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With so many Brits suffering from diabesity: Diabetes & Obesity, it is becoming more important than ever to be aware of your food’s effect on your blood sugar levels.
What is blood sugar balance?
The level of sugar, or glucose, in the blood is carefully controlled by hormones in order to minimise highs and lows, and to provide the brain and the cells with a constant supply of energy. Glucose is the simplest form of sugar. All sugars and starches (carbohydrates) are digested and eventually broken down into glucose so the body can absorb and use it. Your body can only deal with one to two teaspoons of glucose in the blood at any one time. So, if, for example, you drank a bottle of Lucozade, the sugar in the blood would rise steeply. The body protects itself from too much sugar in the blood by releasing the hormone, insulin. Insulin’s role is to pull excess glucose from the blood, which we then feel as a rapid drop. This can also happen when we skip meals. If your blood sugar suddenly drops it can lead to many physical and mental symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, nausea, blurred vision, sweating, palpitations, cravings and irritability.
What happens if you don’t control your blood sugar levels?
If your diet is continually high in refined carbohydrates your pancreas has to work really hard to produce enough insulin. In the long-term the pancreas can become exhausted and won’t produce enough insulin, leading to high levels of glucose in the blood. Ultimately this can lead to diabetes. Diabetes is often age related but it is unfortunately becoming more common in younger people due to poor diet. Diabetes has many other illnesses associated with it such as heart disease and complications with the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Blood sugar problems can also be related to depression, fatigue and hormone problems such as PMS.
Problems can also occur if blood sugar levels become too high due to a process known as glycosylation. Glycosylation takes place when excess glucose molecules bind to protein molecules. This damages the proteins and can directly contribute to the ageing process, leading to premature wrinkles, and to serious health problems such as hardened arteries, as well as being a contributing factor for diabetes.
Poor blood sugar balance can also lead to the over-production of cortisol, a hormone which is produced by our adrenal glands. This can have a direct affect on the ageing process. If your blood glucose drops, your brain signals to your adrenal glands to release cortisol in order to raise your glucose levels. Stress also increases cortisol levels. If cortisol levels are continually raised through poor diet and stress, this can accelerate the ageing process. Although cortisol is critical for life, at high levels it can damage cells and contribute to ageing of the skin, as well as degenerative diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
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6 HABITS THAT WILL HELP YOU TO BALANCE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR
With so many Brits suffering from obesity and diabetes, it is becoming more important than ever to be aware of your food’s effect on your blood sugar levels.
Having high or low blood sugar can lead to myriad issues, such as decreased insulin sensitivity, mood swings, stress, headaches, and mental fogginess. But, luckily, these 6 habits can benefit your insulin sensitivity and keep you healthy in the long term.
EAT ENOUGH FATS.
Fat slows down sugar absorption in the bloodstream and prevents a roller coaster of spikes and crashes. Many people are afraid of fat, but eating fat will not make you fat. Once more: eating fat does not make you fat. In fact, fat keeps you satisfied longer, which can discourage overeating, so don’t nix it from your diet.
If you’re trying to keep your sugar levels balanced, make fats — like coconut oil, chia seeds, nuts, avocado — a steady part of your diet. Worried about all that saturated fat giving you heart disease? According to the research, there’s no significant link between the two.
DON‘T EAT CONSTANTLY
Eating many small meals can actually disturb your body’s natural hunger signals. Instead of force-feeding yourself every few hours in the name of health, wait until you are authentically hungry to eat.
This can be hard to get used to at first, especially if your body is used to constantly snacking. However, by restricting your eating for a few days, you’ll start to understand when your body actually needs food in contrast to when you find it comforting to have a snack. Your body knows when it needs food. Once you start listening to what your body needs, it will become infinitely easier for everything else to fall into place.
Like fat, protein slows the absorption of sugar in the body. If you are indulging in a sugary food, like a big slice of apple pie, it is smart to balance it with a small companion of protein — like Greek yogurt, beans or lentils.
This simple combination can mean the difference between a blood sugar spike (and inevitable fat storage) and a steady rise. It will also fill you up and dissuade you from licking clean the entire pie plate. Additionally, research has shown that eating a high protein breakfast can actually benefit your sugar levels at meals later in the day.
ENJOY ROOTS AND FRUITS
Fruits and roots are great sources of carbohydrates on their own. Grains can cause inflammation for many people, so eating complex starches likes sweet potatoes and fiber-rich fruits like apples are often a better carbohydrate bet for smart digestion and blood sugar levels. The fiber in these natural, wholesome foods actually slows the absorption of sugar, making them supportive of healthy blood sugar levels. Again, be sure to balance these with protein and/or fat for the most controlled blood sugar rise.
Balancing blood sugar and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t all about what you eat or don’t eat. Studies have actually shown that chronic poor sleep can increase your risk for obesity and diabetes.
Not only does too little sleep affect your judgement and leptin levels (the hormone responsible for satiety), but it also decreases your insulin sensitivity. Aim for 7-9 hours a night, and cut out all electronics an hour before bedtime to ensure a quality night’s shut eye.
PRACTICE GENTLE EXERCISE
If your body is stressed or imbalanced, heavy-duty cardio may not be the best idea. Cardio can increase cortisol levels, which in turn wreaks havoc on the body. Instead, practice yoga and Pilates — both of which can be intense, but generally tend to decrease cortisol levels. Moderate strength training has also been shown to have blood sugar-balancing effects. Steady, long-term exercise is always the smart choice for your body, mind, and wellbeing.
If you keep your lifestyle balanced, it will be easier to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. Have a balanced plate of fats, proteins, and wholesome carbohydrates when you’re hungry. Get a balanced night of sleep. Practice moderate exercise that will improve, not hinder, your progress. By taking small steps to improve your quality of life, an improvement in health and wellbeing will soon follow.
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!