Why Balancing Blood Sugar is Key
The term blood sugar is likely one that you have heard thrown around by health professionals, including myself, without knowing exactly what it means. Although many people recognize that their blood sugar is important, few recognize how it affects them on a daily basis, and how balancing their blood sugar is key to managing so many of their day-to-day symptoms, feelings, and activities.
What is blood sugar?
Sugar, or glucose, is the body’s main source of energy, and the term “blood sugar” refers to the amount of energy (sugar) present in our bloodstream at one given time. Sugar is produced when we break down any form of carbohydrate, from oatmeal to candy, and is absorbed from our digestive tract into our bloodstream to be used as a source of energy for the body. So, the term blood sugar simply refers to the amount of sugar (or glucose) in your blood at a given time.
Understanding Balanced Blood Sugar
Our blood sugar is the master controller that dictates our hunger, our cravings, and our energy. We feel our best when our blood sugar is balanced; not too high or not too low. Balanced blood sugar helps keep our brain healthy, our energy levels stable and our mood balanced. However, when disrupted, our blood sugar can lead to increased sugar cravings, irritability, poor sleep, brain fog, anxiety, low energy and weight gain, and in the longer term, diabetes. It is important to understand that balancing blood sugar is not only important for those with diabetes or severe health conditions, balancing blood sugar is important for everyone.
How Blood Sugar Works
Your blood sugar is controlled by two main hormones; insulin and glucagon. Every time that you eat, your pancreas creates insulin that is released into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar. Insulin is essentially the traffic controller of your bloodstream; it determines how much sugar is kept in our bloodstream and how much sugar is stored in our cells. When you eat carbohydrate-based foods, they are broken down into glucose which goes into your bloodstream. When this occurs your pancreas produces insulin to help regulate the amount of sugar in your bloodstream and transfers the glucose to your cells, specifically your liver cells, your muscles cells, and your fat cells. Insulin’s job is to unlock the door to your cells, so that glucose can go into the cells, and out of the bloodstream. This process helps to bring your blood sugar levels back down to a normal range, and also provides the necessary energy for our cells to function.
When Blood Sugar is Disrupted
However, when you eat a meal with a lot of sugar, or carbohydrates, you end up giving your body more glucose than it actually needs at one given time. In a balanced state, the body should be able to regulate this excess glucose and bring down blood sugar levels within an hour or two, but when sugar or carbohydrate-rich foods are consistently over-consumed, this process becomes stressed.
As you continue to over-consume carbohydrate-rich foods, your body needs more and more and more insulin to manage your blood sugar. Eventually, your body becomes resistant to this insulin response, which means that insulin is no longer able to unlock your cell doors. This creates two problems; excess glucose begins to accumulate in the bloodstream (also known as high blood sugar), and the cells become starved for energy because insulin is unable to unlock the doors to let glucose into them. This is known as insulin resistance.
The Problem with Insulin Resistance
When the body becomes resistant to insulin, many issues can arise. Although you may be consuming carbohydrate-based foods, your cells become starved for energy because insulin can no longer unlock the doors to allow glucose into them. This means that you end up feeling low on energy and you end up craving more and more sugar and carbohydrate-based foods because our cells are “starved” for energy. Additionally, as you become insulin resistant it becomes more and more difficult for the body to burn body fat, and easier and easier for you to gain weight. Why? Because when our blood sugar is high, our body does not see the need to burn body fat (our back up fuel) for energy, and our high blood sugar levels encourage fatty acids in the bloodstream to go into fat storage.
So, when you are insulin resistant and your blood sugar is disrupted, you end up with low energy, more cravings, irritable when you miss a meal, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, and increased fat storage, especially around your belly.
How to Balance Blood Sugar
The good news is, disrupted blood sugar and insulin resistance can be corrected with changes in diet and lifestyle habits.
Monitoring the quantity and quality of your carbohydrate intake is a very important factor in balancing your blood sugar. Minimizing processed carbohydrates like crackers, granola bars, baked goods, breads, pastas, sugary drinks, and sweets is vital to minimizing dips and spikes in blood sugar levels. Instead, opt for whole food carbohydrates such as whole grains (rice, oats, quinoa, etc…), bean, lentils, fruit, and vegetables which will help to stabilize blood sugar levels since they are high in fibre and nutrient dense. Additionally, ensuring that you are eating balanced meals that contain a source of protein and fat is also imperative to balancing blood sugar. Protein helps to balance blood sugar levels, and fat helps to slow the absorption of glucose to the bloodstream.
Finally, lack of or poor sleep can cause cells to be less sensitive to insulin, so getting adequate sleep is important, while exercise helps to encourage glucose to go into your muscle cells, which helps to manage blood glucose levels, so getting daily activity is also beneficial.
The Bottom Line
At the end of day, the simplest way to start balancing your blood sugar is to focus on whole foods. Whole foods come packed with fibre, nutrients, proteins and fats, and do not include copious amounts of refined sugars which are detrimental to blood sugar. When it comes to carbohydrates, it is important to focus on quality over quantity, and ensure that you create a balanced meal, with protein and fat, every time that you eat.