5 Actionable Steps to Balancing Your Blood Sugar Levels Naturally
Do you feel hungry a short time after eating?
Do you get tired and have no energy after a meal?
Do you experience a mid-afternoon energy slump?
Do you have difficulty focusing, get irritable or cranky for no reason?
These are all signs that you may have a blood sugar imbalance.
Have you been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes?
Are you wanting to prevent such a diagnosis in the future?
If so, read on to discover what a blood sugar imbalance looks and feels like, the problems associated with blood sugar imbalances, the importance of maintaining steady blood sugar levels, and practical steps you can begin today, to help control your blood sugar levels naturally.
Do you think you have a blood sugar imbalance? Take this quick quiz to find out…
1. Do you Feel tired, especially after eating? Is this fatigue so bad that you can’t seem to keep your eyes open?
This kind of fatigue after a meal is a hallmark symptom of a blood sugar imbalance.
2. Do you get uncontrollable cravings - especially for sweets? Do these cravings hit right after you eat?
If so, cravings are another sign of poorly regulated blood sugar.
3. Do you ever feel super-charged after you eat? Our food should give us energy, but it shouldn’t give you more than you already have.
That feeling of having excess energy after eating can point to low blood sugar levels before you ate.
4. Do you find you can’t focus on what you are doing? Especially when it involves listening to someone? Do you get irritable, depressed or frustrated for seemingly no reason?
Poor focus or attention can be signs of falling blood sugar.
5. Are you simply not hungry when you wake up? Do you eat dinner late or snack late at night because thats when you are hungry?
Having low to no appetite for breakfast is another symptom of elevated blood sugar.
Let me explain why.
When we eat a meal, our body absorbs the nutrients from the food we eat and sends them out into the bloodstream, usually in the form of glucose - the fuel our cells prefer. Our body also wants to store some of this glucose so it can be used for energy later.
So after we eat, the amount of glucose in our blood starts to rise. Our pancreas springs into action and releases a hormone called insulin to try to lower the amount of sugar in our blood.
This insulin attaches to receptors on each cell, acting like a key. The receptors are the locks. When insulin hooks on to a receptor, it’s like a key entering a lock. The door of the receptor opens and glucose is allowed in to the cell.
Our cells need this glucose to function, so this is a very important piece of the puzzle. But sometimes, the receptors don’t respond properly to insulin or there are simply too many keys and not enough locks. This results in glucose levels building up in the blood.
Insulin Resistance can develop, which may eventually lead to diabetes.
In a Type 2 Diabetic, the receptors don’t work or have become desensitized from being exposed to too much insulin for so long. When this happens, the doors can’t open. The pancreas keeps pumping out insulin in an effort to lower blood sugar levels, but eventually, it gets overworked, can’t keep up, and may stop functioning, leaving us with constantly high blood sugar levels.
In fact, Type 2 Diabetes is not caused by a pancreas malfunction - its’ caused by Insulin Resistance when the cells stop responding to glucose as they should.
Before the development of diabetes or even pre-diabetes, when blood sugar levels are high (which happens after we eat), the pancreas releases glucagon to absorb and excrete excess insulin. Certain foods and lifestyle habits, can create a vicious cycle of very high blood sugar levels followed by very low levels.
These blood sugar highs and lows can create many problems - as I’m sure you all have experienced. Eventually, the pancreas can’t handle all the extra work any more, and gets exhausted and unable to function. When this happens, blood sugar levels remain high, and that’s when the trouble really begins.
Why Should You Care About Blood Sugar?
Many problems become the result of imbalanced blood sugar levels.
First let’s start with sugar itself.
Sugar may seem harmless enough and we may have eaten it our whole lives, but do you know how damaging sugar actually is?
White refined sugar provides no nutritive value. One teaspoon contains 60 calories in carbohydrate form with absolutely no nutrients. These empty calories then displace vital nutrients and have a major impact on energy!
As I wrote about in Confessions of a Sugar Addict, eating high sugar foods is toxic to our bodies and brains. It makes us crave more to the point of addiction. It encourages sleep “Chatter” and depletes vitamins and minerals which cause stress in the body. This leads to inflammation and weak immunity. Sugar also inactivates B vitamins, causing low energy and moodiness. As sugar stops cells from being able to repair themselves, we get sick and catch colds faster.
Eventually, our weakened immune system may lead to inflammation and disease, which creates more stress in our body. In fact, many diseases, including diabetes, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and heart disease can all result from a high sugar diet.
If we consume a lot of sugar all the time, we’ll have constantly high levels of insulin in our blood which can lead to insulin resistance. When this happens, our body loses its ability to respond to signals to release insulin. This means sugar cannot get to the cells to be converted to energy, so it gets stored in your tissues as fat instead. And no one wants that!
Now we know what sugar itself can do to the body. Remember those highs and lows we get when we eat sugar?
