8 Ways to Balance Blood Sugar Naturally
Why Blood Sugar is Important
If you regularly experience fatigue, mood swings, food cravings and/or irritability or fatigue, a blood sugar imbalance may be to blame. A third of Americans are at risk of developing diabetes, and the vast majority of those at risk don’t even know it, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels minimizes your risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and heart disease and is utterly essential for optimal everyday health.
So what exactly is blood sugar and how does it affect your body?
Sugars and simple carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream very quickly, which leads to a spike in your blood sugar. That spike forces your pancreas to release excess insulin, the hormone that allows the cells in your muscles, liver and fat to absorb the sugar in your blood. Excess insulin can lead to weight gain, hormone imbalances, imflammation, unhealthy cholesterol and degenerative health concerns.
But there is good news! A healthy diet and lifestyle can balance your blood sugar and drastically decrease your chances of developing chronic conditions like diabetes. Here are some strategies to help you do just that:
Do you suffer from blood sugar imbalances?
1. Eat a protein-packed breakfast
Breakfast sets the tone for your blood sugar for the rest of the day. If you're not hungry in the morning, there's a good chance you may suffer from slow digestion caused by inadequate stomach acid. Routinely skipping breakfast because you don't feel like eating can also signal that your stress hormones are out of whack.
The body responds to a skipped breakfast by increasing production of stress hormones and breaking down muscle for energy. This stressful process wreaks havoc on your blood sugar balance for the rest of the day.
Rather than loading up on carbs like bagels and cereal, focus on fat and protein at breakfast. Sausage, eggs and low-carb veggies are all great options for breakfast. Leaving the carbs for later meals benefits the body in two ways: (1) starch-digesting enzymes are more active at night and (2) carbs have a sedative effect, which can help when trying to fall asleep.
Aim for at least 20 grams of protein with your breakfast, which will help to stabilize your blood sugar throughout the rest of the day.
Tip: Some grassfed collagen added to your coffee helps!
Grassfed collagen hydrolysate is a fantastic way to add naturally occurring protein to your diet without relying on protein powders.
2. Fill the gaps with nutritional supplements but don't rely on them
Supplements, when added to a well-balanced real food diet, are a great way to ensure that your body is getting the micronutrients it needs while balancing blood sugar. However, you should not rely on supplements like protein powders for your daily macronutrient requirements. Even plant-based protein powders fail to provide high-quality protein that contains the fatty acids required to effectively utilize the protein.
Cinnamon, chromium and gymnema sylvestre are three supplements that support healthy blood sugar levels. Cinnamon itself helps to lower blood sugar levels, chromium supplements improve insulin receptor function, decrease inflammation and help stabilize blood sugar levels and gymnema sylvestre contains substances that halt the absorption of sugar in your taste buds and intestinal wall. When sugar absorption is blocked, cravings are curbed and you avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster.
To add more healthy protein to your diet, add grassfed collagen hydrolysate to either hot or cold beverages. This supplement contains healthful amino acids that protein powders lack.
3. Eat plenty of healthy fats
Carbohydrates should always be accompanied by a high-quality source of fat. Why? Fat slows the bloodstream's absorption of glucose and prevents sugar highs and lows, which keeps you full longer and helps you reach or maintain a healthy weight.
The Dangers of a Low-Fat Diet
When trying to maintain a low-fat diet, the fat in your meal is most often replaced with sugar and refined carbs because cutting out the fat from food also cuts out flavor. Sugar cravings and frequent hunger also accompany a low-fat diet. Fat satiates the body and provides satisfaction after a meal, whereas carbs alone do not.
Additionally, eating healthy fats tells the gallbladder when to release bile. Low-fat diets, regardless of whether they lat months or years, cause your bile to become thick and stagnant. Stagnant bile allows the hormones and toxins that need to leave the body to be reabsorbed, which contributes to blood sugar imbalances and inflammation.
What Fats Should You Eat?
