Get Off The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

Your body prefers to maintain a normal blood glucose (or blood sugar) level, which is a fairly narrow range (approximately 75-100 mg/dl). Unhealthy blood glucose levels, either too high or too low, are strongly correlated with poor health.

From Carbohydrate to Sugar to Glucose

Through the process of digestion, all carbohydrates break down into sugars. These sugars enter the blood stream and become blood glucose. This isn’t entirely bad since your body, including your brain, needs glucose for fuel and to work properly. The trouble is when too many or the wrong type of carbohydrates are eaten, which causes a spike in blood glucose and therefore a spike in insulin.

Unhealthy Blood Glucose Levels = Poor Health

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When you eat, glucose levels rise, and insulin is released into the bloodstream to remove the glucose. The insulin acts like a key, opening up cells so they can take in the sugar and use it as an energy source. Basically, insulin tells your body what to do with the calories—burn it or store it.

When your body has enough fuel stored to function effectively between meals, insulin’s message to the body is to store excess calories as fat. When insulin is elevated, your body also will not use fat as energy, preventing your body from tapping into its fat stores.

Elevated insulin is also thought to increase C-reactive protein (inflammation), contribute to high blood pressure, encourage the proliferation of cells (cancer), and stimulate brain neurons to produce amyloid proteins and interferes with an enzyme that degrades and clears it (Alzheimer’s disease). This news is certainly bleak, and isn’t a state you want your body to chronically be in.

What We Eat Matters!

We all know breakfast is certainly the most important meal of the day. On the other hand, eating the wrong type of breakfast leads to several undesirable results.

Here’s an example of a Standard American breakfast: cold cereal, skim milk, orange juice and/or coffee. Once digested you will rapidly absorb about 19 teaspoons of sugar! Insane! Your body only needs <1 teaspoon of sugar to keep blood glucose levels normal.

What happens to your blood sugar over the next couple of hours after this standard American, unbalanced breakfast is the undesirable roller coaster effect.

Take a look at what occurs:

First, blood glucose surges above normal levels, which increases the amount of insulin released into your blood stream. Excess insulin increases fat storage in your body.

A surge in your blood glucose often leaves people in a brain fog and some experience mood swings. Your body is stressed with above normal blood glucose levels. It does not like being out of balance and is working hard to drop the blood glucose back to normal, which is when a lot of damage occurs.   

Next, blood glucose plunges below normal levels causing cortisol levels to increase. Cortisol is a stress hormone that counters insulin by encouraging higher blood glucose levels. Over time, cortisol weakens the immune system, weakens memory, and induces inflammation in your body. A drop in blood glucose also causes cravings to increase—typically high-sugar, high-fat cravings, and leaves people feeling fatigued and in a brain fog. As you can tell, your body is stressed with below normal blood glucose levels.

Healthy Blood Sugar Levels = Optimal Health

Research has shown a breakfast rich in protein significantly improves appetite control and reduces unhealthy snacking on high-fat or high-sugar foods in the evening. Here’s an example of a breakfast that will keep your blood sugar within the normal range: eggs with spinach or any other non-starchy vegetables you desire, cheese, and herbal or green tea. Once digested you will slowly absorb about 4½ teaspoons of sugar. This amount of sugar causes a much more normal rise in your blood glucose.

Avoiding the roller coaster in your blood glucose means there is less fat storage taking place because less insulin needs to be released. Less cortisol is running through your body, and therefore you will have less cravings. You’ll feel less moody, have steady energy, and be able to think clearly—bye, bye brain fog.  

Tips for Supporting Healthy Blood Glucose Levels and Reducing Insulin Spikes

1. Reduce or eliminate simple carbohydrates. They are quickly digested into sugars and absorbed into the blood stream. Examples include: refined grains (white flour, white rice, pasta, bread, bagels, instant oatmeal, rolled oats, etc.), whole grain flours, sugars, low-fat dairy, and fruit juice.

2. Choose complex carbohydrates. They are digested and absorbed more slowly due to their fiber and/or fat content. Eating fiber, protein and fats with carbohydrates slows down the conversion to blood glucose. Examples include: non-starchy vegetables, fruits, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

3. Make non-starchy vegetables the bulk of your diet. Dark green leafy lettuce, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and all other unmentioned green vegetables are excellent choices.

4. Include more fat in your diet. I love making fat bombs, and regularly include gheecoconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, MCT oil, fish or cod liver oil, grass-fed butter and avocado oil. I also eat a lot of avocados, guacamole and olives. 

5. Include more protein in your diet -- fish, chicken, meat, dairy. If you eat a vegan diet, here are some great vegan protein options.  

6. Reduce or eliminate your intake of sugar and all foods that contain sugar. Some of the most concentrated sources of sugar are soda, cookies, chocolate bars, donuts, pastries, ice cream, ketchup, and barbeque sauce.

7. Reduce or eliminate your use of sweeteners like molasses, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, pasteurized/heated honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar. Also consider eliminating artificial sweeteners.

8. Limit intake of fruit juices, even freshly squeezed fruit juice. If you want to taste fruit, eat whole fruit, not the juice. The fiber, vitamins, and minerals that come with whole fruit help slow the pace at which the natural sugars from fruit enter your bloodstream.

Bottom Line: If this roller coaster describes you, start tweaking what you eat. You will feel much, much better. You may even lose some weight while you’re at it!

