What is ‘Blood Sugar’?
Blood Sugar, which is also known as glucose, is the main sugar found in your blood. This type of sugar is a very important source of energy and provides nutrients to the body’s organs, muscles and nervous system.
Your body gets glucose from the foods we eat, with glucose entering the bloodstream after eating carbohydrates. The body is a very complex and clever system and is able to remove excess glucose (the pancreas produces insulin which is released after a person eats protein or carbohydrates, and sends excess glucose to the liver as glycogen), or raise blood sugar levels when needed (the pancreas also produces a hormone called glucagon which can raise blood sugar levels by signaling to the liver to turn the glycogen back into glucose and release it into the bloodstream).
If your body does not have enough glucose to go around (for example, a person on a ‘keto’ or ‘low carb’ diet), the liver will hoard glucose for the parts of the body that need it, such as the brain, red blood cells and parts of the kidney. For the rest of the body, the liver makes ketones (the breakdown of fat to use as fuel), or it can make sugar out of other things in the body too, like amino acids, waste products and fat byproducts.
How Can I Keep My Blood Sugar In Control?
We all know that feeling of the mid-afternoon slump when we need a chocolate bar to perk us up – which it does, but not for very long! Blood sugar is at its highest after eating but with a few simple changes, you can improve your post-meal blood sugar levels and mood:
1 – Improving your diet
Here are a few things you can do to improve your diet and control your blood sugar levels:
- Try to reduce the amount of carbohydrates that you eat for breakfast as this is when your blood sugars tend to be at their highest, so it will help if this is the lowest carbohydrate meal.
- Try to avoid refined or simple carbohydrates in your other meals throughout the day (these are foods like cookies and crackers that your body digests quickly and so they tend to spike insulin levels, putting additional stress on your pancreas). Instead, eat wholemeal pasta and brown rice instead of white, and wholegrain bread instead of highly processed white bread. Wholegrains will still raise your blood sugar but not as quickly or as high and these foods will keep you fuller for longer.
- Focus on adding healthy fats (opt for unsaturated fats) to your diet such as walnuts, almonds, and avocados. Healthy fats slow the body’s absorption of sugar. However, nuts are high in calories, so eat them in moderation.
- Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and cucumber can help to prevent sugar spikes and they provide essential nutrients.
- Make sure that you don’t skip meals. It’s important to space out your meals evenly as missing a meal can cause a bigger fluctuation in your blood sugar levels. It’s much better to eat three meals with a couple of healthy snacks in between, than it is to eat two large meals at either end of the day. Balance the carbohydrates in your meal with protein, so for example, eat lean meats or fish together with lots of non-starchy vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, and salad. If you like pasta, switch to wholegrain pasta and reduce the serving size, adding some beef or pine nuts to balance blood sugar.
- Prepare healthy snacks and keep them in the fridge. This will help to stop you reaching for the biscuit tin when you are feeling peckish!
- I’m sure you’ve been brought up on the saying ‘line your stomach before you drink’! This is so true with regards to blood sugar levels. If you drink excessively on an empty stomach, your blood sugar will drop up to 24 hours later. This is because your liver is working hard to remove the alcohol from the blood, instead of working on managing your blood sugar levels. (Symptoms of low blood sugar include slurred speech and dizziness, and these can be mistaken for being drunk!)
2 – Getting Physical
- Exercise, exercise, exercise! When you exercise, your heart beats faster and you breathe harder, meaning that your muscles are using more of the sugar in your bloodstream. Doing this regularly can lower blood sugar levels, as well as increasing insulin sensitivity so that your muscles make better use of any insulin available. You can benefit from just 30 minutes of exercise a day!
3 – Maintain a healthy weight
- Ensure to speak with a healthcare professional about your ideal weight (remember, everybody is different!) Remember, that your BMI will only take into account your height and weight – it doesn’t look at the size of your middle. For this, a good guide is your waist size (this depends on many factors, such as ethnicity) but as a general rule your waist should be 80cm (31.5″) or less.
- If you are overweight, the extra weight around your waist means fat can build up around your organs (including your pancreas and liver). This can cause insulin resistance (when the insulin that you produce doesn’t work properly causing your blood sugar levels to increase).
So, if you choose your meals carefully and make sure they are well balanced, watch your portion sizes, make sure that you always have healthy snacks prepared and participate in regular exercise, you are doing the absolute best that you can to keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Please note: this information is for those who have a healthy blood sugar levels. Diabetes happens when the body lacks insulin or because the body is not working effectively – if you have diabetes, you should seek medical advice around your diet.
Caroline & Hannah xx