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FREE ACTION GUIDE: 9 Micro-Habits that Prevent Burnout

FREE ACTION GUIDE:
9 Micro-Habits that Prevent Burnout

Blood Sugar Balance: The Key to Wellness?

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
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As a functional nutritionist and wellness coach, I’m asked A LOT, “What’s the one thing that I can do to be healthier?”

While there’s no one answer for everyone, which is why you’ll often hear me respond with “It Depends” – there is certainly a strategy that we can ALL do that will lead us towards greater health. And that one thing is maintaining a balanced blood sugar. And this applies to EVERYONE, not just those that have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

We all need to be mindful of how the foods we eat are affecting our blood sugar levels.

5 SIGNS THAT YOU NEED TO BALANCE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR

While evidence is showing that everyone should be eating with blood sugar balance in mind, there are certainly signs that your body will give if you need more work in this area:

  1. Your Fasting Blood Sugar (Glucose) is greater than 88 mg/dL;
  2. You have sugar cravings or feel controlled by sugar;
  3. You’re never satiated or feel hungry after eating;
  4. You’re fatigued after a meal or have that “crash”;
  5. Frequent urination and constant thirst.

1. Your Fasting Blood Sugar (Glucose) is greater than 88 mg/dL

As a functional nutritionist and wellness coach, I look at all blood work (your lab results) using the functional lens. In short, I’m looking at biomarker results like cholesterol, glucose (aka blood sugar), and vitamin D from the viewpoint of whether they’re in an optimal or suboptimal range. In contrast, most doctors view these same results looking for disease-states; for diagnosing whether or not you have a certain condition or disease.

I share this brief explanation on functional ranges versus your doctor’s ranges (the latter referred to as “pathological ranges”) to illustrate why you may have been told you have “normal” lab results, but a functional practitioner like myself may say they’re suboptimal. This is because the functional ranges are generally much tighter than the pathological ranges as we’re looking from the viewpoint of prevention, not diagnosis.

One of the first signs that you need to work on balancing your blood sugar is when your Glucose is greater than 88 mg/dL. Your fasting blood sugar, more simply named Glucose on your lab test results, has a pathological range stating anything less than 100 mg/dL is “normal,” and anything over 100 is then trending towards pre-diabetes and even type 2 diabetes.

So if you’re under 100 mg/dL, then you’ve probably never even considered the need of balancing your blood sugar… BUT, as I said at the beginning of this article, one of the key things we can all do for our health and wellness is balancing our blood sugar, especially is you’re currently over the functional range of 88 mg/dL.

P.s. If you’re not sure what your fasting blood glucose is, then it’s probably time to schedule your annual physical with your doctor, or at the very least, get your blood tested for general wellness awareness.

2. Sugar Cravings: You have sugar cravings or feel controlled by sugar.

Yes, sugar cravings and almost all food cravings are a sign that your blood sugar is out of balance. If sugar cravings are something you feel plagued with or want to stop of the cycle with, then definitely continue reading how to get your blood sugar in check.

3. Never Satisfied: You’re never satiated or feel hungry after eating.

If you constantly feel hungry, especially after just eating, or just never feel satisfied with your meals, then this is a sign that you’re not eating a balanced plate. A meal that is balanced and that keeps your blood sugar in check consists of three things: protein, fiber, and healthy fat. In my tips for keeping blood sugar balanced, I share how you can get this balance on your plate.

4. Food Coma: You’re fatigued after a meal or have that “crash” in the afternoon.

Just know that feeling tired after eating or having that afternoon energy crash is not how our bodies were designed to respond after eating. While the afternoon energy slump has been accepted as a “norm,” this and being fatigued after a meal are common signs that your blood sugar is out of whack.

If this is you, in my tips for balancing blood sugar below, pay special attention to the types of foods that convert to sugar in our body as well as eating a balanced plate of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

5. “Gotta Go, Gotta Go Right Now”: Frequent urination and constant thirst.

If you’re constantly thirsty and find yourself frequently needing to urinate, this *could* be a sign of something greater going on, especially if coupled with a fasting blood glucose over 100 mg/dL. While the tips below will help you balance your blood sugar, you should also seek medical advice to see if something else is going on.

Those are 5 signs that your blood sugar is out of balance. There are certainly more than 5 ways that our body tells us it needs this balance; however, this is a pretty common list that we see at One Degree Health.