The levels of glucose in our blood increases, then the pancreas has to work hard to secrete insulin. Once there is too much insulin, it starts producing glucagon instead to lower insulin levels. And if high sugar foods or heavy carbs are eaten alone, blood sugar levels rise quickly then drop just as fast. The result? You feel tired, dizzy, shaky, irritable, or weak.
These sugar highs and lows can affect any part of our body from skin, bones, and muscles, to heart function, and cause hormonal imbalances, inflammation, and digestive problems.
Our nervous system is affected by imbalanced blood sugar levels, too. Diabetes can lead to numbness in hands and feet, affect muscle movement, vision, and hearing, and cause symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, and incontinence. We may also experience extreme fatigue, feeling worn down, and have no energy.
Chronic blood sugar imbalances means chronic high cortisol levels which stress the body further and cause more inflammation.
In fact, I’m not only talking about white sugar creating all these problems - any food that causes blood glucose to rise is not conducive to good health.
We’re probably not eating handfuls of white refined sugar, but our body breaks down all starches and carbohydrates like bread, cereals, whole grains, rice, and donuts alike into simple sugars.
Sugar is still sugar - wether it comes from a banana, a can of soda or a piece of bread. Our bodies treat it the same. Each one of these is converted to simple sugars, raises blood sugar levels and calls upon the release of insulin to try to bring blood sugar levels back down to a manageable state.
Fructose and high fructose corn syrup are probably the most destructive sugars. When eaten in large amounts as part of a high-calorie diet, they cause insulin resistance and weight gain while stimulating appetite. Plus, usually, when we eat a high-calorie sugar-laden diet, processed, packaged, and fast foods are a big part of that.
Unfortunately, most packaged food is devoid of nutrition, even those often labelled “healthy”. So what happens when we eat them? Our body doesn’t receive the nutrients it needs, so it demands more food to try to fill the void. This encourages overconsumption and leads to even higher blood sugar levels.
Have you ever noticed what happens when you eat a pizza?
First, it’s so delicious we can’t stop eating it, so we typically end up eating too much and getting very full - an uncomfortable bloated kind of full. Then an hour or two later, we crave more. In fact, we usually crave something fatty or sweet.
This happens because the pizza we ate (a lethal combination of carbs and sugars) was devoid of nutrients. Our cells are still hungry, so our body tells us to feed it again - dessert time!
This is the same for all fast food. The combination of carbs, sugar, and fat - dough, bread or a bun with processed toppings loaded with sugar, creates cravings, bad habits, and blood sugar imbalances. These habits are destructive, addictive and very hard to break - plus they cause such extreme highs and lows in blood glucose levels, that we somethings feel like we’re going crazy.
It has also recently been shown how important it is to have optimum insulin sensitivity in the brain, too. If this sensitivity is lowered, we may gain weight and it might be harder to control appetite and cravings. Plus brain functions suffer - cognitive processes are damaged and memory becomes impaired. We get forgetful.
In fact, there are many indications that dementia and Alzheimers may be caused by impaired insulin sensitivity to the brain which is also tied to the types of fats we eat. So we need to keep an eye on how much saturated fat (from animals) we consume - grass-fed lean meat and wild game are the best choices from animals. Other good fat options include coconut oil, MCT oil, and olive oil.
Now that we’ve discussed many of the harmful effects of sugar and blood sugar imbalances, lets get down to what we can do about it!
5 Actionable Steps you can Start Today to Manage Blood Sugar Levels Naturally
1. Don’t let blood sugar levels get too high or too low
Maintaining steady blood sugar levels will increase the sensitivity of tissues to insulin, prevent too much insulin from being released, and improve the uptake of glucose. How?
Reduce simple sugars: Simple sugars include heavy starches like white bread, potatoes, pasta, and rice, refined foods like baked goods, donuts, bagels, cookies, cakes, chips, and fast food. Fruit is the exception. The natural sugars in fruit are paired with nutrients that help its absorption, so natural fructose does not create the same spike in blood sugar. Most diabetics who cannot handle eating table sugar can handle a moderate amount of fresh fruit.
In fact, regular fruit consumption can also help control sugar cravings and promote weight loss, so it makes an excellent between-meal snack to help stabilize blood sugar and has the added bonus of containing many nutrients.
Increase fibre: Fibre, especially water-soluble fibre, helps blood sugar stability. It can slow digestion and absorption of carbs to prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Most diabetics do not eat enough fibre.
The good news? Most fibre found in the walls of plant cells are water soluble, especially legumes (beans), oat bran, nuts, seeds, psyllium seed husks, pears, apples, most vegetables. Try to consume about 50 grams of dietary fibre per day. This may sound like a lot, but one large pear (with skin) has about 6 grams, and an apple has 3.5 grams.
Other good sources of water-soluble fibre include broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, spinach, and parsnips. Each of these vegetables, cooked, have more than 4 grams of fibre per cup, while 1/2 cup of baked beans have almost 9 grams!