When it comes to consuming fats, pass on anything that comes from a factory. Corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils as well as margarine are highly processed and highly inflammatory. Stick to fats that even your ancient ancestors would have been able to enjoy. This includes coconut oil and fats from grazing animals, like butter, lard egg yolks and tallow.
4. Cut out refined sugars and artificial sweeteners
White sugar, fructose, corn syrup, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and dextrose are all refined sugars. These sugars, along with highly processed carbs like pastas, cereal, bread, cookies, bagels, baked goods and potato chips, cause a blood sugar rollercoaster of serious spikes and devastating crashes. Hypoglycemia, the low blood sugar "crash" state, causes difficulty concentrating, that awful “hangry” feeling, fatigue and anxiety. The crash is also often accompanied by intense cravings for more carbs, caffeine and sweets.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are even worse than sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners taste sweet to the brain but never really fuel your body with the energy that comes from true glucose. Without glucose, your body continues to send hunger signals to the brain and your desire for sweets increases, leading to cravings all day long and a higher potential for binges.
Artificial sweeteners may be zero calorie but they also disturb metabolic hormones like leptin and insulin, which leads to weight gain. Most artificial sweeteners are made of excitotoxins which over-stimulate and exhaust your nervous system. Some artificial sweeteners are even carcinogenic. Read labels and toss all those so-called “diet” drinks and foods to the curb.
Practical Paleo is my personal favorite for developing a paleo lifestyle that fits your individual needs. The book includes three 30-day meal plans and nutrient-dense recipes that will help battle the highs and lows of the blood sugar rollercoaster.
5. Eat lots of low glycemic foods
Foods low on the glycemic index release energy slowly into the bloodstream and cause only minor changes in blood sugar levels. These include animal protein, nuts and seeds, oils and fats, beans and lentils, whole grains, many vegetables and some fruits (berries and stone fruits are best).
A few examples of high glycemic foods are bread, crackers, corn, white rice, white potatoes, muffins, cookies, fruit juices and sports drinks. Minimize these foods as much as possible, but if you are going to eat them, have them in their natural state (i.e., eat a potato instead of potato chips) and pair them with protein to slow down the injection of sugar into your bloodstream.
6. Prioritize quality sleep
Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your blood sugar and the effects are long-lasting. On the bright side, improving your sleep habits over time will go a long way in supporting healthy blood sugar levels and, in turn, a healthy life.
Sleep deprivation affects blood sugar in numerous ways. Sleep-deprived bodies contain higher evening cortisol levels that are linked to insulin resistance. Inadequate sleep also drastically impacts glucose tolerance, leading to higher blood sugar because it is more difficult for cells to absorb glucose. Researchers have stated that less than one week of sleep deprivation can put the body of a healthy person into a prediabetic state!
7. Stick to roots and fruits when eating carbs
The consumption of of any type of grain perpetuates the malabsorption of carbohydrates and blood sugar imbalances. Why? The starches found in grains damage your small intestine's vili and microvilli, which are responsible for absorbing nutrients from food. Damaged vili and microvilli leads to a permeable gut lining that fosters the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and causes sugar cravings and inflammation.
Fight the urge to get your carbohydrates from grains and instead opt for healthy carbs like fresh, whole fruits and root vegetables.These carbs do not cause inflammation or intestinal damage the way grains do.
Both in-season fresh fruits and frozen fruits are beneficial to your blood sugar balance. Sweet potatoes, beets, carrots and other root vegetables provide a nutrient-dense source of healthy carbohydrates. But don't forget! To balance blood sugar, enjoy your fruits and roots with plenty of healthy fats and protein.
8. Add pungent, bitter and astringent foods to your diet
Adding more pungent, astringent and bitter foods to your diet helps balance blood sugar and offset your addiction to the sweet taste of sugar. Pungent herbs and spices include turmeric, basil, pepper, cinnamon, garlic, cumin, chili, ginger, oregano and thyme. Bitter and astringent foods include fruits and vegetables like leafy greens, pomegranate seeds, lentils, apples, broccoli, beans, and celery.