We all need to be eating for our blood sugar balance.

The good news is that improved blood sugar balance can be achieved with proper nutrition and lifestyle! What you eat, how you eat it, how much exercise and sleep you get, and how you handle stress are all factors that you can improve which in turn improve your blood sugar balance.

So what’s next? Let’s learn how you can get your blood sugar in check. And again, this is good information for anyone who wants to be their healthiest self.

8 WAYS TO BALANCE BLOOD SUGAR

Here are eight ways using diet and lifestyle upgrades to balance your blood sugar .

1. Stop eating and drinking things that are mostly sugar.

First things first: To reduce the sugar in your blood, THE first place to start is to reduce (and soon remove) sugary foods and drinks from your diet. I’m talking sweetened beverages and foods with “added sugars,” e.g. soda, juice, energy drinks, candy, etc.

Many desserts, breakfast foods, and even seemingly-healthy choices like some granola bars often have a ton of sugar.

Read the label! You’ll be amazed at how marketers will fool you into thinking something is “healthy” when really it’s a healthy fake. So before you buy, turn the product over and read the ingredients – specifically looking at the amount of added sugar. Ideally, “Added Sugar” will be 0g.

Significantly reducing these foods and drinks will certainly help you improve your blood sugar levels. That’s why it’s my number one recommendation for balancing your blood sugar.

2. Don’t eat processed carbohydrates.

Think pasta, bread, bagels, beer. While these foods don’t look like sugar to you, they do to your body.

Your body digests these processed carbs by breaking them down into sugar. It’s these not-so-obvious sources of sugar that can have the greatest detrimental impact by spiking your blood sugar.

Start by taking inventory of where and when you’re eating processed carbohydrates and start making a plan for how you will swap them out for lower carb options – or better yet, ditch the processed foods altogether.

3. Choose “low glycemic” foods.

If you’ve already cut the sugary drinks and processed foods out of your diet, the next step to balancing your blood sugar is to reduce the “high glycemic” foods in your diet.

So, what’s a “high glycemic” food?

Researchers have measured how fast and how high blood sugar increases with different foods. In short, foods that are “high glycemic” are foods that quickly raise blood sugar and usually to a high level, while “low glycemic” foods raise blood at a much slower controlled rate.

This “glycemic effect” is the result of the components in the food itself. Things like the amount of carbohydrate, the type of carbohydrate (i.e. sugar vs starch), and what other nutrients are in the food (i.e. protein, fiber, etc.) as well.

High glycemic foods (i.e. ones to avoid) include sugary foods and processed foods like pasta and bread (which I spoke about in the two points above), as well as starchy foods like rice and potatoes. Low glycemic foods will be lower in starch and are generally higher in fiber, fat, and protein. Examples of lower glycemic foods are green vegetables, berries, seafood, eggs, legumes, sweet potatoes, quinoa.

The fiber, fat and protein in a food slows down the digestion and absorption of the carbohydrates, so the blood sugar rise slows down too. This results in a lower “glycemic effect.”

HEALTHY TIP: While it’s best to limit the amount of high glycemic foods in your diet, eating a low glycemic food along with a high glycemic food will help to slow down the blood sugar rise from the higher glycemic food. It’s not just the single food that matters, but the rest of the meal also affects your blood sugar.

Looking for a recipe to get you started? Check out our delicious Veggie ‘Throw-together’ Salad recipe.

Which leads us to…

4. Eat more fiber.

When most people hear “eat more fiber” they probably picture trips to the bathroom and Metamucil commercials. Or is that just me?

What most people don’t know is that fiber is key to slowing the absorption of sugars in our diet and helps move it through our system.

The minimum recommended daily intake of fiber for adults is 21 g – 38 g per day, but most of us are eating nowhere near that amount each day.

Did you know: If we were to eat just the recommended daily minimum of fiber every day, experts say we would lose 9 additional pounds a year simply by implementing this one daily micro-habit.

Some of the highest-fiber foods include your green vegetables, flaxseeds, & legumes.

Yet another reason why Eating Your Greens is one of the top daily habits that I recommend.

5. Eat your protein and fibrous vegetables first.

Since blood sugar is affected by the amount of carbohydrates you eat, studies have also looked at the order in which you eat different foods.

