There are a lot of benefits to controlling the body’s blood sugar levels. Here are just a handful of ways the ups and downs of blood sugar impact your health...
1. Blood sugar lows can cause dizziness, irritability, fatigue and headaches.
2. A drop in blood sugar often leads to overeating.
3. Spikes in your blood sugar result in an insulin surge, and insulin can cause inflammation and also promotes fat storage.
4. Both a spike or a drop in blood sugar impacts the brain and can cause brain fog and an inability to focus and concentrate.
5. A spike in blood sugar causes inflammation – the harmful kind.
As you can tell, those sugar highs and lows are not ideal for your health and don’t feel very good!
There are many factors involved in keeping blood sugar levels stable — protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and the hunger and satiety hormones (ghrelin and leptin) all play a role. Ghrelin is to blame when you skip meals, become ravenous, and are much more likely to overeat. In fact, ghrelin is so powerful that when it's really high in your stomach and bloodstream, it can actually make food taste up to 20% better.
Here are nine nutrition strategies to support healthy blood sugar levels.
Meal Timing Is Crucial
It's important to eat often enough to stabilize your blood sugar and your hunger hormones (leptin and ghrelin). How often you eat depends on the person – I typically say don't wait more than 4 or 5 hours between meals. Why? When you skip meals or wait too long between meals, your blood glucose levels drop. This can cause a headache, mood changes, light headedness, or poor concentration, and to deal with the low blood glucose levels your system starts pumping glucose into your bloodstream. As a result, this forces your pancreas to release more insulin. A dangerous cycle has begun at that point.
To stop the cycle, don't ignore your hunger cues, eat when you're hungry, eat balanced meals containing protein, fat, and fiber if it has been more than 4-5 hours since your last meal.
Eating often enough also prevents the massive fat storage that comes from feast-or-famine eating. When your blood sugar remains steady throughout the day, and the body trusts there's more where that came from, it happily burns your meal for energy, confident you'll feed it more later.
Add An Appetizer
Eating a side salad or a broth-based soup with veggies, beans, or lentils, before a meal is an excellent strategy for lowering your hunger hormone, ghrelin. Once food enters your stomach, ghrelin levels immediately start to decrease, and you become less hungry.
This impacts your blood sugar levels indirectly because if you aren’t as hungry when your entrée arrives, you’ll eat less (considering you know how to listen to your body's internal hunger and fullness cues). Eating a smaller entrée portion means you’ll more than likely eat less carbohydrates, which increases blood sugar levels.
I’m a fan of avocado, nuts and seeds, nut butter, olives, coconut, and all their oils. Macadamia nut oil, ghee, coconut ghee, MCT oil, and grass-fed butter are also great options. Fat has zero effect on your blood sugar, helps fill you up, and provides a long-lasting sense of satisfaction after eating. Every morning upon waking, I immediately take one tablespoon of liquid fish oil, straight off the spoon, to maintain my blood sugar level. Plus, I get a daily boost of essential fatty acids.
If you have a habit of drinking sugary soda or juice, I highly recommend weaning yourself off those drinks, even if they're "sugar free."
Try adding sliced lemon, lime, cucumber, strawberry, mint, ginger, orange, lavender, grapefruit, rosemary, blueberries, or a combination of any, to your water. It will take your water to another level without adding many carbohydrates or calories, so it has minimal effect on your blood sugar. I love all these infused water recipe ideas.
Brightly Colored Vegetables
Vegetables are a nutrient rich choice. I recommend filling half your plate, at both lunch and dinner, full of vegetables. Their high water and fiber content can slow the absorption of sugar. They’re also low in carbohydrates, making them an ideal choice for controlling blood sugar levels. One caveat, please buy organic when possible. Personally, I like to refer to the EWG's Dirty Dozen List as a reference when it comes to deciding which vegetables and fruits to buy organic or conventional. I only buy organic for all produce on the Dirty Dozen list.
Salmon, Lean Meats, and Eggs
Meat and fish are an excellent source of protein. By including protein at meals, you may begin to notice an improved level of satisfaction after eating, which directly relates to the protein content. Protein is also a major factor in minimizing blood sugar spikes at a meal.
If you eat a low protein and high carbohydrate meal, the carbohydrates spike your blood sugar and then an hour or two later, your blood sugar drops which makes you feel hungry again.
Breakfast is an especially important meal for blood sugar control. If you can prevent spikes in the morning, this impact blood sugar the rest of the day. Also, people who eat in the morning tend to have less cravings at night.
Meat is also a source of chromium, a mineral that enables insulin to function properly and helps the body metabolize carbohydrates.
Cinnamon not only makes so many things taste better, it supports glucose uptake by the cells and helps support blood sugar levels within normal ranges. I like to add cinnamon to fresh fruit, smoothies, tea, coffee, plain Greek yogurt, and homemade waffle and pancake mix.
Did you know your favorite nuts are naturally low in carbohydrates and are an excellent source of protein, healthy fat, and fiber? Yep, and they have little to no effect on your blood sugar levels because of their low carb content. They make an excellent snack between meals because they “tame your hunger” and keep your energy stable. If you choose a trail mix, stick to an all-nut mix and inspect the ingredients to ensure there isn't any added sugar. My got-to's are almonds and pecans.
It’s possible to minimize elevated blood sugar and insulin spikes when your diet is built around healthy proteins, fats, and high-fiber foods.
Foods I recommend focusing on include lots and lots of brightly colored vegetables, some fruit, healthy fats such as avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter, eggs, olive and coconut oils, and organic dairy and meat from pasture-raised animals.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods