Ok everyone, hands up if any of these sound familiar:
- You constantly crave sugar or a pick-me-up.
- You often experience feelings of anxiety, sluggishness, moodiness and irritability.
- You find it difficult to lose weight.
- You find it difficult to concentrate and stay focused.
- You have trouble sleeping through the night.
- If you look up the term hangry, it’s a definition of you.
- If you miss a meal, you are irritable and say things you later regret.
- You feel like a new person after you eat.
- Your cuts and bruises seem to take a long time to heal.
If you’re checking these off one after the other, then perhaps your blood sugar levels need a little tinkering.
What is Blood Sugar?
Blood sugar (aka blood glucose) is the sugar that the bloodstream carries to all cells in the body to supply the body with energy. Glucose is the immediate source of energy for all of the body’s cells. The sugar comes from the food we eat and our blood sugar levels change throughout the day, with their lowest point tending to be before our first meal.
After we eat, the body secretes insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows our body to either use the glucose from our food or store it for future use. Insulin regulates our blood sugar levels and tries to keep them from getting too high or too low.
When our blood sugar is balanced we tend to feel awake, energised, clear-headed, productive, happy, have our cravings under control, and are able to sleep well.
When our blood sugar is imbalanced, we can experience insatiable hunger, cravings, moodiness, irritability, have poor concentration, grogginess, tiredness and may even experience weight gain. These feelings often occur once the sugar high has hit the roof and is tumbling down to the bottom of it. AKA low blood sugar crash.
Eating foods that release energy quickly causes our blood sugar to spike, forcing the release of insulin into the blood to turn the blood sugar into energy. Once turned into energy, our blood sugar should start to return back into a normal range, however, when a high energy food is consumed, such as fizzy drinks, sweets or white bread, our bodies struggle to cope with the amount of sugar, especially if these foods are consumed frequently.
Frequent elevations of insulin soon lead to erratic or chronically sluggish mental and physical energy, and when this cycle happens over and over again, our cells can become tired and stop listening to insulin, which leads to insulin resistance, an early warning sign of diabetes. When we learn to balance our blood sugar levels, we are able to help minimize our risk of blood sugar-related diseases, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease.
Another problem with unnaturally high blood sugar is that it ends up getting stored as fat in the body. This can lead to visceral (abdominal) fat, weight gain and unhealthy cholesterol. And don’t be fooled into thinking thin people are getting away with eating all those doughnuts. Thin people can also become insulin-resistant and store dangerous excess fat hidden around visceral organs. You just can’t see it as its being stored internally.
If you think your blood sugar may be out of whack, there are some easy food and lifestyle changes you can make to get it back in balance.
No. 1 – Learn about Glycaemic Load and Glycaemic Index
Patrick Holford “GL stands for Glycaemic Load. It’s a unit of measurement that tells you exactly what a particular food will do to your blood sugar. Foods with a high GL have a greater effect on your blood sugar, which isn’t desirable.”
“When your blood sugar level increases, the hormone insulin is released into the bloodstream to remove the glucose (sugar). Some glucose goes to the brain and muscles where it’s used as an energy fuel, but any excess goes to the liver where it’s turned into fat and stored, causing you to gain weight. Insulin is known as the fat-storing hormone.” – Patrick Holford
Think white sugar, white bread, white rice and white pasta, soda, crackers, white potatoes, muffins, pastries, cookies, fruit juices and sports drinks, and processed foods like crisps.
Instead, opt for low glycemic foods which release glucose at a slower rate because they take longer to break down in the intestine. Examples include beans and lentils, whole grains, many vegetables and some fruits (berries and stone fruits are best).
Do your research into GL and GI foods and learn what’s best for you and your blood sugar levels.
No. 2 – Don’t Skip Meals – Especially Breakfast
This is crucial to support blood sugar stability. Breakfast sets your metabolism up for the day, lays the foundation of your blood sugar stability and gives you the energy to start the day.
Breakfast is literally, breaking your fast, and if you fast for an extended period of time (by skipping breakfast) and then indulging in a heavy meal, this will send your blood sugar and insulin levels sky high and take them on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Not to mention the additional stress it would put on your digestive system.
Aim to eat within 60-90 minutes of waking up. Make sure your breakfast includes protein and fat,
No. 3 – Eat Well-Balanced Meals that Include Carbs, Protein and Healthy Fats
To keep your meals balanced meal, they must include all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. This combination together helps to slow the release of glucose into the system, keep your blood sugars stable and keep you satiated.
Try to include foods high in soluble fibre, like psyllium, prunes, figs, mango, slippery elm, seaweed, linseed, legumes, oat bran, rice bran, barley, apple and mushrooms. See more here Soluble Fibre.
Carbohydrates – Include a natural source of carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits or whole grains. These may include foods such as brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, oats, beans and legumes, root vegetables like sweet potatoes and butternut squash and whole fruits and veggies (that have their fibre intact). This fibre will help to keep you full longer and may help you crave less sugar.
Protein – Eat a source of protein with each meal, such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, eggs, high-quality meat/fish or even a protein powder, should you be making a smoothie or shake.
It may help to have a visual total of 1/3 protein with each meal and about 2/3 high fibre, low GI carbs (whole grains, vegetables and fruits)
Making sure you’re getting enough protein with each meal will help slow the release of glucose into your bloodstream. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, meaning it releases energy slowly, which helps signal to the brain that you are full. Protein is also important for the growth and repair of muscle tissue.