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

Your body prefers to maintain a normal blood glucose (or blood sugar) level, which is a fairly narrow range (approximately 75-100 mg/dl). Unhealthy blood glucose levels, either too high or too low, are strongly correlated with poor health.

From Carbohydrate to Sugar to Glucose

Through the process of digestion, all carbohydrates break down into sugars. These sugars enter the bloodstream and become blood glucose. This isn’t entirely bad since your body, including your brain, needs glucose for fuel and to work properly. The trouble is when too many or the wrong type of carbohydrates are eaten, which causes a spike in blood glucose and therefore a spike in insulin.

Unhealthy Blood Glucose Levels = Poor Health

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When you eat, glucose levels rise, and insulin is released into the bloodstream to remove the glucose. The insulin acts like a key, opening up cells so they can take in the sugar and use it as an energy source. Basically, insulin tells your body what to do with the calories—burn it or store it.

When your body has enough fuel stored to function effectively between meals, insulin’s message to the body is to store excess calories as fat. When insulin is elevated, your body also will not use fat as energy, preventing your body from tapping into its fat stores.

Elevated insulin is also thought to increase C-reactive protein (inflammation), contribute to high blood pressure, encourage the proliferation of cells (cancer), and stimulate brain neurons to produce amyloid proteins and interferes with an enzyme that degrades and clears it (Alzheimer’s disease). This news is certainly bleak and isn’t a state you want your body to chronically be in.

What We Eat Matters!

We all know breakfast is certainly the most important meal of the day. On the other hand, eating the wrong type of breakfast leads to several undesirable results.

Here’s an example of a Standard American breakfast: cold cereal, skim milk, orange juice, and/or coffee. Once digested you will rapidly absorb about 19 teaspoons of sugar! Insane! Your body only needs <1 teaspoon of sugar to keep blood glucose levels normal.

What happens to your blood sugar over the next couple of hours after this standard American, unbalanced breakfast is the undesirable roller coaster effect.

Take a look at what occurs:

First, blood glucose surges above normal levels, which increases the amount of insulin released into your bloodstream. Excess insulin increases fat storage in your body.

A surge in your blood glucose often leaves people in a brain fog and some experience mood swings. Your body is stressed with above-normal blood glucose levels. It does not like being out of balance and is working hard to drop the blood glucose back to normal, which is when a lot of damage occurs.   

Next, blood glucose plunges below normal levels causing cortisol levels to increase. Cortisol is a stress hormone that counters insulin by encouraging higher blood glucose levels. Over time, cortisol weakens the immune system, weakens memory, and induces inflammation in your body. A drop in blood glucose also causes cravings to increase—typically high-sugar, high-fat cravings, and leaves people feeling fatigued and in a brain fog. As you can tell, your body is stressed with below-normal blood glucose levels.

Healthy Blood Sugar Levels = Optimal Health

Research has shown a breakfast rich in protein significantly improves appetite control and reduces unhealthy snacking on high-fat or high-sugar foods in the evening. Here’s an example of a breakfast that will keep your blood sugar within the normal range: eggs with spinach or any other non-starchy vegetables you desire, cheese, and herbal or green tea. Once digested you will slowly absorb about 4½ teaspoons of sugar. This amount of sugar causes a much more normal rise in your blood glucose.

Avoiding the roller coaster in your blood glucose means there is less fat storage taking place because less insulin needs to be released. Less cortisol is running through your body, and therefore you will have fewer cravings. You’ll feel less moody, have steady energy, and be able to think clearly—bye, bye brain fog.  

Tips for Supporting Healthy Blood Glucose Levels and Reducing Insulin Spikes

1. Reduce or eliminate simple carbohydrates. They are quickly digested into sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream. Examples include refined grains (white flour, white rice, pasta, bread, bagels, instant oatmeal, rolled oats, etc.), whole grain flours, sugars, low-fat dairy, and fruit juice.

2. Choose complex carbohydrates. They are digested and absorbed more slowly due to their fiber and/or fat content. Eating fiber, protein, and fats with carbohydrates slows down the conversion to blood glucose. Examples include non-starchy vegetables, fruits, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

3. Make non-starchy vegetables the bulk of your diet. Dark green leafy lettuce, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and all other unmentioned green vegetables are excellent choices.

4. Include more fat in your diet. I love making fat bombs, and regularly include ghee, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, MCT oil, fish or cod liver oil, grass-fed butter, and avocado oil. I also eat a lot of avocados, guacamole, and olives. 

5. Include more protein in your diet -- fish, chicken, meat, dairy. If you eat a vegan diet, here are some great vegan protein options.  

6. Reduce or eliminate your intake of sugar and all foods that contain sugar. Some of the most concentrated sources of sugar are soda, cookies, chocolate bars, donuts, pastries, ice cream, ketchup, and barbeque sauce.

7. Reduce or eliminate your use of sweeteners like molasses, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, pasteurized/heated honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar. Also, consider eliminating artificial sweeteners.

8. Limit intake of fruit juices, even freshly squeezed fruit juice. If you want to taste the fruit, eat the whole fruit, not the juice. The fiber, vitamins, and minerals that come with whole fruit help slow the pace at which the natural sugars from fruit enter your bloodstream.

Bottom Line: If this roller coaster describes you, start tweaking what you eat. You will feel much, much better. You may even lose some weight while you’re at it!

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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