Blood sugar, baby … most people think it is something that only people with diabetes should concern themselves with. I am here to tell you that blood sugar balance is your secret weapon to weight loss, healthy weight maintenance, stellar energy levels and a metabolism that functions optimally!
Why do you rarely hear about it? Well, because, like cellular repair, it isn't sexy! Paying attention to blood sugar levels offers no quick before and after photo fix, and it doesn't sell diets or supplements.
Blood sugar and hormones run your world! If you don't already, you may want to start paying them some attention. Let's go through how it all works.
What is blood sugar?
Blood sugar, or glucose, is the fuel that keeps our cells alive and functioning. The primary source of glucose is carbohydrates. Small amounts of protein and fats we eat are converted to glucose, but the process is not simple. Most tissues prefer glucose as fuel, especially the brain, heart and skeletal muscles. Sugars play other roles in our body, including the sugar molecules found outside proteins and fat molecules, known as glycoproteins and glycolipids. Glycoproteins change the shape and functions of the protein, and glycolipids alter how cells recognise each other. Cancer cells coated with sugar molecules can sneak by the cells of the immune system. Sugar molecules are simple but remarkable and directly influence your health.
How is blood sugar metabolised in the body?
For glucose to be able to enter cells, the pancreas produces insulin – the hormone that triggers cells to take in glucose. Insulin release can signal the body to use glucose or store it for future use.
The function of insulin is to regulate the circulating glucose level in the blood while keeping fuel on hand for daily activities and any 'fight or flight' situations.
When enough glucose is in the blood to keep cells fuelled, insulin temporarily triggers the liver and muscles to store glucose as glycogen. In a fasted state, in between meals, when blood sugar begins to get low, the hormone glucagon triggers the conversion of glycogen back into glucose—offering us immediate energy to keep us going throughout the day. This release also happens in an emergency situation.
Beta cells produce insulin in the pancreas. As food digests, glucose releases into the blood. The increase in blood sugar triggers insulin production. In contrast, when blood sugar levels become low other cells in the pancreas make glucagon, which instructs the liver to convert glycogen back into glucose.
Blood sugar levels are tightly regulated when our body is in homeostasis (balance).
Health issues related to blood sugar
These include weight gain, lethargy, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and diabesity.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Insulin is not produced, and the cells have no access to glucose. In contrast, type 2 diabetes is too much insulin production. The signalling from insulin to the cells is ineffective, preventing cells from getting the fuel they need. This is what is known as insulin resistance. In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the glucose in the blood becomes too high, causing stickiness and blockages in the blood vessels from which the complications of diabetes arise.
When diabetes and obesity are present, this is known as diabesity. The two conditions affect each other.
The proteins that affect hunger and blood sugar levels are leptin, adiponectin and ghrelin.
I will share a little more about them below for those of you (like me) who like to geek out on science details. Otherwise, scroll on.
Leptin is a protein that acts like a hormone produced by adipose tissue (fat cells) in response to insulin production. Leptin is often referred to as the 'satiety hormone' and signals to the brain that you are full. Leptin resistance is common in people who are obese. It sounds counterintuitive. However, with excess body fat, a person actually has higher levels of leptin. And the brain no longer responds appropriately to the fullness signal from leptin. This is similar to insulin resistance in people with diabetes. Insulin resistance is one of the triggers for leptin resistance.
Adipose tissue also secretes another protein, adiponectin. Unlike leptin, adiponectin correlates with body fat, with lean people having higher amounts than obese people. The benefits adiponectin offers are inhibiting inflammation and protecting against insulin resistance.
Ghrelin is also a protein that acts like a hormone. Grehlin triggers your desire to eat and is sometimes referred to as the hunger hormone. It is secreted mainly by stomach cells and tells the hypothalamus that the body is hungry. It contributes to regulating blood sugar by halting the release of insulin from the pancreas and triggering glucose production in the liver. Both of these processes translate to higher blood sugar levels. Interestingly ghrelin levels are reduced in obesity, which should lead to a reduced appetite, but may not—indicating that our relationship with food goes beyond willpower, our body signalling and is disrupted by the amount of processed food consumed and our emotional states.
Factors that influence blood sugar
Blood sugar levels are affected by
- Physical activity
- Gut microbiome
- Body fat
Simple carbohydrates, such as products made from refined flours and sugar, metabolise rapidly into blood sugar. Over time, consuming too many simple carbohydrates, like bread, soft drinks, and processed food, can derail healthy insulin and blood sugar regulation. This can lead to inflammatory diseases and issues, as outlined above.
Whole real foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits contain complex carbohydrates metabolising to blood sugar. However, they also provide fibre which slows down the digestion of carbohydrates and release of glucose.
Movement/exercise influences your blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels will generally drop after exercise, as your body uses glucose as fuel. Remember you can't out exercise a poor diet.
Stress triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, and both hormones signal the liver to release glucose. We haven't evolved enough for our biochemistry to discern between the threat of being chased by a saber-tooth tiger or our work responsibilities, family or financial issues. The challenge lies herein as your body cannot differentiate between a real emergency and our self-imposed modern day stressors meaning the physiological impact on your body is the same. Chronic stress is problematic as your body will continually release blood sugar that isn't physically being used (because you are not running from a saber-tooth tiger!), and this is how cortisol can cause belly fat. The effects of chronic stress are often not noticed until later in life, especially in women with the onset of perimenopause.
When blood sugar gets too low, it also triggers a stress response. This is why fasting can be troublesome and ineffective long term for some people and trigger binge eating for emotional eaters.
