People often think of diabetes when they hear the phrase “blood sugar balance.” However, we often forget to consider the fact that chronic illnesses do not develop overnight. It’s not like eating one donut will induce diabetes. But eating sugary foods frequently over time will cause spikes in blood sugar (also referred to as blood glucose) levels, which down the line could lead to the development of diabetes and other conditions. So, even if you don’t have diabetes, you can still have irregular blood sugar levels which can cause issues later on.
Blood sugar balance is one of the topics I like to geek out on because insulin resistance is a common symptom of women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Insulin resistance leads to high blood glucose levels. I love a sugary treat from time to time, but I take measures to keep my blood sugar levels in check.
What Happens if We Don’t Manage Our Blood Glucose Levels?
Chronically high blood glucose over time can cause our cells to become insulin resistant. Insulin’s job is to get the sugar out of the blood and into the cells (a sugar escort, if you will). When there’s a lot of sugar in our blood, our pancreas works hard to pump out more insulin to usher the sugar into the cells. But in the case of insulin resistance, the cells are not effectively taking in the sugar and the pancreas eventually gets worn out. Thus, the sugar stays in the blood and this can eventually lead to health issues such as pre-diabetes, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. When we think about the bigger picture of how high blood glucose impacts our health, the momentary sugar rush doesn’t seem worth it.
What Causes High Blood Glucose?
High blood glucose, known as hyperglycemia, can be caused by poor diet, lack of exercise, untreated sleep problems, stress from an illness, and/or life stress (which begs the question – can meditation help normalize blood glucose levels? You bet! ). Hyperglycemia can lead to weight gain, fatigue, insulin resistance, sugar cravings, and type 2 diabetes (2, 3)
The kind of diet that contributes to high blood glucose is the white diet. Never heard of it? The white diet consists of white rice, white bread, white pasta, sugar, pastries, and so on. These refined, or simple, carbohydrates are lacking the fiber and nutrients that slow down the absorption of sugar into your blood stream. They cause spikes in your blood glucose levels. I’m sure you’ve experienced the sugar rush after eating a double fudge brownie followed by a crash soon after. We don’t want our blood glucose riding on a roller coaster – we want a slow and steady increase in blood glucose followed by a gradual return to baseline. Nice and easy!
Just as it is not good to have spikes in blood glucose, it’s also important to watch out for dips in blood glucose.
What Causes Low Blood Glucose?
Low blood glucose, or hypoglycemia, can occur after periods of fasting, such as in the morning, after exercise, or in response to a missed meal. Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, and weakness. I’m sure you’ve experienced the “hangry” phenomenon – you want your food and you want it now! Hangry is a temporary state that tends to just annoy those around you. However, if left untreated, hypoglycemia can cause changes in behavior or personality, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and may require emergency medical attention (4).
8 Tips to Naturally Balance Blood Sugar
Suffice it to say, you will feel much better when you keep your blood glucose levels even keel, and it’s not difficult to do with some adjustments to your diet and lifestyle. You know I’m all about hormones and how to make them happy naturally. Below are my tips for keeping your blood glucose stable, au naturel!
Eat the Right Carbohydrates
We discussed the white diet above (white rice, white bread, white pasta, sugar, and so on). Try switching these simple, or refined, carbohydrates to complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, beans, brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole grain breads, whole grain pastas. Eating less processed foods (aka anything in a box or package) and more whole foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans) in general will help stabilize blood glucose because these foods have proteins, nutrients and fibers. Fiber helps slow down the absorption of sugar in the blood stream.
Include Healthy Fats and Proteins
Incorporate healthy fats (nuts and seeds, nut butters, olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, grass-fed butter) and proteins (fresh water fish, organic chicken and turkey, beans) with each meal. Protein will help curb sugar cravings. In fact, when you are in the throes of an intense need-it-now sugar craving, try eating a free-range chicken breast. It’s likely that you just need a protein boost.
What?! Stress affects the sugar levels in our blood? What doesn’t stress affect? Cortisol, the stress hormone, can increase blood sugar levels by making cells insulin resistant (5). Self-care, self-care, self-care! Figure out what works for you in managing stress – what it is that helps you regroup during the day and power down at the end of it. I like to have essential oils on me at work to help me chill out during the day. In the evening, I start my self-care routine by 9pm to ease me into a peaceful night of sleep. Oh and don’t forget about that thing called sleep. Not only does quality sleep help to alleviate stress, but managing sleep issues such as sleep apnea helps combat insulin resistance (6). One rule I love to follow is “sleep more, stress less.”
Exercising helps the muscle cells take up more sugar from the blood in order to use for energy. It also causes cells to be more sensitive to insulin (7, 8, 9). Exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, combat stress, and help improve sleep. So get out there and move! Make movement a part of your daily routine. It doesn’t mean you have to sign up for a gym membership. Go for a walk, dance, trampoline!
Stay on Top of Hunger
When you’re hungry and your blood glucose levels drops, sugar cravings usually set in because your body is looking for a source of energy, and pronto! It recognizes that simple carbohydrates like sugary foods will quickly get the blood glucose back up. Try to avoid these hypoglycemic states by planning ahead. Going on a hike or into a long work meeting? Pack some dry fruit, nuts and seeds. I always keep a baggy of raw nuts in my purse. You won’t catch me hangry if I can help it!
Plan Ahead to Address Sugar Cravings
After you get home from your trip to the grocery store, cut up some fresh veggies for future snacking. That way, when you are hungry for a snack, you have some nice veggie sticks and hummus on the ready! Meal-planning is a great way to stay on track with healthy eating. It keeps us from going to the drive-through as often. If we have ready-to-eat meals that we made ahead of time, we are more likely to eat them. Makes sense, right?
This is my favorite piece of advice for those looking to balance hormones, beat daily fatigue, and/or lose weight. Consider the fact that your body is fasting overnight. When you wake up, your blood glucose levels are low. You should be eating within a half an hour to an hour after you wake up. Starting your day off with stable blood glucose levels sets you up for more energy, less mood swings, and an upper hand on those sugar cravings. What to eat for breakfast you ask? In my opinion, this is the best time to have quality protein. There’s no rule saying you can’t have chicken breast for breakfast.
Upgrade Your Sugars
Take it from me, I understand what it feels like to need dessert in my life! I have a sweet tooth, so I’m not about to tell you to ditch sugary delights forever. If you feel that you cannot live a sane life without sweets, consider upgrading your sugars. White sugar isn’t going to do anything good for you other than give you a fleeting sugar rush. There are other sugars that are absorbed more slowly into your blood stream and also have some nutrients in them. Try raw honey, coconut sugar, grade B maple syrup, coconut nectar, or sugarless options like cinnamon and stevia.
There’s a Tea For That
Cinnamon tea: Studies show that cinnamon can help to lower blood glucose. In a 2003 study, cinnamon extract was shown to reduce blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes (10). Give it a try – it’s like Christmas in a cup!
If you are insulin resistant, how do you keep your blood glucose levels balanced? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!