Healthy Fats – And don’t forget your healthy fats. With each meal and/or snack, include a good quality fat. Fats slow the rate of digestion, and like protein do not stimulate the release of insulin.
These include nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia, flax, hemp, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower; avocados, olives, coconut meat, and their cold-pressed oils, like olive, avocado and coconut oil. Tahini and other nut and seed butters are also good.
Healthy fats help slow the release of glucose in the bloodstream and also provide more satiety for longer periods of time.
And don’t forget your essential fatty acids. These can be from cold water fish, nuts, seeds, and my favourite, hemp seeds.
No. 4 – Aim for 3 Meals and Additional Snacks In-Between
Think breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner and if you’d like another snack!
Consuming meals infrequently, or eating large meals after a long gap since the last will cause bigger shifts in blood sugar in comparison to eating smaller meals more frequently.
Consuming smaller portions throughout the day with light healthy snacks in-between will help maintain steadier blood sugar levels, and keep you satiated throughout the day.
No. 5 – Learn to Savour the Sweet Taste From Vegetables
It may sound daft, but you really can learn to savour the sweetness from vegetables to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Rather than shovelling in sugary sweets to satisfy you, try adding naturally sweet vegetables, like sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, beets, carrots, onions and winter squashes. These are all great sources of complex carbohydrate to eat as part of a balanced meal.
No. 6 – Eat Cinnamon
On the subject of swapping out processed sugary foods for veggies, here’s another trick. Cinnamon. Cinnamon is not only delicious, but it brings a natural sweetness to a meal and even helps to reduce fasting blood sugar levels. Cinnamon contains polyphenols that help maintain insulin sensitivity and is a great spice to incorporate into your meals. Think porridge with cinnamon berries, sweet potato chips with a dusty cinnamon coating. Pumpkin lattes with a dash of cinnamon. I could go on, but first I’m going to grab a Pukka 3 Cinnamon tea because I’ve talked myself into it!
No. 7 – Eat More Bitter and Astringent Foods
Learning to train your taste buds into enjoying more bitter and astringent foods will not only help your blood sugar levels but also your digestion. It can also help offset your addiction to the sweet taste, meaning you won’t want as much sweet taste, nor will you crave it as much.
Bitter and astringent fruits and veggies are things like leafy greens, celery, broccoli, radicchio, chicory, arugula, endive, cauliflower, artichokes, broccoli. pomegranate seeds, citrus fruits like grapefruits, oranges, lemons and limes
Herbs and spices include dandelion, milk thistle, nettle, basil, cinnamon, cumin, chili, garlic, ginger, pepper, oregano, thyme and turmeric.
No. 8 – Include Culinary Acids in Each Meal
For example, squeeze a lemon or add a splash of apple cider vinegar to your salad dressing. Or maybe a yoghurt or kefir based dressing? Try adding probiotic-rich sauerkraut, fermented or raw ginger, tamarind juice, pomegranate juice or pomegranate molasses.
No. 9 – Focus on Eating Nutrient-Dense Meals with Plenty of Texture
Use fresh, wholesome ingredients that are nutrient dense and full of textures and avoid processed and refined foods that cause havoc with your blood sugar levels, and give you little to zero nutrition.
When filling up your colourful and nutritious plates and bowls with wholefood, don’t forget to include some ‘crunch’ at each meal or snack. The more processed a food is, the faster it digests. Think crunchy carrots vs carrot puree. This fine, smooth texture will digest more rapidly, meaning a spike in blood sugar levels. When you have to chew your food, it will break down slower, and be absorbed in a more blood sugar friendly manner.
Try to include more raw food, steamed veggies, unpeeled fruit and vegetables, textured breads and cereals, and do not overcook food.
No. 10 – Prioritise Sleep
We all know a lack of sleep leaves us tired, moody and hungry, but what is also does is cause havoc on blood sugar levels and raises stress and appetite hormones (cortisol and ghrelin) that make you hungry.
Not getting enough sleep reduces glucose tolerance, meaning your cells have a harder time taking up glucose, which leads to higher blood sugar. The other problem with inadequate sleep is that when you’re tired, you eat more because your body is desperate for energy. And usually, you want to eat sugary, carby foods that will spike blood sugar levels. . This makes it harder to say no to those sugary snacks, so be sure to get your Zzz’s!
If you’re struggling to get a good shut-eye, see my previous blog here on Sleep.
No. 11 – Exercise
Exercise reduces blood sugar by improving glucose metabolism. Exercise helps cells in your muscles take up more glucose in order to use it for energy and tissue repair and lowers blood sugar in the process.
Long-term exercise also makes cells more responsive to insulin and helps prevent resistance. Did you know that the greater your lean body mass, the better your body will be able to control blood sugar levels?
Try to get your heart rate up and sweat at least 3 times a week.
No. 12 – Reduce Caffeine/Alcohol/Stress
Caffeine (coffee, black leaf tea, soft drinks and energy drinks), nicotine, alcohol and stress all cause blood sugar levels to rise and knock them out of balance. Try to reduce these to a minimum.
No. 13 – Choose Natural Sweeteners
You want to avoid the roller coaster of blood sugar spikes and crashes that come from refined white sugars and high fructose corn syrup. Choose natural sweeteners in moderation like raw honey, dates and pure maple syrup.
Many natural sweeteners also have the added bonus of providing you with essential vitamins and minerals.
And if you thought sugar was bad, artificial sweeteners are much worse! Artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose send a sweet taste to the brain but never deliver any real energy (glucose) to the body. This creates an even stronger message of hunger and desire for sweets, leading to sugar cravings all day long.
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication