As a health and wellness writer and researcher, I am constantly reading scientific studies and materials for my work, and over time, a few recurrent themes present themselves. One of the most prevalent is how often blood sugar imbalances are at the root of most chronic health issues and diseases. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is one of the most important building blocks of great health. High blood sugar levels set off a domino effect of negative reactions throughout the body, and chronically high blood sugar levels set the stage for everything from weight gain, chronic fatigue, and multiple hormone imbalances to diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. When you balance your blood sugar, you stabilize systems and processes throughout the body that promote health and vitality. For instance, when blood sugar levels are too high, fuel to the brain and the ability to synthesize neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, etc.) are compromised leading to brain degeneration over time. When neurotransmitter levels necessary to mental well-being and performance are impacted, issues with depression, anxiety, lack of focus, attention deficit disorder (ADD), lack of motivation, feeling hopeless, and more arise. This is only one aspect of the domino effect. Different systems within the body work together, directly interconnected and reliant upon each other. So the pancreas and insulin levels are also affected, as well as the adrenal glands and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. These in turn can set off estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone imbalances within the reproductive system. The immune system becomes suppressed, and your body is now using a lot of energy just to return to homeostasis. Balancing blood sugar levels is one of the most effective strategies for achieving the highest levels of health and well-being, eliminating sugar and carbohydrate cravings, improving mental performance, protecting the brain, balancing hormones, eradicating inflammation, increasing energy, and losing weight.
Tips for Balancing Blood Sugar
Eliminate or minimize sugar intake, especially refined sugar, as much as possible. If you are struggling with a sugar addiction, some people do well going cold turkey, and others find it helpful to baby step off refined sugar by using unrefined, natural sweeteners initially and then transitioning to dates and fruit when ready. Work with your health practitioner to find supplements that will support your process. There are many helpful supplements available, both for cravings and blood sugar regulation, but their efficacy is determined by how appropriate they are for your individual biochemistry and health issues. When and if you do indulge, have protein first. Remember, no judgment allowed—strive for balance, not perfection!
Have protein, fat, and fiber with every meal, or at the very least, have protein with every meal. For those with hypoglycemia and major blood sugar issues, a protein rich snack every 2 hours will stabilize blood sugar and support energy levels until you normalize blood sugar levels.
Do not have caffeine on an empty stomach. “[Caffeine] undermines everything your endocrine system needs to have access to on a daily basis to keep your hormones happy and balanced. When caffeine hits your system, it triggers a reaction that can weaken your adrenals, spike blood sugar, and disrupt ovulation patterns,” writes Alisa Vitti, author of WomanCode: Perfect your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source. Having protein, such as a handful of almonds, a hard boiled egg, or a complete breakfast with protein, fat, and complex carbs, sets up a stable blood sugar for the day.
Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption, and again, have protein before imbibing.
Load up on fiber rich greens and veggies. Eliminate or limit starchy veggies like potatoes and sweet potatoes to 1-2 servings per day.
Eliminate or reduce processed carbohydrate intake. Try swapping processed carbs with whole grains chock full of minerals such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, and buckwheat. Depending on where you are in your process, at the very least, limit processed carbs to 1 serving per day. Others might experiment with going completely grain free, especially if insulin resistant or diabetic.
Explore new recipes to make vegetables exotic and exciting! Speaking as someone who was raised on junk food and the Standard American Diet, it was a revelation to learn just how delicious and creative vegetables can be when prepared well.
A study found 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in water before a carbohydrate heavy meal reduced glucose levels in those with insulin resistance and suggested it worked as well as pharmaceutical medication in stabilizing blood sugar (Sisskind).
Exercise balances your blood sugar, but it’s different for every “body”. Some experience great results with running and high-intensity workouts, and then those with high cortisol levels require more hormone friendly activities like pilates, yoga, walking, and weight lifting until cortisol levels come back into balance. If you have high cortisol levels and proceed with high-intensity aerobic exercise, you can create more cortisol and inflammation, break down your body’s tissue, and slow your metabolism resulting in abdominal fat, weight gain, or a plateau.
Try Intermittent Fasting (IF)—don’t let the word “fasting” turn you off. This is not about giving up food and starving yourself. It’s about ingesting your usual amount of calories within a window of time such as 8 hours to give your body more time and energy to heal itself and detoxify. IF has been shown to normalize insulin sensitivity, leptin (the hormone that regulates body fat and signals brain when you are full) sensitivity, and ghrelin (the hunger hormone) levels. You can learn more about "How Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Live Healthier, Longer" from Dr. Joseph Mercola to see if a fit for you.
REDUCE YOUR STRESS! Stress wreaks havoc on every system in the body and is one of the biggest contributors to disease. Actively find activities to reduce stress levels. It can be as simple as taking a 5 minute break to stretch, walking around the block, or listening to some music. Massage, a long soak in the tub, hiking, and meditation are my personal favorites. Listen to your body and find what brings you joy. Joy is a powerful antidote to stress.
All it takes is one baby step to get you moving in the right direction and create results. Many people feel like they have to make many drastic changes all at once, and then, create a state of overwhelm that can undermine the best of intentions. It may not always feel easy, but with presence and support, it is possible. When you address the underlying issues that sabotage your health and vitality, such as a blood sugar imbalance or sugar addiction, you increase your energy, clarity, and productivity so can you can take action towards your goals and dreams. Balancing your blood sugar is a huge step directly related to making your dreams a reality, whatever they might be. It is all interconnected!
Finally, one of the biggest concerns I hear from clients and friends when they hear the words “healthy” or “change” is they believe they have to give up dessert and pleasurable food. Food is absolutely meant to be enjoyed! Deprivation has no place in a “healthy” lifestyle with all the creative alternatives and options available. The goal is to BE WISE in your choices and work with your present needs. I have a friend currently struggling with cataracts, and for this person, now is not the time to be over-indulgent. While he is healing after a surgery frought with complications, fighting inflammation, and protecting his eyesight, this is an important time to make the healthiest choices available given the high risk nature of his surgery and the potential for a second surgery. For others, it’s simply about lowering sugar intake or consuming protein before dessert or a sweet treat to prevent blood sugar spikes to protect health and energy. Then, there are others with major sugar sensitivities (aka “warning signs”) and diabetes, where more drastic lifestyle changes need to occur, more information needs to be read and absorbed, more delicious and equally healthy recipes need to be added to your repertoire, including more education on sweeteners and how/if/when to use natural sweeteners such as fruit or stevia. Everyone is on a different path facing different obstacles. So it’s about moving forward with love and non-judgment and finding the path that is best for YOU and you only. It’s also about tuning into your body and exploring what you want, need, and thrive on.
With all the paradoxical, misleading health information and overwhelming diet options being touted in the media, it is imperative to develop your own inner connection to your body and take the time to observe and experiment with what works best for you—trust your gut, literally!