How To Control Your Blood Sugar
Are you finding your blood sugar levels creeping up? It’s time to get control by doing these things!
Blood is a liquid transporter for distributing all kinds of important nutrients and other substances that we need to be healthy to all parts of our bodies. This includes fuels such as fats and proteins, as well as sugar (a type of carbohydrate). I call it “fuel” because our cells burn these substances to work; and it is this “biochemical” burning in all of our cells that forms our metabolism. However, we have to make sure our levels of sugar are not too high! The good news is that blood sugar levels are responsive to diet and lifestyle upgrades; upgrades which I will outline below.
There are several medical, diet, and lifestyle approaches to managing medical conditions.
None of these are substitute for professional medical advice.
If you have any of these conditions, or are taking medications for it, please make sure you’re being monitored regularly.
Blood sugar balance
Our bodies strive to be in balance, continuously exerting a lot of energy to make sure that our systems are all running smoothly, including our digestive system, nervous system, cardiovascular (heart & blood vessels) system and processes in our blood. Alongside this, our bodies are trying to balance our blood pressure, blood volume, and blood sugar so that there is a normal and healthy range of sugar levels in our blood. How do our bodies strive to maintain optimal levels of blood sugar?
We eat food containing carbohydrates (i.e. sugar and/or starch).
Our digestive system breaks down the sugar and/or starch into smaller sugars like glucose. These smaller sugars are then absorbed into our bloodstream. This naturally raises our blood sugar level.
When our blood sugar gets too high, the pancreas (a gland in our digestive system) sends out insulin. Insulin is a hormone that tells our muscles, liver and, ultimately, fat cells to grab that sugar from the blood. These cells use the sugar they need for energy now, and store the rest for later.
The muscles and liver store sugar (e.g. glucose) temporarily. When we need it, our muscles and liver give up their sugar into the blood. This happens, for example, when we haven’t eaten for a few hours, we’re exercising, or we’re under stress.
As you can see, the amount of sugar in your blood is constantly flowing up and down - it goes up when we eat, down when the insulin tells the cells to pull it out of the blood, and then up again when we eat again and/or start using some of the stored glucose, and down again as it’s used (burned) or stored.
This is all good and healthy, and what we should aim for!
What happens when our blood sugar levels increase?
Problems arise when the balance is thrown off, when blood sugar ups and downs become unhealthy and when “ups” get too high, and they stay there for too long. Too much blood sugar can cause heart rate issues (arrhythmias), and in extreme cases, even seizures. Too high blood sugar for too long can eventually cause long-term damage to organs and limbs, including insulin resistance & type-2 diabetes. How does this happen? A common way our blood sugar gets too high is when we eat a lot of sugar in a short space of time, especially processed sugar, like in soda pop, energy drinks, desserts, etc. Our digestive system absorbs as much sugar from our food as possible, which we inherited from thousands of years ago when food was scarce and the next meal was unknown. As a survival mechanism, our bodies adapted to crave, absorb, and store as much sugar as possible in one sitting, because it didn’t know how long it would be until the next meal. Over the years, if we frequently eat a lot of sugar and have increased body fat, our bodies can change - our muscle and liver cells start ignoring insulin’s call to absorb sugar from the blood and they become “insulin resistant.” When this happens, the sugar stays in the blood for a lot longer than normal. But this doesn’t stop the pancreas from releasing even more insulin. When this happens you have the paradox of high blood sugar and high insulin, which can have damaging effects, including fatigue after meals, sugar cravings that don’t go away, increased thirst and frequent urination.
How can you improve your blood sugar balance?
Good news is that improved blood sugar balance can be achieved with proper nutrition and lifestyle! What you eat, how you eat it, how much exercise and sleep you get, and how you handle stress are all factors that you can improve.
First things first, reduce sugar in your diet. If your food or drink intake is made up of lots of sugar, please try to reduce it, or even cut it out of your diet completely - this includes sweetened beverages (e.g. soda pop, juice, energy drinks, candy, etc.) and many desserts, breakfasts, and even seemingly-healthy choices like some granola bars which often have a lot of sugar.
Don’t eat too many carbohydrates. Your body digests starches by breaking them down into sugar. So by reducing the amount of sugars and starches (carbohydrates) you eat - can reduce that blood sugar spike that happens right after you eat.
Choose “low glycemic” starches. If you have already cut out a lot of sugary foods and want to reduce your starch intake, start by ditching the “high glycemic” (i.e. ones that raise your blood sugar too high) starches. Foods that are “high glycemic” quickly raise blood sugar, while “Low glycemic” foods raise blood sugar slower and to a smaller extent. The fibre, fat and protein in food slows down digestion and absorption of the carbohydrates, so blood sugar rise slows down too. This results in a lower “glycemic effect.” High glycemic foods (i.e. ones to avoid) include sugary foods, as well as starchy foods like white bread, many pastas, and rice. Low glycemic foods include ones that are higher in fibre, fat and protein; examples being meat, seafood, eggs, legumes, sweet potatoes, and most fruit and non-starchy vegetables.
Eat more fibre. You’ve heard “fibre makes you regular,” right? It’s so healthy, but most people don’t eat nearly enough. The recommended daily intake of fibre for adults is 21g - 38g per day. This nutrient is not just for “regularity” and gut health, but also for blood sugar balance too. It works by mixing with carbohydrates in your meal and therefore slowing down your absorption of sugars from those carbohydrates. Some of the highest fibre foods include cocoa powder, flaxseeds, & legumes. So why not add a spoon of cocoa powder to your smoothie, or sprinkle flaxseeds on your cereal, or add some legumes to your soup or salad.
Eat your protein and fibrous vegetables first, since blood sugar is affected by the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Interestingly, studies have looked at the order in which you eat different foods and the effect this has on your blood sugar levels. A few small studies looked at adults with type 2 diabetes. Everyone had the same meal - some were asked to eat their protein and fibrous (i.e. non-starchy) vegetables first; while others ate their carbohydrates first. This found people who ate protein and vegetables first had better blood sugar control. One of the studies also showed lower levels of post-meal insulin when carbohydrates were eaten last. Another study found these blood sugar benefits to be true even in people without type 2 diabetes. It’s thought that when we eat carbohydrates first we start digesting them right away. But, if we eat them after protein and fibrous vegetables, we have the chance to mix them in with the rest of food in your stomach. This can slow down their absorption, which slows down how fast and high our blood sugar gets after we eat. The effects of changing food order hasn’t been tested in many big studies; however, it seems to be a simple and safe habit to get into to help our bodies better regulate blood sugar levels
Fruit is ok, especially dark berries! Unless your doctor or health practitioner has said otherwise, or you have an intolerance to them, fruit and the fruit sugar “fructose” are generally okay for your blood sugar levels. Fructose has a low glycemic index. Therefore, having fructose instead of glucose (regular sugar) can reduce the measure of average levels of blood sugar over two to three months, and eating whole (not processed or juiced) fruits can help with blood sugar balance. Berries are particularly good because they contain a lot of fibre and not a lot of sugar. Not to mention that they’re delicious! Berries, especially dark berries, contain pigments known as “anthocyanins.” These dark-coloured pigments have lots of health benefits including helping sugar metabolism in people with insulin resistance. They can also improve your ability to think, and their antioxidant effects are linked to reduced DNA damage.
Another tip is to try out blood-sugar balancing flavourings such as vinegar & cinnamon. I would suggest trying two tablespoons of vinegar shortly before or with a meal that contains sugars or starches. Why? Because recent analysis of several studies (a meta-analysis) showed that vinegar can lower blood sugar by up to 60% and insulin by up to 130% compared to taking the same meal without vinegar. This worked for insulin-resistant people and even healthy people saw significant benefit. Cinnamon can help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity too. This effect can happen with even less than one teaspoon per day. It’s thought that cinnamon works by slowing the emptying of your stomach. Slower emptying means slower absorption - which results in a slower blood sugar rise after a meal. Cinnamon also contains antioxidant polyphenols (plant chemicals) which may improve insulin sensitivity.
Get enough good quality sleep. Our bodies are wired to work along the sun’s schedule and so you can make it your objective to wake up when the sun comes up - and get tired when it goes down. Not enough sleep can affect many of our body’s systems, including negatively affecting our blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. It can also increase appetite and promote weight gain Even one or two nights of poor sleep can affect our blood sugar levels. Regularly getting enough good quality sleep is a great step towards helping our bodies manage blood sugar.
Exercise. Remember how insulin tells your muscle cells to pull some sugar out of your blood to store for later? Guess what storing for? Exercise! By exercising, burning that stored sugar, you not only improve your blood sugar levels, but also your physical and mental health in many ways. It can also reduce insulin resistance. Win-win-win.This means your muscle cells, especially when they’re moving, absorb and burn more sugar from the blood. This goes for both medium and high-intensity exercise.
Reduce your stress. When we are stressed and if we haven’t eaten for a few hours, our bodies may release sugar stored in the liver and muscles, and deliver them back to the blood. This then has adverse effects on stress hormones like cortisol. The reason stress hormones release stored sugar is to prepare for “fight or flight” reactions. Your body becomes physically ready to fight or run. To do this, we need fuel in our blood, i.e. sugar. How can we reduce stress? Look to relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, which all help reduce stress and as a result lower blood sugar levels.
Lose excess weight. Now I’m not underestimating that this is a super-complex area to tackle. However, there is a tonne of evidence that belly fat, being overweight, and obesity is linked with blood sugar balance issues and type 2 diabetes. There is no fast track method or quick fix for losing weight if we need to, but a combination of all of the above carried out safely and mindfully should help you progress in the right direction.
If your blood sugar creeping up there are some nutrition, lifestyle upgrades can make for better health:
Stop eating and drinking things that are mostly sugar;
Don’t eat too many carbohydrates;
Choose “low glycemic” starches;
Eat more fibre;
Eat your protein and fibrous vegetables first;
Look to fruit for fructose, especially dark berries;
Try blood-sugar balancing flavourings such as vinegar & cinnamon;
Get enough good quality sleep;
Reduce your stress;
Lose excess weight.
If you are interested in finding out more about this and would like to talk through anything further, please do get in touch, I would love to hear from you. Alternatively, you may be interested in one of my nutritional plans which I can tailor to your every need, helping you balance your blood sugar levels one step at a time.
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