Blood Sugar 101

Most people think blood sugar sugar is only something that diabetics have to think about and monitor. This is far from the truth. We are all impacted by blood sugar swings and the key is keeping those swings from being too high and low.

I work with a lot of people who consider themselves pretty healthy and this is even true for them.

Hormones are impossible to balance if our blood sugar is swinging high and low. Blood sugar, insulin, and cortisol are very closely related. When our stress pathway (our sympathetic nervous system) is activated cortisol plays a role in increasing our blood sugar so we are prepared to fight, flight or flee. On the flip side, if our blood sugar gets too high or low our stress response is activated increasing cortisol as our body tries to regain homeostasis, or balance.

Melatonin (our sleep hormone) is also tightly connected to blood sugar. We need our blood sugar optimal during the night so that our stress pathway is not activated and responsible for waking us up in the middle of the night because of a drop in blood sugar.

What goes up must come down.

If our blood sugar is fluctuating up and down too high during the day it will most likely continue to do so during the night, disrupting our melatonin.

Really I can go on and on about the impacts of blood sugar fluctuations.

Signs of blood sugar imbalance can include the following- waking up at 2-4 am, an afternoon energy crash, foggy thinking, irritability aka “hangry” from not eating, weakness, blurred vision, craving sugary or refined foods, craving alcohol, belly fat, need for caffeine to get through the day, jittery/shaky, low sex drive, problems losing weight, infertility, anxiety, cravings, and more.

Blood sugar highs and lows can be the root cause of inflammation, oxidative stress, and numerous downstream problems. Blood sugar regulation is important for all of us and is often overlooked as a cause of everyday symptoms. Learning basic physiology and listening to your body’s signs and signals can help. Measuring your blood sugar levels can be super insightful and great fun too, if you want to go there:)

 

Basic terms to help understand blood sugar- 

Glucose– simple sugar known as blood sugar that is used to make energy, produced mainly by the breakdown of carbohydrates during digestion.  When we eat carbs or protein our blood sugar or glucose in our blood rises. 

Insulin-  hormone that helps move glucose from the blood to the cells to be used as energy or stored, it is produced in the pancreas and lowers blood sugar levels.  When our blood sugar rises our insulin follows it, helping remove the sugar or glucose from our blood so our cells can use it.   Then our blood sugar comes back down. 

Insulin SensitivityThe normal and prefered situation where the cells are open to receiving insulin so the insulin can do its job and lower blood sugar allowing cells to use the glucose for energy.

Glucagon- hormone produced by the pancreas to balance insulin, when insulin is low (because blood sugar is low).  Glucagon promotes the release of glycogen (stored glucose) in the liver and the conversion of proteins to glucose. Both provide glucose for cells to use for energy. 

Dysglycemia– state of chronically dysregulated blood sugar that includes both low and high blood sugar levels.  This is far more common than we think and can drive many everyday symptoms.   

 

Things can drive dysglycemia or dis-regulated blood sugar- This can vary as we are all unique but some things that impact this include- 

  • Not getting enough fat, fiber, and protein at our meals
  • Eating or grazing all day
  • Eating late at night
  • Eating high sugar foods including juices, flour, baked and packaged foods
  • Having chronically high stress or not processing our stress well
  • Not being fat adapted (able to use fat as energy)
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Skipping breakfast if not fat adapted
  • Menopause (estrogen plays a role in our sensitivity to glucose)
  • Genetics

 

With all things, tuning in to how you feel at different times of the day is an important first step.   I encourage people I work with to temporarily track their mood (any symptom physical or mental), what they eat, and their poops, no matter what we are working on.  This can be especially insightful for blood sugar support. 

If you are ready to dig in more, monitoring and tracking your blood sugar is a great way to see what is going on in your body in real time. 

 

Glucometer- You can measure your blood sugar using a finger prick blood glucose meter or a continuous blood glucose meter. 

These both test your blood sugar levels in your blood so you can see what is happening in the moment.  This can be wonderful information when trying to optimize hormones or impact any aspect of your health. 

 

In Functional Nutrition we say that it is impossible to optimize our health if we are not

  1. Pooping at least once a day

  2. Sleeping at least 7-8 hours a night

  3. Regulating our blood sugar

 

General Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for regulating blood sugar (remember, we all react differently to foods and are bioindividual, but this is a good place to start and to be curious)-

    • Remove or reduce food bandits (sugar, artificial sweetener, white flour, damaged fats, processed foods)
    • Eat within 1-2 hours of waking up if you are trying to balance blood sugar.  Make sure to include clean protein for breakfast. 
    • Include Protein/Fat/Fiber in every meal/snack (make that your mantra!!)  
      • Fiber slows down the speed at which glucose hits your bloodstream (preventing the blood sugar and then insulin spike),
      • fat does not cause a rise in blood glucose but provides energy for cells and helps us feel satisfied (becoming fat adapted is important as many of us have ‘forgotten’ how to burn fat as energy),
      • and protein helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
    • No restrictions on fat as long as they are high quality such as avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut, olives,  coconut oil, fatty fish, pastured and organic meat/dairy/eggs, olive oil,  Omega 3’s 
    • Eat high quality carbs including non starchy veggies, dark green leafy vegetables,  polyphenols (from brightly colored fruits and vegetables), soaked/sprouted whole grains
    • Eat before becoming hungry.  Notice signs of hunger/blood sugar imbalance (see the list above of signs of blood sugar lows)
  •  
    • Specific Nutrients to get from food
        • B vitamins
        • vitamin D
        • Magnesium-( glycinate, citrate, or malate before bed)
        • Chromium- facilitates insulin signaling and decrease carb craving
        • Zinc
    • Booster Foods– greens powders for cofactors, fermented foods, chia, flax, etc
    • Sulfur foods for Alpha Lipoic Acid- broccoli, onion, cruciferous veggies
    • Stress reduction and stress processing (daily meditation, guided imagery, etc). Remember the tie to stress and cortisol?  They go hand in hand. 
    • Exercise daily
    • Mindfulness, spiritual practice
    • Find joy, community connection, loved ones, hobbies, delight
    • Get a good night’s sleep.  Go to bed by 10pm if possible and keep your room as dark, quiet, and cool as possible

 

Check out my blog on carbs if you are interested in learning more about them

 

References-

Bauman, Ed.  Therapeutic Nutrition Manuel. Bauman College.  Pengrove, CA. 2016

Hyman, Mark.  The Blood Sugar Solution- The 10 day Detox.  Little Brown and Company. New York, NY.  2014

Kresser, Chris. When Normal Blood Sugar Isn’t Normal.  Kresser Institute. October 2016

Janel Ferrin Anderson NC FNLP DNM

Janel works with people who are curious about using food and lifestyle to optimize health. Janel is obsessed with physiology and how our body interacts with the world. She helps people tune into their body, build resilience and function their best.

https://www.instagram.com/mountainrebalance/

4 thoughts on “Blood Sugar 101

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  1. Janel, what type of chocolate collagen protein powder do you like? there are so many protien powders out there! I’m sure you’ve done the research! Thanks!!

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