The collection of bacteria in your gut is known as your gut microbiome. The gut bugs are essential in digestion, support the absorption and synthesis of nutrients and are involved with metabolism, immune function, body weight, brain function and mood.
Your gut microbiome is as unique as you are! This is why we each have different nutritional needs, and there isn't one eating style for us throughout our lifetime. Your bio-individuality means that food affects your microbiome differently, impacting your blood sugar response.
Bacteria eat sugar, and a highly-processed diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress, illness, and overuse of antibiotics can shift a healthy microbiome into dysbiosis - the gut bacteria are disrupted and unbalanced, affecting your blood sugar levels.
Side note: your gut comprises the mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus.
Body fat: Take a breath here. This one is tricky!
Imbalanced blood sugar – body fat – body fat – imbalanced blood sugar. Such a difficult cycle to break! Blood sugar influences body fat and can play a role in obesity, and blood sugar imbalances can cause weight gain, and gaining weight can cause blood sugar imbalances. Yep … this is why there is no sex appeal for blood sugar. It is complicated and takes time to sort out. But you can sort it out. And I believe you are worth that time. You need to believe that too!
How to balance blood sugar
Here are my recommendation's to stabilise blood sugar levels
- Lessen the sugar load. Choose more nutritious foods by swapping simple carbohydrates (processed foods) for complex carbohydrates. For example, add sweet potatoes, beets and whole grains to your meals, swap low-fat dairy for full-fat dairy, and try a savoury breakfast instead of a sweet breakfast.
- Reduce (or eliminate) caffeine intake. Often it is the ritual of the coffee we like in the morning, so try an alternative like green tea, or if you want milky drinks, substitute it for something like a turmeric latte or dandelion tea with milk.
- Eat protein at every meal. Your daily protein requirement will vary depending on your weight 0.75 grams per kilo of body weight for women and 0.84 grams per kilo of body weight for men.
- Increase your dietary fibre. You want at least 30 grams a day. Fibre slows down the absorption of blood sugar, and this leads to fewer blood sugar spikes. Insoluble fibre also supports the elimination of problematic substances, think detoxification.
- Don't eat carbohydrates alone. Ensure your meals have a combination of protein, healthy fats and fibre. For example, add peanut butter or pear if you are snacking on crackers.
- Manage stress. Negative stressors affect your hormones and impact long-term health and well-being.
- Sleep long and well. When you are sleep-deprived, your insulin response to sugar decreases and blood sugar isn't metabolised, increasing blood sugar levels. Less sleep can also trigger cravings for simple carbohydrates and have you reaching for junk foods that offer a quick energy burst.
- Move regularly. This doesn't mean you have to become a gym junkie (but if you want to, by all means, I will leave that to you!). It means moving your body at least 20 minutes a day. Walk, stretch, play with the kids, or formalise your movement with yoga, Pilates or training. It doesn't need to be strenuous. Not moving is detrimental to your health and well-being.
Sample meals for a blood sugar friendly day
Here is a sample day of meals and snacks that balance protein, healthy fats, fibre and complex carbohydrates to help keep your blood sugar steady. Use these meals as inspiration to create blood sugar balancing meals that work best for you! If you want to make healthy eating simple and easy with recipes that support your digestive and detoxification pathways, reduce bloating, and nourish you from the inside out, explore my Seasonal Nutrition Resets. They are loaded with whole food recipes to download and use whenever you want. One for each season is available here.
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs
In a frying pan, sauté a garlic clove, then add an egg mixture comprising a couple of eggs, a dash of milk, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Scramble the eggs, add some baby spinach and allow to wilt. Serve with half an avocado and a side dish of mixed fresh berries.
Lunch – Protein salad bowl
Combine around ½ cup of cooked quinoa with cooked zucchini, carrots or capsicum. Add 1 cup of rocket (arugula) and your choice of protein (chicken or tofu). Sprinkle over 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds. Mix a dressing made of olive oil, balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice), a splash of tamari, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad mix.
Dinner – Baked fish
Choose your favourite fresh fish fillets. In a baking dish, place the fish with citrus slices, salt, pepper and your favourite herbs. Or coat the fish with dukkah. Serve the cooked fillets with roasted broccoli, cauliflower and sweet potato. Try my favourite dukkah, recipe link to the blog is here. https://www.oceamarie.com/blog/how-do-you-dukkah
Snack – Yoghurt delight
1 cup full-fat yoghurt, topped with a teaspoon of cinnamon, a tablespoon of almonds and hemp seeds, and a couple of fresh figs or pear.
Most people search out how blood sugar impacts their health when faced with a health crisis or concerns about their weight. This may be you (it was definitely me!). If not, don't wait for a health crisis! I encourage you to focus on health, not weight.
A healthy weight looks different for everyone and is dependent on many factors. Excess visceral fat can increase the risk of insulin resistance. Still, by regularly choosing healthy lifestyle behaviours, you will find a weight that is best for you and decrease your risk of insulin resistance. By following my recommendations above and exploring your relationship with food (including emotional eating factors), and reaching out for support when needed, you can examine the root cause of weight concerns. If you need help understanding your nutrition requirements, accountability, and encouragement, look at my Nutrition Reset program here.
As always, remember your reasons, your health, your mission, and the people you love.
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Blog posts are not intended to provide medical advice or take the place of medical advice and treatment from your doctor. Readers are advised to consult their qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Ocea Marie does not take any responsibility for possible health consequences for anyone reading or following the information available on the blog. All readers, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their doctor before beginning any nutrition or supplement program.
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