Eat more complex carbohydrates: Complex carbs are starches made of many simple sugars joined together. The body breaks them down into their individual sugars which leads to steady blood sugar levels.
Vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and sweet potatoes are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. Instead of spiking blood sugar levels, they contribute to a gradual release of glucose into the body for sustained energy and even moods.
Eat foods low on the glycemic index: If you have blood sugar problems, choosing complex carbohydrate foods that have low GI values is important. They don’t contain many sugars so they don’t spike blood sugar levels. These foods include pretty much anything green - lettuce, kale, broccoli, spinach, celery, and cucumber plus cauliflower, melons, and berries.
Foods high on the glycemic index contain a lot of sugars or break down into a lot of sugar - like white bread, baking potatoes, white rice, high-sugar content fruits like bananas, cherries, raisins, and watermelon, and processed or fast food. Of course sugar falls into this camp, too!
Eat 3-4 meals per day at regular intervals: Doing this helps keep blood sugar levels steady, doesn’t let your body become too hungry, and helps maintain your mood. Try to avoid snacking between meals - if you eat 4 balanced meals a day that each contain protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre, you should not be hungry or need to snack.
2. Support your gut microbiome
Take a probiotic and consume fermented foods and beverages. Fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, and probiotic pickles can improve your gut microbiome and promote a healthy intestinal flora. Beverages like kombucha and kefir do the same.
3. Drink more water
Increasing water intake will help with blood sugar control. It delays stomach emptying and promotes a better blood sugar response. This also applies to the water-content of the foods you eat. Fruits and vegetables with higher water content can help lower blood sugar levels.
An optimal amount of water can also help with constipation - a problem commonly associated with diabetes.
4. Learn to read food labels
Avoid refined foods. Refined foods and sugars are stripped of nutrients and vitamins. They raise blood sugar levels quickly and create a strain in your body that can be harmful for blood sugar control, especially if you are diabetic or hypoglycemic. Sucrose, glucose, lactose, fructose, corn syrup, and white grape juice concentrate are all sources of extra added sugar and should be limited, if not avoided altogether.
Don’t just grab something that you think is healthy - read the ingredients and learn to spot what names sugar is disguised as. Also be aware that sugar is used in most prepared and packaged foods - even the ones that appear healthy.
Bottom line? If a food does not need a label, like fruits and vegetables, then you know it’s safe. You can trust it’s in its natural whole state and contains vital nutrients.
5. Get up and move!
A mix of activities like jogging, biking, swimming, power walking, and weight training are excellent for good insulin sensitivity. Exercise not only softens blood sugar spikes, but automatically lowers insulin levels.
If you can’t make it to a gym, no problem - simply get up and make a point of moving!
Functional Foods and Nutrients that Help with Blood Sugar Balance
In addition to the actionable steps listed above, there are many functional foods that can support steady blood sugar levels and should be included in your life - daily, when possible.
Onions and garlic - contain compounds that can hinder heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Bitter melon - can help repair damaged pancreatic cells, increase insulin levels and sensitivity, and improve triglyceride levels.
Blueberries - can improve insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing insulin resistance.
Cinnamon - can help your Insulin response by supporting Insulin activity and boosting cell receptor activity.
Hibiscus - can help with high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and liver disorders.
Coconut oil - plays an essential role in regulating blood sugar. It slows the digestive process to ensure a steady, even stream of energy from your food by lowering the overall glycemic index of your meal. When you include coconut oil in a meal with carbohydrates, the carbs are broken down into glucose more slowly to keep blood sugar levels steady after your meal.
Chromium - is essential for blood sugar control. Its main job is to bind insulin to its receptors. In food, chromium can be found in brewer’s yeast, eggs, red meat, liver, chicken, oysters, spinach, bananas, green peppers, wheat germ and apples.
Omega 3 Fish Oil - helps balance blood sugar levels. Fatty fish, with its high EPA and DHA, is one of the best sources of protein to keep the body’s blood sugar in check. Other good sources of omega-3 are chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp.
In general, by eating real whole foods, restricting simple sugars, and eating a high complex-carbohydrate, high-fibre diet, you can:
Reduce abnormally high blood sugar levels after meals
Increase sensitivity to insulin
Reduce LDL and increase HDL cholesterol to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis
Reduce triglycerides and lose weight
Plus, by eating more whole foods, you will start to replenish lost nutrients so your cells can repair themselves and be better able to function for years ahead!
For a type 2 diabetic, the right nutrition to increase insulin secretion and decrease insulin resistance, weight loss, and activity are the most important factors to improving health. To prevent complications from the disease, your ability to control blood sugar levels is key!
If you are a diabetic, have just been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, want to prevent diabetes altogether, or would like to learn what the best diet is for you, please contact me.
I can help you with meal planning or I can create an individualized program for you that includes the right functional foods to best help your condition. I will help you discover the missing piece of the puzzle so you can reach your goals and become whole food optimized!
I’d love to hear what you think. Please comment below.