Do you have trouble waking up? Need sugar or caffeine first thing in the morning to wake yourself up? Do you feel tired between meals? Crave sugar throughout the day?
Do you have an afternoon slump after lunch? How is your sleep? Are you waking up in the middle of the night?
If some of these ring true, it could be that you’re riding the blood sugar roller coaster! But don’t worry, it’s actually one of the easiest things to regulate with nutritional changes once you know how!
Let’s break down what this looney world is all about and how we can get you enjoying the gentle glucose waves of the ocean, rather than the exhilarating rise and then fall of splash mountain! We want you to wake up feeling rested and with energy, to maintain that energy throughout the day, have minimal (or no) cravings, and sound sleep.
Eating processed food, consuming carbohydrate heavy meals without adequate fiber, protein and/or fat, living a stressed lifestyle, not getting enough sleep and depending on caffeine to get through the day, could all be contributing to your struggle with blood sugar.
How Blood Sugar is Supposed to Work
Every time we eat, the glucose which our body uses for energy causes a rise in our blood sugar.
The message that there is a large amount of glucose in your blood stream is sent to your brain, which tells the pancreas to release insulin to bring down the blood sugar.
Ideally, the glucose then goes to be stored in the liver, the skeletal muscles and the fat tissue to be used later on. This way when you’re between meals the pituitary in your brain can call upon the stores to keep you going.
The rise and fall in your blood sugar should look like a small undulating wave. A little up, a little down and never too far from the middle.
The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster Explained
When we have a large amount of simple carbohydrates in a meal, the insulin rushes in! Your body say “whoa, whoa, whoa, too fast”. It rushes in so fast, that it can over-correct.
This over-correction, causes your blood sugar levels to drop too much making you feel super tired.
If for example, you had a bowl of cereal with low fat milk, for breakfast, then at 10 a.m. you may feel the fatigue hard, causing you to reach for that second cup of coffee.
The body then thinks there is an emergency, because your blood sugar is so low. So the central nervous system kicks in to save the day (via the hypothalamus and pituitary glands) and tells your adrenals to release epinephrine and then cortisol to bring your blood sugar back up.
Cortisol then spikes your blood sugar and once we reach the peak of that roller coaster, it comes crashing down again.
These huge changes make our blood sugar look like a roller coaster going from feeling full to starving every couple of hours.
What can make your blood sugar spike?
- Carbohydrate heavy meals (bagel with low fat cream cheese; cereal with 1% milk)
- Sugary treats (candy, doughnuts & coffee, “protein” bars)
- Stress (all the stress and rushing)
- Coffee on an empty stomach (jittery, overly wired feeling)
Consequences of Riding the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Every time we have a carbohydrate-centric meal or snack that is not slowed down by protein, fat and fiber this cycle repeats.
Eventually your body starts getting tired of riding the ups and downs of the roller coaster. It say “I’m tired of this roller coaster. I’m going to hop off and ignore this stream of carbs”. At this point your cells start to become insulin resistant, so they are less sensitive to insulin.
If this goes on for an extended period of time, you may eventually be diagnosed by your doctor with metabolic syndrome or Type 2 Diabetes.
However, if we can balance meals with more protein, fat and fiber that slow down the digestion and the rush of glucose into the blood stream, you will feel more sustained energy because you don’t have those huge rises and falls.
Those components, and especially the fat, help keep your blood sugar more even keeled. And THIS is how you reduce the craving for caffeine and sugar in the afternoon and evening.
So how do you regulate blood sugar?
1. Eat Whole Foods
Eat whole foods, traditionally prepared and nutrient dense meals. Isn’t this the answer to everything? Yes, yes it is.
Hyper-palatable processed foods are full of empty carbohydrates, that will have you reaching for more. This is because they are not actually satisfying your nutritional needs. Focusing on real traditional foods, is the best first step.
Walking after a meal or snack is a great way to lower the glucose spike and help you begin to digest your food.
Movement is incredibly important for so many bodily functions. It doesn’t matter how you move, just that you do it! You can dance, go on a walk, wash the dishes, sweep under the table, hang laundry, etc.
Any type of movement will help regulate your blood sugar by sending glucose to your muscle and pulling it out of your blood stream where insulin tries to sequester it away.
Especially after a large meal (looking at you Thanksgiving), go out for a little walk around the block and see how much better you feel!
3. Lower Stress
Blood sugar and stress are intimately related because a cortisol spike IS a blood sugar spike.
Stress is a good thing in the short term. When you have a stressor, you need to turn on energy mobilization, meaning getting glucose from muscles to the liver.
To do this, your body will increase blood pressure to get the glucose to your muscles, you will turn on your immune system, you need to turn on your brain, and your senses need to sharpen.
The problem is that in our modern lifestyles we have many points of stress throughout the day. A stress response is a blood sugar response, meaning when you are stressed your blood sugar will rise.
Long term stress can cause chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance.
Lowering your stress levels through breath-work, meditation, pleasurable activities, time in nature and re-organizing your life to reduce stress is not optional if you really want to get your blood sugar under control.
PRO TIP: If you’ve been chronically stressed, it may help you to begin consuming adrenal cocktails.
4. Focus on Breakfast
If I was to suggest making just one change it would be to eat a low glycemic load breakfast. This means focusing on protein, fats and vegetables. Starting your day off with steady blood sugar will set the tone for the rest of the day.
Find more examples of balanced meals here.
5. Pair carbohydrate heavy meals with Fiber, Protein and Fat
Generally speaking, unless you’re a performance athlete or incredibly active, we don’t need so many carbohydrates in our diet. Make sure to get fiber, protein and fat with your carbs for better glucose metabolism (Riccardi & Rivellese, 1991).
I always suggest getting the majority of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables which are powerhouses of vitamins, mineral and antioxidants!
When you do eat high starch or grain meals (rice, potatoes, etc), make sure you also add plenty of healthy fat and fiber to your plate.
PRO TIP: Start your meal with fiber (salad), as that has been shown to reduce the glucose spike from a meal.
In terms of lowering glucose spikes, it is best to eat your foods in this order: first fiber, then protein and fat, end with carbohydrates. Yay for dessert!
6. Choose Sourdough
If you eat gluten products, do your best to choose traditionally fermented products. The process of souring the dough actually breaks down a lot of the glucose in bread so that you do not get such a high spike to your blood sugar.
Slather your bread with a generous portion of butter or avocado and you will be winning the blood glucose game!
Learn more about Nutritional Therapy here.
Are you ready to stop feeling fatigued in the middle of the day? Want to come home from a work day with enough energy to cook dinner and enjoy your family? If you’re ready for some personalized help, book a consult call and let’s get you going on the path to better health.
Riccardi, G., & Rivellese, A. A. (1991). Effects of dietary fiber and carbohydrate on glucose and lipoprotein metabolism in diabetic patients. Diabetes care, 14(12), 1115–1125. https://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.14.12.1115