BLOOD SUGAR BALANCE: one of the topics I’m most passionate about when it comes to nutrition — and a topic I think YOU should care about, too.
Are you tired of…
- Being hangry
- Having mood swings
- Constant sugar cravings
- Regular energy crashes
- Unprovoked anxiety
If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above statements, today’s post is one you’ll want to carve out some time to read!
And yes, even if you DON’T have diabetes, blood sugar balance is super important! Your blood sugar has a direct impact on your energy levels, mood, hunger and cravings, sleep, even irritability and anxiety, hormone balance and blood pressure — for better or for worse. Better blood sugar balance and control = better outcomes...pretty much systemically.
However, many of us are on the constant blood sugar roller coaster. You know when you eat something and you get a temporary high, only to come crashing down and in desperate need of sugar ASAP to bring your energy levels back up…to crash, yet again. And so on.
You might think you’re addicted to sugar, but could it just be that you’re not properly fueling yourself in a way that leads to the outcome you desire?
What’s the Cause of the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster?
The cause of the bloody, blood sugar rollercoaster could be many things, but two of the biggest offenders I see most often are:
- A lack of balanced food intake.
- Inconsistent meal timing
Many of us have erratic eating schedules where we go long periods of time without eating balanced meals, and then when we do eat we find ourselves so hungry or famished that we end up eating super large portions of carbs (especially refined carbs) and not nearly enough protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich veggies to balance it out. (This isn’t me demonizing carbs, BTW. I am team carb).
A quick lesson in biology: when we eat a meal with a high amount of carbohydrates, the carbs are broken down into glucose in the bloodstream. To compensate and bring the body back to homeostasis, the pancreas will secrete insulin to help shuttle the blood sugar into your cells where it can be utilized for energy. The problem with eating a meal high in carbs without things like protein, fat and fiber to balance it out, is that it causes your blood sugar to increase very sharply and suddenly (the rollercoaster high) after eating. The body will often release too much insulin, making your blood sugar drop below normal levels (the rollercoaster low).
When your blood sugar drops too low, your body sees it as a stressor, and stress hormones like cortisol are released by the adrenal glands. Cortisol works to raise your blood sugar (and also blood pressure) as a protective mechanism…and this can lead to a whole host of other issues that this post won’t quite cover.
Real Life Examples of the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster
Example 1: you wake up in the morning and aren’t super hungry, so you skip breakfast and just have coffee. You get busy with your morning and before you know it, it’s after noon and WOW are you hungry. You grab something quick to ease the hunger and land on half a bag of chips, throw together a sandwich, and finish off with a handful or two of dark chocolate chips. A couple hours pass and you can’t seem to shake the brain fog and fatigue, so you make an afternoon cup of coffee to have with a pack of cookies for some energy. Dinner time rolls around and you find yourself extremely hungry, and sit down to a large plate of pasta, a small side salad, and an extra serving of garlic bread. Despite eating it all, you still crave something sweet so you grab a few more cookies from the pantry.
Example 2: you start your morning off with a bowl of sweetened strawberry yogurt topped with more sweetened granola, and wash it down with a Starbucks frappe; you grab a hamburger, fries and sweet tea from your fav fast food joint for lunch, and end your day with a salad, low fat dressing, and grilled chicken breast. Shortly after you find yourself sitting on the couch with a pint of ice cream, half eaten. WHAT?! How?? Why?
Now are these situations “bad”? No. (Can we just remove the word “bad” from our food vocab??)
This is the reality for many people. They aren’t “bad”, but they don’t always work in favor of common health goals (such as improved energy, weight loss, improved hunger/fullness, less cravings), nor do they support optimal blood sugar control. Why? Because meals and snacks are either erratically eaten, or they don’t include a balance of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs). In turn, these often lead us to feeling crummy shortly after eating, constantly fighting off cravings, never fully satisfied, and making food choices that don’t align with our greater goals. Eating this way gives us that temporary high, but it doesn’t last for long. And this is what we call the blood sugar rollercoaster, my friends.
The good news? There are some simple swaps you can make to the food choices you make that will lead to improvements to your blood sugar control (even if your meal schedule is all over the place), which in turn leads to a happier, more energized, less hangry, you 🙂
5 Examples of Easy Swaps for Blood Sugar Balance
Listed below are 5 easy swaps you can make TODAY that will lead to improved blood sugar balance.
- Swap your cereal, skim milk and a banana for toast with peanut butter, sliced banana and chia seeds, and pair it with some hardboiled eggs.
- Instead of that afternoon Coke from the vending machine, make yourself a cup of green tea for some natural caffeine without the added sugar, and have it with a snack that is made of protein and carbs.
- That slice or two of pizza? Try pairing one slice with a big side salad!
- Afternoon snack of sweetened yogurt with granola? Overhaul that with some plain Greek yogurt mixed with cinnamon and topped with some cacao nibs, shredded coconut, and a drizzle of honey.
- Enjoy that pasta, meat sauce and bread with a side salad and some broccoli thrown in the mix.
Essentially, look for ways that you can add in some protein, fat and fiber to what you are already eating, and/or look for ways to reduce intake of excess added sugars without deprivation.
So…how do we hop off the giant roller coaster and instead claim a seat on the kiddie roller coaster?
6 Simple Ways to Balance Blood Sugar
- Eat meals and snacks at regular intervals: this is an often overlooked aspect of blood sugar control, but eating at regular intervals through the day (every 3-5 hours), helps keep blood sugar stable. It also helps keep hunger in check when you don’t go too long without eating, which makes making better food choices easy!
- Pair carbs with protein, fat and fiber: pairing protein, fat and fiber with carb-rich foods helps to slow the release of sugar, leading to less of a drastic spike and crash.
- Limit refined carb intake: these are items like donuts, white bread, sugary cereals and yogurts, sweetened beverages, etc.. These aren’t “bad”, but often have a less than favorable impact on blood sugar. If consuming, you can pair with protein to offset the drastic spike.
- Move your body: taking even a 5-10 min walk after a meal can help decrease blood sugar levels which will help support improved energy, mood, and hunger regulation.
- Get 7-9 hours sleep regularly: believe it or not, even just one night of inadequate sleep can lead to insulin resistance the following day; it also increases our hunger hormone, which will ramp up your desire to eat..which is usually directed towards carb-rich foods since your brain sees them as quick energy.
- Manage stress levels: stress can raise blood sugar as well, regardless of what you eat. Finding healthy ways to manage your stress levels is paramount to managing blood sugar.
Now, must you live and die by blood sugar balancing meals, snacks, and eating schedules? I mean, no — this isn’t a legalistic rule to follow. It IS, however, something to consider if you consistently feel like you struggle with hangriness, mood swings, anxiety, sugar cravings, or energy crashes and want to feel more in control and confident in your food choices, as well as support your overall health. It puts YOU back in the drivers seat!
There you have it, simple ways to balance blood sugar! Make these changes to how you eat, and pay attention to your energy levels, sleep, anxiety, and hunger/cravings. Do they get better? Are they less intense? Do you notice them as much? Report back!