Balancing Blood Sugar
While some of us may be familiar with blood sugar balance, this concept is rarely highlighted in health and nutrition. Nevertheless, maintaining the proper blood sugar balance is essential for promoting optimal health and feeling our absolute best!
Defining Blood Sugar
So what is blood sugar? In simplest terms, blood sugar is the amount of sugar, called glucose, circulating in our bloodstream. Glucose is the body’s main energy source, and we get it from the food we eat. After every meal or snack, our body breaks down carbohydrates (one of the three macronutrients) into units of glucose. These units are absorbed into the bloodstream, causing levels to rise and fall throughout the day.
Glycemic Index of Foods
Different foods can impact how much sugar is absorbed and therefore impact blood sugar levels differently. This is referred to as a food’s glycemic index (GI). We want to prioritize foods with a lower glycemic index, though all foods can fit into a balanced diet. One method to decrease a food’s glycemic index is to pair it with a source of healthy fat and/or protein. For example, take apples and peanut butter. When eaten alone, apples can spike our blood sugar and leave us feeling hungry. By pairing the apple with nut butter, our blood sugar will become more stable and we will feel fuller for longer.
The Role of Insulin
Insulin is the hormone responsible for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Disruptions in insulin function can lead to problems with blood sugar. Two notable examples are type I and type II diabetes. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the body doesn’t produce insulin at all. Individuals with this type of diabetes receive insulin from an external source. Type II diabetes, on the other hand, occurs when the body produces some, but not enough insulin. This is also known as insulin resistance. Type II diabetes is extremely prevalent and leads to long-term health complications including permanent damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, eyes, ears, and skin. Risk factors include lack of exercise, obesity or being overweight, and family history.
Low vs High Blood Sugar
Blood sugar imbalance can occur in the absence of diabetes. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can occur after drinking alcohol or after long periods of not eating. This can lead to dizziness, blurry vision, headaches, sweating, and irritability. If you’ve ever been “hangry,” you may have been experiencing low blood sugar! The best way to combat low blood sugar is to eat something immediately, preferably with carbohydrates. Eating meals and snacks regularly throughout the day helps to prevent low blood sugar.
High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, can occur after eating a meal high in carbohydrates. Individuals with high blood sugar may experience increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and headaches. We can prevent high blood sugar and maintain normal blood sugar levels by:
Eating balanced meals and snacks. Meals and snacks containing all three macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) as well as fiber promote stable blood sugar levels.
Reducing our intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Eating too much of these will leave us feeling sluggish and tired throughout the day. Many foods high in sugar and refined carbs are also lacking nutrient-density. Nutrients help our bodies thrive! Remember, reducing does not mean eliminating. Everything in moderation!
Staying physically active. Engaging in exercise regularly allows our muscles to use blood sugar for energy. The recommended amount of exercise per week is 150 minutes. This sounds like a lot, but can be broken down however you like! Exercise in ways that you enjoy, whether that’s walking, jogging, running, dancing, cycling, or swimming.
Staying hydrated. Drinking enough water helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and prevents dehydration. The best way to stay hydrated is by drinking water. Keep in mind that sugar-sweetened beverages will have the opposite effect on blood sugar!
Minimizing stress (as much as possible). Believe it or not, stress can influence blood sugar! This is due to the hormones released when we are stressed out, which raise blood sugar levels. Make time in your day to practice relaxation methods like self-care, breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation.
Eating foods rich in magnesium. Studies show that magnesium can help maintain proper blood sugar levels. Foods high in magnesium include bananas, beans, dark chocolate, tuna, pumpkin seeds, avocado, and dark leafy greens.
Adding vinegar to your diet. This one is optional but clinically proven to balance blood sugar. Easy ways to implement this into your diet can be adding 1 TBSP of vinegar to a glass of water or simply using vinegar as salad dressing. Any type of vinegar will work including apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, and red wine vinegar.
You may be thinking that blood sugar balance sounds like a ton of work. But, the most important thing is that we try our best to maintain healthy habits, like eating right and exercising frequently. Blood sugar balance is largely a side effect of this! Follow along on social media for a nutrient-dense recipe that uses affordable ingredients and promotes blood sugar balance.