A few small studies looked at food order with adults. All participants had the same meal, but some were asked to eat their protein and fibrous (i.e. non-starchy) vegetables first; while others ate their carbohydrates first (I’m looking at you, bread basket!). The researchers found that those who ate the protein and vegetables first had better blood sugar control than those who ate the processed carbs first.

It’s thought that when we eat carbohydrates first, we start digesting them right away. But, if we eat them after our protein and fibrous vegetables, they have a chance to mix in with the rest of the food in your stomach. This can slow down their absorption, which slows down how fast and high our blood sugar gets after we eat.

The effects of changing food order hasn’t been tested in many big studies, but it seems to be a simple and safe habit to get into to help our bodies better regulate blood sugar levels.

Try to eat your protein and fibrous vegetables first – like a big salad, and then any starches and processed carbs last.

6. Satisfy your sweet tooth with berries.

Need to satisfy that sugar craving? Turn to Mother Nature’s candy of berries. Unless your doctor or health practitioner has said otherwise, or you have an intolerance to them, fruit and the fruit sugar “fructose” are generally okay to eat as fructose has a lower glycemic index.

In general, a diet high in vegetables and fruits is great for your health, as they contain phytochemicals (phyto=plant), vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

However, the key to eating fruits is that they need to be whole, not processed or juiced. That’s because the whole fruit contains that fiber we just talked about that is so important to blood sugar balance. When you juice your fruits, you’re extracting the fiber. And without the fiber, fruits because a sugar load in our bodies that will cause our blood sugar to spike. This is why we’re not advocates for juicing fruits nor drinking sugar-laden juices like orange juice or apple juice.

Berries (especially dark berries like blueberries and black berries) are particularly good choices for a whole fruit, as they’re low glycemic and contain a lot of fiber. Not to mention that they’re delicious!

The dark berries contain pigments known as “anthocyanins.” These pigments have lots of health benefits including helping sugar metabolism in people with insulin resistance. Their antioxidant effects have been linked to reduced DNA damage.

You can get enough anthocyanins from a regular serving of dark berries, so give them a try in your next smoothie or when craving something sweet.

7. Get quality sleep.

Looking beyond our plates, another key area I ask my clients to work on for improving their overall health is with their sleep quality. And the reason for this isn’t just to create a routine or for stress management, but for balancing their blood sugar.

Our bodies are wired to work along the sun’s schedule. The objective is to wake up when the sun comes up, and get tired when it goes down. Not enough sleep can affect many of our body’s systems, including negatively affecting our blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. It can also increase appetite and promote weight gain.

Even one or two nights of poor sleep can affect our blood sugar levels.

Regularly getting enough good quality sleep is a great step toward helping our bodies manage blood sugar.

8. Exercise.

Your muscle cells absorb and burn more sugar from the blood. This goes for both medium- and high-intensity exercise.

So exercise not only improves your blood sugar levels, it also improves your physical and mental health, as well as reduce insulin resistance. We call that a win-win-win!

SUMMARY: 8 WAYS TO BALANCE BLOOD SUGAR

If your blood sugar is creeping up, there are some nutrition and lifestyle upgrades you can make for better health.

They are:

  1. Stop eating and drinking things that are mostly sugar;
  2. Don’t eat processed carbohydrates;
  3. Choose “low glycemic” foods;
  4. Eat more fiber;
  5. Eat your protein and fibrous vegetables first;
  6. Satisfy your sweet tooth with berries;
  7. Get quality sleep;
  8. Exercise.

Which one of these strategies are you eager to try? Tell me in the comments below.

Track this new habit:

Check off this habit in your Healthy Habits Tracker (download yours for free here).

9 Daily Healthy Habits Tracker for Busy Professionals - Blood Sugar Balance: The Key to Wellness?
Danielle Atcheson, NBC-HWC, CHN, LMC, CGP

Danielle Atcheson, NBC-HWC, CHN, LMC, CGP

Functional Nutritionist, Lifestyle Medicine Specialist, Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Certified Gluten-Free Practitioner, Plant-Based Nutrition certified from Cornell University.

DISCLAIMER: The contents of this blog and website are informational only, and should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, nor as a substitute for professional medical care. As with all health & wellness information, always consult your professional healthcare providers before taking any medical action.

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