The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Aren’t you tired of trying to eat all of the right things, eating 5 or 6 small meals a day, and still crashing in the middle of the afternoon? Or maybe you’re able to be “good” all day until the second you get home from work when you start rummaging through the cupboards because you’re starving. Are you constantly beating yourself up – ‘I’m so weak’, ‘I have zero willpower’, ‘I’m such an idiot’, ‘I blew it’! It’s like the food is controlling you instead of the other way around. I understand how you feel and you’re not alone.
It’s likely that you are taking a ride on the blood sugar roller coaster all day, causing your extreme cravings and lack of energy. What is the blood sugar roller coaster? It’s experiencing spikes in blood sugar after you eat followed by a dip shortly after. Here’s the lowdown on your blood sugar and why you should learn how to keep it in check (even if you don’t have diabetes).
When we eat carbohydrates, they break down into sugar in the body. And no, I’m not just talking about bread, pasta, and cake – ALL sources of carbohydrates break down into sugar. Fruit, dairy, beans, lentils, corn, peas, rice, oats, and sweet potato do too! So, when we eat carbohydrates it causes our blood sugar to rise. In response to an increase in blood sugar our pancreas releases insulin. Insulin’s job is to shuttle all of the sugar into our cells to be used for energy. Sugar is our body’s favorite energy source! Our brain, muscles, and organs can use sugar for quick and easy fuel. So, if our brain, muscles, and organs use up sugar then what’s the problem? We’re consuming too much!
If we eat a lot of carbohydrates all at once rapidly increasing our blood sugar then it signals a lot of insulin to be released as well. And as you know, what goes up must come down! Just as quickly as our blood sugar spiked, we experience a dip after insulin transported all of the sugar out of the blood into our cells. It is in this low blood sugar state where you may feel irritable (“hangry”), have intense cravings, maybe you feel a little bit shaky, have difficulty focusing ( foggy brain), feel anxious, or a more subtle and general sense of unease. What’s the logical thing to do when you feel this way? You eat again! And we continue on the crazy blood sugar roller coaster ride.
A common misconception is to think that carbohydrates are “bad” and should be avoided. The reality is that carbohydrates can be an important source of energy and nutrients that support your health. Unprocessed sources in particular provide the most health benefits because they’re high in dietary fiber, rich in vitamins, minerals, and have antioxidant properties! You shouldn’t stop eating carbs! However, balancing your meals and being conscious of the amount, and the quality of your carbohydrates can have a dramatic impact on your health.
We balance out our meals and stabilize blood sugar by having adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats. Protein and fats don’t break down into the body as sugar. We digest protein and fat much slower than carbohydrates that acts as a buffer when eaten with carbohydrate foods. Strategically pairing your carbs with protein and fat in the same meal creates more of a gradual rise and fall in blood sugar, more like rolling hills compared to a steep cliff. Another perk is that proteins and fats actually make us feel full and satisfied for several hours after eating. When we digest proteins and fats a message is sent to our brain telling us that we’re full and to stop eating. We don’t get this message when we eat carbohydrates alone. That’s why you might eat a piece of fruit and feel even more hungry an hour later!
A super simple checklist you can use to build a balanced meal is to think...
PROTEIN + FAT + FIBER
Emphasizing “fiber” helps you to focus on the carbohydrate sources that support your health the most. Fiber also slows down digestion preventing a rapid spike in blood sugar. Think about comparing a whole apple to apple juice. Same fruit, one had the fiber removed, two drastically different impacts on our blood sugar. We digest the juice much faster causing a more dramatic spike in blood sugar compared to eating the whole fruit with the fiber intact.
My favorite high-fiber carbohydrate sources: Vegetables, fresh fruit, beans, lentils, oats, quinoa, and sweet potato
SIGNS OF BLOOD SUGAR IMBALANCE:
Mood swings, irritability
Brain fog, difficulty concentrating
Fatigue, mid-afternoon slump
Acne, rosacea (and other skin problems)
Digestive issues (bloating, diarrhea)
Slow metabolism, weight gain
Elevated serum triglycerides
Low HDL levels
High fasted blood glucose
Insulin resistance, diabetes
Our overall health and wellness depends on what we feed our body on a consistent basis, which means once you establish daily habits that stabilize your blood sugar and supports your health there will be wiggle room to include ice cream, too! Balancing blood sugar by preventing extreme spikes and dips throughout your day is one of the keys to overall health and wellness.