breakfast will result in a glucose spike, followed by a drop leaving you feeling tired and hungry again soon after. Aim to break your fast with a savoury, high protein breakfast. Think scrambled tofu, an omelette, avocado and smoked salmon on toast or leftovers from dinner all make the perfect blood sugar balancing breakfast.
TRY APPLE CIDER VINEGAR – The antiglycemic effect of acetic acid found in ACV was linked to reduced starch digestion and delayed gastric emptying. One tablespoon of ACV diluted in a glass of water, drunk up to 20 minutes before a meal, may reduce the glucose spike of that meal by up to 30%. (5) Just make sure to use a straw or brush your teeth after drinking apple cider vinegar!
DRESS YOUR CARBS- Never have your carbs naked! Always pair your carbs with protein or a source of healthy fats to help reduce your glucose spike. For example, instead of having a plain slice of toast, top it with some avocado or smoked salmon for satiating and blood sugar balancing benefits. .
SUGAR AFTER MEALS – The best time to have that sweet treat is after a balanced meal. Think of eating sugar on an empty stomach similar to drinking on an empty stomach, it’s always best to have a balanced meal beforehand. When sugar is consumed on an empty stomach, you are setting yourself up for a bigger glucose and fructose spike, along with that post-sugar slump.
MOVE AFTER MEALS – Moving within 90 minutes after meals can have positive effects on your blood glucose levels. This can help reduce that post meal blood sugar crash. As your muscles contract, they soak up the glucose, reducing the spike. Aim to walk for 10 minutes after a meal to keep you energised. (6)
EAT IN ORDER …. – The order in which you consume your meal can also impact your blood sugar. Aim to consume your veggies and plants first, followed by protein, fats and starches and sugars last.
NO COFFEE BEFORE FOOD – Consuming your coffee on an empty stomach can increase cortisol and glucose levels, putting your body into an increased state of stress and thus impacting insulin. Try to consume your coffee after or with your meal.
FIBRE FOR THE WIN- Foods high in dietary fibre, such as vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, can help to slow the absorption of glucose, promoting stable blood sugar levels. Get clued up on fibre filled foods and aim to add them to your meals- some of my favourites include raspberries, kiwi with the skin, flax, chia seeds, jerusalem artichokes and peas.
SLEEPING BEAUTY- Prioritise quality sleep, as sleep deprivation can disrupt blood sugar regulation. Studies have shown that sleep loss can result in blood glucose fluctuations and changes in appetite regulating hormones. A change in our hormones leptin and ghrelin can increase cravings, appetite and weight fluctuations which can further impact our blood sugar levels. (7)
Aim for 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night. If you struggle with your sleep, consider working on your evening routine, taking a 25 minute epsom salt bath before bed, supplementing with magnesium glycinate here and not eating or drinking alcohol 2-3 hours before bed.
VEGGIES: WHAT TO KNOW
When it comes to consuming veggies, not all are created equal. Some vegetables are more starchy than others, so try to stick to lower GI veggies such as…
- Leafy greens- spinach, cavolo nero, kale
- Cruciferous veggies- cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli
- Green beans
It’s also important to note that it’s best to eat your veggies whole rather than juice them. Whole veggies have much more fibre than juice, so they’ll fill you up for longer and keep those blood sugar levels in shape.
SHOULD YOU USE A CONTINUOUS GLUCOSE MONITOR (CGM)?
A CGM allows you to check your glucose levels at any time, helping you understand the patterns in your individual glucose levels and how certain foods, or lifestyle factors can impact your blood sugar spikes and drops.
CGMs use small sensor wires that pierce the skin on the back of the arm to easily assess blood sugar levels. Results are linked to an app, making it simple to check levels post meals and snacks.
Whilst this can be useful for people to spot which foods personally trigger their blood sugar levels to change, it is not always necessary and can be quite expensive. Being intuitive with how you feel throughout the day can be really helpful in knowing how certain foods/ activities may be impacting you. Keep a food diary with how you feel after certain foods and drinks to really dive into your personal triggers.
If you do want to try one, I recommend the Freestyle Libre glucose monitor, available here.
COMING OFF THE BLOOD SUGAR ROLLERCOASTER FOR GOOD…
Balancing your blood sugar is essential for maintaining overall health and preventing numerous health issues. By adopting a more balanced diet, staying active, and managing stress levels and sleep quality, you can significantly improve your blood sugar control. Remember that small changes in your lifestyle can have a big impact on your long-term health.
If you want to work on your blood sugar levels with a professional, get in touch with my team at email@example.com
Corbould A, Kim YB, Youngren JF, Pender C, Kahn BB, Lee A, Dunaif A. Insulin resistance in the skeletal muscle of women with PCOS involves intrinsic and acquired defects in insulin signaling. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2005 May;288(5):E1047-54. (2)
Nestler JE, Jakubowicz DJ, de Vargas AF, Brik C, Quintero N, Medina F. Insulin stimulates testosterone biosynthesis by human thecal cells from women with polycystic ovary syndrome by activating its own receptor and using inositolglycan mediators as the signal transduction system. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Jun;83(6):2001-5. (3)