As women who want to stay strong, lean and fit as they age, we need to pay attention to our blood sugar. It’s not just a topic for people with type I or II diabetes or those who are insulin dependent to worry about. The thing is, blood sugar can fluctuate a lot, mess up your hormones, and turn on the carb cravings!
Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.
This fluctuation is the natural balance between things that increase it; and things that decrease it. When you eat food with sugars or starches (“carbs”), then your digestive system absorbs sugar into your blood. When carbs are ingested and broken down into simple sugars, your body keeps blood sugar levels stable by secreting insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get it out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues for energy. It’s the transport vehicle.
Why keep my blood sugar stable?
Your body wants your blood sugar to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough, so you’re not light-headed, fatigued, and irritable. It should be low enough that your body isn’t scrambling to remove excess from the blood.
When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia.”
When blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia. Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to “insulin resistance.”
Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high. Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.
So let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.
1. Food for stable blood sugar. Reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat. The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat. To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks and having smaller portions of dessert.
2. Eat more fiber. For women this means aiming for about 25 grams per day (more or less depending on your age and activity level). Fiber helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the “spike” in your blood sugar level. Fiber is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods removed fiber). Eating nuts, seeds, and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fiber intake.
3. Eat 3 meals per day plus snacks in between as hungry each balanced with all three macro nutrients. Fuel your body up! No counting calories, restricting food groups or gimmick shakes, wraps or pills. So what are macro nutrients?
Macro nutrients are simply proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. AKA REAL FOOD.
Protein builds lean muscle, repair tissues and boost your metabolism every single time you eat it. It is also a precursor for the brain chemicals that determine whether or not you have sugar cravings. You need adequate amounts to keep sugar cravings at bay.
Healthy fat helps you feeling full after you eat it and boosts your metabolism for hours after you eat by allowing your body to release a turbo-fat-burning hormone, glucagon (more on that later).
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source, because they’re easy to use for immediate energy. You need carbohydrates as an active exercising woman, but you need the right kind and you need them in balance with healthy fats and proteins.
The stress that exercising and working hard puts on your body means that to stay active, healthy, fit and STRONG, you need more antioxidants, more vitamins and more minerals than most people. I know that you are likely busier than ever balancing your life, your career and your time, and that it is harder than ever to fulfill those nutritional needs.
So we can find ourselves eating less than ideal food, lots of carbs and often skipping proteins, fats or entire meals all together.
Cravings and energy crashes become normal but they are not the norm we want! Cravings are a result of unbalanced blood sugars, hormones gone wild and they are your bodies way of calling out for all the nutrients so it can function. When you are re-fuelling with empty sugars, salty treats and those processed snacks, you are not providing your body with what it really needs…macro nutrients!!!
What is going on?
When you eat low quality, high carbohydrate snacks and meals between your workouts your blood sugar levels spike high and fast. This causes a surge of the hormone insulin to be released.
Insulin’s job is to manage the blood sugar high and convert it into immediate energy. But you are not running right now. You are at home or at your desk and so instead of converting the excess sugar into energy, insulin takes that sugar and stores it as fat.
So you are trying to stay consistent with exercise, craving sugar, eating sugar, spiking insulin, storing fat, crashing, feeling lousy, not getting the nutrients your body needs, packing on unwanted pounds, craving again and the cycle continues….unless you can break it.
So how do macro nutrients help?
They will help you break the vicious sugar craving, binge eating and energy crashing cycle because it is not will power you need. This is a hormonal issue that requires blood sugar balancing… and this is why dialing in your nutrition is so important!
Eating the right carbs with healthy fat and protein will slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream and make you feel full. This sends a message to your brain, telling you to stop eating. This is an effective way to stabilize your blood sugars and in this blood sugar balanced state, your body releases less fat storing insulin and it will release the hormone glucagon.
Glucagon is a fat burning hormone and it will help your body start to burn fat for energy instead of just sugar.
As a result, you will feel full longer, reduce cravings and with consistent healthy eating habits using this strategy, you will get off the blood sugar, craving, crashing and fat storing roller coaster.
You will begin to shift your body from lethargic, sugar burner to energetic and efficient pro fat burner. You will feel healthy, focused, in control and confident.
Lifestyle for stable blood sugar
1. Exercise. Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don’t ignore insulin’s call to get excess sugar out of the blood. Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood.
But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn’t you? Combine exercise with proper nutrition and you have a formula for success!
2. Reduce stress. Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels? Yup! Stress hormones increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the “fight or flight” stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to “fight” or “flee”? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels.
So, try to reduce the stress you’re under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation, deep breathing, or gentle movement.
3. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have a higher appetite, and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable.
Make sleep more of a priority – it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.
Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant). Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.
There are many nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing excessive carbs, balancing your macro nutrients at each meal, eating more fiber, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health).
FUN FACT: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar. (HINT: It’s in the recipe below)
Recipe (blood sugar balancing): Cinnamon Apples
- 2 apples, chopped
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp sea salt
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
Place chopped apples into a small saucepan with 2 tbsp water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes the apples will become slightly soft, and water will be absorbed. Add 1 tbsp coconut oil. Stir apples and oil together. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring every minute or so. Add cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Stir well. Cook for another few minutes, stirring until the apples reach your desired softness!
Serve and enjoy!
Tip: Keeping the peel on increases the fiber, which is even better for stabilizing your blood sugar.