Blood Sugar Basics: Strategies for Health
Keeping your blood sugar balanced can improve every facet of your life. Balanced blood sugar keeps our energy, mood, hunger, and sleep in a good rhythm.
What does it Mean to be Blood Sugar Balanced?
If you have ever experienced that mid-morning or afternoon energy crash, or if you are prone to feeling ‘hangry,’ you’ve experienced the effects of imbalanced blood sugar.
Some of the other symptoms of blood sugar spikes and crashes can include brain fog, feeling tired after meals, fatigue, anxiety, depression, food cravings, thirst, frequent urination, itchy skin, panic or anger if unable to eat, and disturbed sleep.
Most often we reach for quick snacks, or sugary caffeinated beverages to get us through these crashes or swings. But what our body is really craving is stabilization with healthy fats, proteins, and vegetables. In this article we’ll look at foods that can exacerbate blood sugar swings and offer some great food and lifestyle choices that help improve blood sugar stabilization.
It’s imperative to pay attention to the foods we eat – and how they affect us– in order to get smart about blood sugar. Below are a list of suggestions of foods to add and foods to avoid in order to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day.
4 Tips Foods to Improve Blood Sugar Balance
Cook with Healthy Fats: Fats slow the absorption of sugar into our bloodstream, which helps mitigate a massive blood sugar spike. Healthy fats include grass-fed organic ghee (clarified butter) or butter, pastured lard and tallow, organic olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. These can be used for cooking (except for olive oil, which should be used for garnish only; likewise, use only refined coconut oil for cooking). The quality of these fats matters.
Eat Healthy Fats at Each Meal: Natural sources of whole food fats include avocados, pastured organic eggs (especially the yolks), olives, wild caught fish, organic raw nut butters, nuts, seeds, and full fat dairy and yogurt (if dairy is tolerated).
Eat more Vegetables: The fiber in fresh veggies also helps to balance blood sugar by slowing the entrance of sugar into our bloodstream. At each meal, your plate should ideally be mostly vegetables. A good rule of thumb is balance your plate visually with 80% veggies, 10% meat or protein, 10% fruit and unlimited healthy fats. Use generous amounts of herbs, spices and healthy oils to create flavorful veggie-focused dishes. If carbohydrates exacerbate any of your symptoms, it can be helpful to focus on non-starchy vegetables like lettuce, asparagus, cucumber, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, sprouts, Brussels sprouts, celery, leeks, radishes, mushrooms, onions, and/or artichokes. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, parsnips, and pumpkin are delicious vitamin- and fiber-rich veggies, but you may want to consume in moderation if you are sensitive to blood sugar spikes. Avoid white potatoes as they have close to no nutritional value and spike blood sugar. If you know you are sensitive, keep in mind over time you may be able to tolerate carbohydrates more easily once your body has stabilized.
Eat Fat with Fruits with Fats (and avoid Juice): Fruit is an excellent dessert, and can be used as a garnish to your vegetable-focused meals (like cranberries in a salad). But because of the naturally high sugar content, fruit is best enjoyed with fat to ease the impact of sugar on your body. Berries are lowest in sugar and highest in antioxidants, and fruits like acai, avocado, and olives have naturally high fat content, so are excellent to include. It’s recommended to avoid fruit juice (fresh or packaged) because when fruit is stripped of all fiber and made into juice it has as much sugar as soda and can have negative effects on your blood sugar and mood for hours after consumption.
3 Lifestyle Tips to Improve Blood Sugar Balance
Hydrate Properly: Dehydration can lead to a higher concentration of sugar in the blood. This can trigger copious urination, which causes even more dehydration – a vicious cycle.
Eat within a 10 - 12 hour window: Many people begin eating early in the day and have their last meal or snack late into the evening. Limiting your intake of food and non-water beverages to a 10 - 12 hour window has been shown to help balance blood sugar and even reverse pre-diabetes. For example, if you eat breakfast at 8am, then having your last meal well before 8pm would satisfy this concept. This approach takes a few weeks to a few months to start seeing a shift in blood sugar readings, but may be worth the effort.
Exercise: Even moderate exercise can help modulate blood sugar response. Movement is not just important for how you look on the outside, it’s also important for maintaining homeostasis in the body. Choose activities that you love the most and go for it.
Now that you have some ideas of how to keep your blood sugar stable and avoid spikes and crashes throughout the day, we’ll look at some of the foods to avoid that tend to really push people into an unhealthy zone.
4 Foods to Avoid to Balance Blood Sugar and Limit Inflammation
Avoid Inflammatory Fats: Despite what decades of marketing has told us, polyunsaturated vegetable oils (‘vegetable oil,’ canola, safflower, peanut, sunflower, soybean, corn, ‘light olive oil’) and margarine are chemically-extracted, refined, deodorized and often genetically modified plant oils that do nothing to improve our health. These fats go rancid easily and are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can lead to inflammation. These are always found in processed foods, are often used in restaurants, and are usually used for fried foods too. They are best avoided.
Avoid or Limit Grains: Grains like wheat, corn, oats, quinoa, rice, barley, and pasta are simple carbohydrates that convert to sugar in the body, so it makes sense that to stabilize blood sugar, you’ll want to severely limit or remove grains from your diet. This is especially helpful while learning how sensitive you are to blood sugar swings. If you do want to include grains, choose organic and sprouted whole grains.
Eat Legumes in Moderation: Beans are high in starch, but are also high in protein and fiber so can be included in the diet in small amounts without much detriment, as long as blood sugar issues are not too pronounced. Soak and sprout your beans before cooking.
Avoid Sugars: It makes sense that you’d want to avoid additive or extra sugars in your diet to keep blood sugar balanced. Not only is sugar found as individual ingredients (like maple syrup, honey, raw sugar, agave syrup, fructose, and more), sugars and sweeteners are used as ingredients in foods you might not expect: pasta sauce, salad dressings, bread, and many other processed foods. There are many simple paleo or ketogenic recipes online for making your own dressings, sauces, and nut milks.
We are all completely unique. Balancing your blood sugar is a personal process of observing and adjusting foods and lifestyle as you go. It may take a few days or weeks to figure out what keeps you grounded and what triggers symptoms such as brain fog or anxiety.
One way to check in with your body and blood sugar is to keep a journal and track when you are feeling out of your body and note what you ate earlier in the day. This is a good indication of foods to avoid. Over time you will become an expert at what foods work with your biology and what foods no longer serve you.