Blood sugar. I hear this word being tossed around all the time.
What exactly does it mean when it comes to your health and what does this have to do with weight loss anyways?
How Do I Keep My Blood Sugar Stable?
Blood sugar, or glucose, is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood, your main source of energy. It dictates how hungry and energetic we feel.
Blood sugar is produced when we break down any carbohydrate—from quinoa to cake. The key idea with respect to blood sugar is balance. We feel best and lose fat when our blood sugar is balanced: not too high, not too low. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.
Eating the right amount of protein, fat, and fiber at each meal can help you naturally stabilize blood sugar to burn fat and have consistent energy throughout the day. It will also help to keep aggressive insulin spikes at bay.
These insulin spikes, (fluctuating blood sugar), are 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.
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 what does this have to do with weight loss?
From the beginning…..Our pancreas creates a hormone called insulin that is released into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar. The normal range for blood sugar is between 80 mg/ml and 120 mg/ml. Insulin is like a small ferryboat: It picks up blood sugar, then transfers it to our bloodstream and into our cells. This regulates and maintains blood sugar levels within the normal range. When we eat sugar (or other carbohydrate-rich foods that are quickly processed into blood sugar), the pancreas goes into overdrive to produce the insulin necessary for all the new blood sugar to be stored. This insulin surge tells our body that plenty of energy is available, and that it should stop burning fat and start storing it.
Low blood sugar (reactive hypoglycemia) occurs when the insulin surge causes too much blood sugar to be transported out of our blood. This can leave us feeling tired, hungry, weak, shaky, lightheaded, and anxious. As a result, we crave sugar and carbohydrates, thinking they will pick us back up. In reality, they start the cycle all over again. And, in the process, our body stores more fat. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) occurs when the insulin is unable to transport enough blood sugar out of our blood.
Weight loss happens between meals when we have balanced blood sugar and no excess insulin. Thus, understanding blood sugar is a great way to facilitate long-term healthy fat loss. In addition, it can help keep your metabolism high.
So let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.
Food for stable blood sugar
The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of simple carbohydrates, refined sugars and starches you eat. Now I am not saying you shouldn’t eat a piece of fruit, because fruit contains all kinds of important micro nutrients and antioxidants, but when you do, be sure to balance the fruit with some protein and healthy fats will slow the digestion and prevent the insulin spike.
Simple carbohydrates include the various forms of sugar (look for words ending in “ose”), such as sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (dairy sugar), and glucose (blood sugar). Really looking at food labels is so important. Hidden sugar is lurking in processed foods, beverages, fat-free foods, and juices. Instead opt for meals rich in healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Be careful not to deprive or starve yourself either! Not only does starvation increase the production of stress hormones like cortisol that prevent weight loss, but the resulting low blood sugar causes our body to burn muscle, ultimately lowering our metabolism.
Eating more fiber is helpful too. 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.
FACT: Adult women 50 and younger should consume at least 25 grams of fiber a day. Women 51 and older should have at least 21 grams a day. Adult men need at least 38 grams of fiber a day if they are younger than 50 and at least 30 grams of fiber a day if they are 51 and older. Ninety percent of the U.S. population consumes far below those recommendations, averaging only 15 grams of daily fiber.
Lifestyle for stable blood sugar
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?
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.
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, because that’s where we are happiest! The body does have mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant) and that is why it is important to do what we can do through lifestyle and diet to support this. Because long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble and cause unnecessary stress.
Remember, there are many easy to implement nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing carbs, and eating more fiber, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health). And bonus, taking this approach will also help beat those sugar cravings, reduce achy joints and inflammation, and overall help you maintain a healthy weight 🙂
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.