The words “blood sugar” conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications or insulin injections, am I correct?
But what is it exactly?
Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. In order to fuel your brain and muscles, you need the right balance of sugar in your blood.
The thing is, it can fluctuate. A lot. This is a naturally occurring mechanism and is often shown in a nice and steady curve going up and down.
This fluctuation is the natural balance between blood sugar increase from foods we eat; and a decrease of it after the sugar is transported into the cells.
When you eat food with sugars or starches (“carbs”), then your digestive system absorbs sugar into your blood. Your blood sugar rises. In order to keep blood sugar levels stable (to maintain the nice curve we talked about) the body secretes insulin. Insulin allows the sugar to enter muscle and tissue cells and get used for energy creation.
Why do we need to keep our 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, which would be a major effort for the body.
When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia.”
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. The sugars cannot enter the cells anymore and used appropriately. The excess sugar will remain in the blood.
Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.
These are my 5 tips on balancing blood sugar levels by optimizing food and lifestyle.
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 and having smaller portions of dessert. Water is your best beverage option. There are many healthy dessert options these days (check out my recipe section for my cinnamon apple recipe).
- Eating more fiber is helpful too. Fiber helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the “spike” in your blood sugar level. Fiber is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods removes fiber and would have to be added again). Eating nuts, seeds and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fiber intake. Cia seeds, flax seeds, psyllium husk are my preferred sources of fibre and can be added to any meal.
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. Make sure to buy Ceylon cinnamon to benefit from it’s therapeutic support.
Lifestyle for stable blood sugar:
- Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity which makes your cells more receptive towards sugar again. 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. So, try to reduce the stress you’re under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation, deep breathing or gentle movement. You can also sign-up for my STRESS-BUSTERS WORKSHOP to learn more stress management and coping strategies.
- Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have more appetite and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often an 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.
Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant). Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.
There are many nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing excessive carbs and eating more fiber, exercising, reducing stress and improving sleep, are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health).