Maintaining balanced blood sugar levels is something that is important for many reasons. And although people don’t often complain about this in my NW Calgary Naturopathic Medicine practice, they do complain about many of the symptoms associated with unbalanced blood sugar. So many symptoms are linked to this, and so few people are aware of the short term and long term consequences of having an unbalanced blood sugar on their health, body, energy, mood, and so much more.
Blood sugar levels that fluctuate cause the body to release increased levels of insulin, which is linked to things like difficult weight loss, abdominal weight gain, Hypertension, High Cholesterol levels, Diabetes, and an increased risk of Alzheimers.
When we eat, our blood sugar levels rise, and insulin is responsible for moving that glucose from the blood into the muscle tissue, where it is stored for future use. If we eat a diet high in sugar, refined grains such as cakes, pastries, cookies, white bread, white pasta, and white rice, or juice/pop, or foods with a high glycemic index, these are foods that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, and if we are eating these foods often, the body just starts to release a constant higher level of insulin. When this happens, it can cause “insulin resistance”, which means the muscle tissue becomes less responsive to the circulating levels of insulin, and doesn’t take in the circulating sugar in the blood. This causes elevated blood sugar, which is what we see in patients with Type 2 Diabetes. This can cause symptoms of weight gain, difficult weight loss, thirst, frequent urination, lethargy, and much more. Over time, end organs such as the eyes, kidneys, and heart can be impacted, as well as peripheral circulation to hands and feet, causing tingling and numbness (neuropathy).
So what are some of the symptoms of unbalanced blood sugar levels? Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Anxiety and irritability, that may be worse with a skipped meal (feeling “Hangry”) and that is relieved by eating a high carb or high sugar meal
- Low energy, sluggishness, feeling lethargic
- Poor sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, usually around 1 to 3 am
- Food cravings, either high sugar or high fat foods
- Poor mental focus and concentration
- Decreased strength during workouts and slower recovery from a heavy workout
- Difficult weight loss
- Increased appetite in the evening and even after dinner
So what can we do to ensure our blood sugar levels are balanced so we are at lower risk for the above listed symptoms and health conditions? One of the best ways is to eat a diet based on low glycemic index foods. What does this mean? A high glycemic index food is one that is more quickly broken down into sugar, and therefore more quickly elevates your blood sugar levels. This is what you want when you blood sugar is low and you need a quick boost (which won’t happen if you balance your blood sugar as soon as you wake up…see below). High glycemic index foods are things like pastries, white bread, white rice, white pasta, candy, sugar, etc. Low glycemic index foods take longer to break down into sugar, so your blood sugar level rises more slowly. These are foods higher in fiber, protein, and fat.
I always suggest eating protein and healthy fat with every meal and every snack. This does not mean large portions of protein or a high protein diet, but rather moderate amounts of protein (such as half a chicken breast, an egg, 12 nuts and seeds, a greek yogurt, a scoop of protein powder in a smoothie, etc). This will keep you feeling more satisfied and decrease your cravings because your blood sugar levels will rise slowly, and stay steady because you will be eating protein and healthy fat every 3 hours (think breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and maybe another snack before bed). I know you are probably thinking this is a lot of food, but because you are eating more nutrient dense foods and eating more often, your portion sizes will be much smaller as well! I always suggest eating protein within 30 to 60 minutes of waking (unless you are taking a medication on waking that must be taken away from food, such as thyroid medication). Even if you are not hungry on waking, grab 10 almonds or cashews. If you can stop your blood sugar from crashing in the morning, you are setting yourself up for a day with increased energy, decreased irritability, decreased cravings, and more mental clarity!
Also, one of the worst things you can do is drink coffee on an empty stomach in the morning…I know a lot of people are guilty of this! They drink coffee in the morning while getting ready for work and then eat breakfast once they get to the office. Coffee causes your insulin levels to rise which causes a crash in your blood sugar…so you feel tired and sluggish…which makes you want more coffee! So, I suggest drinking your coffee WITH your protein, fiber, and healthy fat breakfast. If you are going to eat carbs for breakfast, I suggest keeping the portion size small (half a bagel instead of a full bagel, and one piece of toast vs. two pieces) and keep it whole grain bread vs. white bread. Always avoid eating grains on their own…always combine it with protein. This also applies to fruit…always combine fruit with some nuts (unless you are allergic to nuts) or some other source of protein.
Exercise is also a good way to maintain good blood sugar levels and increase your muscle’s sensitivity to insulin levels. Go for a walk, a bike ride, anything you enjoy that gets you moving!
Adequate fiber intake in your diet will also lower the glycemic index of your meals because it slows down digestion so your blood sugar levels rise more slowly, and you feel full for much longer.
Healthy fat does the same thing…think oils and avocado.
Managing your stress levels is also very important for balancing your blood sugar. See my blog here for more ideas on how to do this.
Supplements can also be useful for balancing your blood sugar, such as fish oils, herbs, vitamins and B12 injections. These will all be prescribed based on your health history, any diagnosed conditions you may have, as well as other medications and supplements you are taking.
As you can see, there is a lot you can do diet and lifestyle wise to ensure your blood sugar levels are balanced, contributing to a higher quality of life, and decreased risk of common health conditions such as Diabetes, Hypertension, and High Cholesterol. If you have any questions about how I can help more specifically with herbs, supplements, and injections, please do not hesitate to contact me at my NW Calgary Naturopathic Medicine practice!
Naturopathic Vitality Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic
205-503 Crowchild Trail NW, Calgary, AB