Ever felt shaky, ‘hangry’ or irritable a few hours after eating?
If so, you’re probably well accustomed to how low blood sugar levels feel and it’s not pleasant.
Although you might initially associate balancing blood sugar levels with people with Diabetes, making some simple changes to your diet to maintain more balanced blood sugar levels can be really beneficial to everyone!
What do we mean by ‘balancing blood sugar levels’?
The Glycemic index (GI) of a food is the measurement of the rate that that food creates blood glucose. Glycemic load (GL) reflects both the GI of a food along with the total amount of carbohydrates present.
When we eat foods with a high GI or a high GL we cause an increase in our blood sugar levels. This increase in blood sugar levels is often seen when we eat foods like refined carbs (hello bread, biscuits and cake!) but also when we drink things like sweetened drinks. When our blood sugar levels spike, we naturally release insulin to remove this sugar from our blood stream (to reduce the inflammation this causes) which moves the sugar into cells to be either used or stored.
Although really helpful, after a ‘spike’ of blood sugar, the insulin that’s released to remove the sugar can sometimes do such a great job, we can be left with slightly low levels of blood sugar. It’s in these moments where we can feel ‘hangry’, irritable and more likely to opt for another quick sugar fix to get our energy and blood sugar levels back up.
If this rollercoaster of unbalanced blood sugar levels becomes a regular occurrence, it can in the long- term, lead to issues like Type 2 Diabetes when the body becomes resistant to insulin. This means blood sugar levels can remain high and damaging to the body.
Thankfully, there are plenty of easy shifts we can make to our diets and lifestyles to support a healthy blood glucose control and avoid the issues related with both high and low blood sugar levels.
Tips for your food intake:
- Look to increase protein intake
Protein is a fantastic way to balance blood sugar and support good glucose control. This is because protein doesn’t have an impact on blood sugar levels and can help to reduce the impact of higher GI foods it is paired with. It’s therefore a great idea to try to introduce a good protein rich breakfast and high protein snacks throughout the day. This could include:
- Greek yogurt
- Increase fibre in the diet
Fibre has the ability to slow down the absorption of sugar meaning we are less likely to have the high blood sugar ‘peaks’ that often lead to us coming crashing back down.
To increase your fibre, you could look to:
- Aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day (ideally more!)
- When eating carbohydrates look for the higher fibre alternatives like brown rice and wholemeal bread
- Add things like linseeds and chia seeds to smoothies and porridge
- Make some wise sugar swaps
Making simple swaps each day to reduce the amount of sugar (and high GI foods) in your diet can be a great way of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Some simple swaps you can make are:
- Swapping your higher sugar cereal for a vegetable omelette
- Switching your midday white bread sandwich to a protein rich salad
- Try herbal teas instead of sweetened coffee (or even just use less syrup/ sugar!)
- Snack on things like hummous and carrots or nuts when you are hungry rather than being pulled in by the lure of the office biscuit tin!
The impact of our lifestyle
Keep an eye on your stress levels
It’s not just food that impacts our blood sugar levels; stress can have a big impact too! When we are stressed, the adrenal glands trigger the release of glucose stored in various organs, which often leads to elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream.
Although an increase in blood sugar levels is a normal adaptive process within the body, it adds another reason (on the long list of things!) as to way trying to reduce stress levels can be so important on overall health.
Is sleep deprivation impacting your blood sugar?
Changes to blood sugar levels is totally normal during sleep, in fact, blood sugar levels tend to surge in the early hours of the morning (between 4 to 8 a.m. for someone with a normal sleep schedule) which is often termed as ‘the dawn effect’.
Although people without diabetes will release insulin to counteract this change in blood sugar levels, it is believed that those who sleep less per night (less than 6.5 hours per night) seem to need more insulin to be produced by the body in order to keep blood sugar levels balanced. Simply put, this means that people who are sleep deprived have to work harder to maintain healthy levels of blood sugars which in the long run, could put them at more of a risk of developing insulin sensitivity and therefore diabetes. (1)
Although simple modifications to diet and lifestyle are the best option to support your blood sugar levels, there are some supplements that have also been found to be helpful
- Chromium is an essential mineral that is thought to be necessary for maintaining normal blood glucose balance. Although no improvements were seen in people with ‘normal’ glucose metabolism, chromium supplementation has been found to significantly improve blood sugar levels amongst patients with diabetes. (2)
- Cinnamon is also thought to be helpful for decreasing glucose levels in the blood and could be a great addition through supplements (or cooking!) for those who want extra support for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. (3)
1) Knutson K. L. (2007). Impact of sleep and sleep loss on glucose homeostasis and appetite regulation. Sleep medicine clinics, 2(2), 187–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2007.03.004
2) Balk, E et l., (2007). Effect of Chromium Supplementation on Glucose Metabolism and Lipids: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Diabetes Care, 30(8), pp.2154-2163.edicine clinics, 2(2), 187–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2007.03.004
3) Qin B, Panickar KS, Anderson RA (2010). Cinnamon: potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. J Diabetes Sci Technol 1;4(3):685-93. doi: 10.1177/193229681000400324. PMID: 20513336; PMCID: PMC2901047.
Laura is a registered Nutritional Therapist (mBANT, CNHC, Msc). Laura focuses on helping clients with the link between food and your mood. Her experience is also in dealing with gut health issues and creating 1-2-1 nutrition programmes. thrive-magazine.co.uk/thrive-experts/