Blood Sugar Baby…..(I’m singing that Red Hot Chilli Peppers song!)
So what is Blood Sugar anyway?
I’m glad you are interested, because this is a topic that every Australian should be aware of, as it is related to a health condition called diabetes, which causes insulin resistance and inflammation in the entire body system. In 2015, diabetes was ranked as the 6th leading cause of death in Australia, so looking to blood sugar regulation as a preventative health measure is important.
Blood sugar refers to the amount of blood glucose (sugar) that you have in your body. We need blood glucose to keep us alive, to feed our brain and help us with thousands of metabolic processes from rebuilding & repairing every cell in our body, to adequate functioning of major organs like the brain, liver & kidneys as well as energy production. Without enough blood glucose in our body system (low blood sugar) we are in big trouble and the same goes for if we have too much (high blood sugar)!
So as my favourite catch cry goes “it’s all about the balance!”
Where does blood glucose come from?
It comes predominately from the foods that we eat, particularly carbohydrates of all types. Although if we don’t have enough blood sugars coming into our body through food sources then the body is very clever and will start to convert our proteins (muscles) and fats into blood glucose to help keep the body and brain alive. Now some people may think that this is a great idea: let the body convert all of the unwanted fat into blood glucose! However there’s a catch with this conversion: it comes with a lot of metabolic waste, which heavily impacts the functioning of our vital organs (like the kidneys) and this conversion can cause a lot of severe damage in a very short period of time. Some reports have shown that the by-product of converting fat tissue into blood glucose, which is called ‘ketosis’, can shut the kidney organs down completely within 6 weeks, leaving a person in a critical health condition in hospital, reliant on a dialysis machine for the rest of their lives (not fun or advised!).
When blood sugar levels are too high, the body goes into ‘fat storage’ mode, converting the extra blood sugar into belly & thigh fat for safe keeping. When the focus is on consciously lowering the blood sugar (not too much, just in a healthy moderate way) the body goes into ‘fat burning’ mode, turning belly and thigh fat reserves into pure energy ready to be burned instantly.
How do we go about balancing blood glucose?
As we can now see, balancing blood sugar is truly the key to our optimal health and longevity, and the way to balance it is by supporting our pancreas, which is the organ/gland that helps to regulate blood glucose through insulin production. This means eating the right kind & amount of foods for our body type and individual needs, that also helps regulate blood sugar. Eating healthy, whole foods is the essential ingredient to healthy blood sugar levels.
How do you know which foods to eat? Here are some guidelines:
Foods that raise blood glucose levels
- Simple, refined & processed carbohydrates (think white flour bakery-type foods like, breads, pies, cakes etc.) especially when it’s made with white flour & processed sugar
- Processed and refined grains (this includes white pasta, white rice, cous cous, polenta) which are not bad foods, they are just high in simple carbohydrates which raises blood glucose levels… moderation is the key
- Sugar-lollies, chocolate, sweet treats, added sugars (don’t forget about all of the hidden sugars found in our foods, even the healthy ones on the supermarket shelf!) Check out my “Sweet Hawaii” blog here for more info!
- Soft drinks and artificial sweeteners
- High fructose corn syrup or HFCS (read labels its hidden in a lot of processed sauces and foods)
- Alcohol (3 alcohol free days in a row is recommended and no more than 2 x standard drinks per day)
- Gluten (please see my “What’s with Gluten” blog here for more information)
- Excessive red & white meat products – especially cured meats (try to incorporate at least 2-3 vegetarian complete protein combining evening meals per week)
- Some fats: margarine, vegetable oils, canola (these fats are used in fast food and may trigger inflammation processes)
- Diet products and low fat products (usually high in sugar and sodium – read labels!)
- Excessive use of sodium salt (celtic sea salt is more complete in minerals than normal table salt)
- Excessive use of tea and coffee (more than 1-2 cups per day is considered excessive)
- Fast foods, processed and refined food (packet foods)
- Overeating (your stomach can expand in size to up to 4 fist fulls so consider this with serving sizes) and eating too late at night (try not to eat after 8-9pm)
- Not having regular exercise and dieting or skipping meals, not getting enough calories
- Emotional stress and trauma
- Gene variations like MTHFR, HLA-sub types etc. (please see an integrative health care practitioner to discuss these topics further)
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Inflammation & inflammatory conditions
- Thyroid imbalances
- Certain medications
- MSG = monosodium glutamate (is often hidden in packet foods and used liberally in some countries overseas to enhance taste & favours)
Ok so there’s a whole lot of “try to avoid” foods or “eat minimally” foods, but no one really likes to focus on what they can’t have – it can feel boring and restrictive, so let’s take a look at what foods you can eat (and what you can do) to help lower blood glucose & support glucose metabolism:
- Regular eating – don’t skip meals, take time to consider the combination of food that you are eating, aiming for some protein, carbohydrate & good fat in most meals
- Knowing when to eat – timing is important for specific foods and time between meals needs to be regular
- Increasing metabolism increases your insulin production, this means eating regularly, doing regular exercise for 30 mins per day & making the right food choices
- Berries of all types can help to regulate blood sugar & are a tasty sweet snack instead of processed sugars like chocolate
- Grapefruit (half a grapefruit per day has shown benefits in some people to regulate blood sugar levels)
- Cinnamon spice can dramatically lower & help to regulate blood sugar levels and turmeric can help to lower inflammation
- Iodine & zinc rich foods help to regulate the thyroid gland & help to mediate blood sugar
- Good fats and oils (nuts & seeds, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil) omega 3 & 6
- Salmon, nuts, sardines, nut butters, extra virgin coconut oil & olive oil
- Avoiding gluten, as it can drive inflammation. See my blog “What’s with Gluten?” here for more info
Supporting the pancreas is another important consideration as fat deposits can accumulate around the pancreas, which can reduce the efficacy of insulin, resulting in elevated blood glucose (sugar) levels. Working to support the pancreas to reduce the fat deposits around it using “the gastric by-pass diet meal plan” can help some individuals already struggling with their blood sugar regulation by helping to take pressure off the pancreas & assists in boosting metabolism. Along with these diet changes, regulation & timing of meals is also important. This type of diet needs to be assessed & monitored by your health care practitioner to make sure it is right for you before you start it.
The guidelines for the “Gastric By-pass Diet Meal Plan” include:
- Choose lean meats
- Increased fish intake, reduced canned tuna & salmon to 3x per week
- Avoid greasy and spicy foods
- Avoid whole milk
- Eat nutrient dense foods (whole fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs)
- Plan your meals, be organised so that you don’t skip meals or make poor food choices when ‘hangry’
- Involve your family in healthy eating decisions
- Shop for healthy foods
- Limit or eliminate desserts (berries are a great substitute)
- Don’t tempt yourself with a pantry full of junk foods
- Eliminate fast food
- Eat out only on occasion
- Take quality nutritional supplements/vitamins (always consult with your health care practitioner to find out the best supplements for your needs)
- Separate your water and food by at least 30 minutes
- Introduce new foods slowly
- Each meal should be no larger than your fist (this is only appropriate for some people so always check with your health care practitioner before you apply this to your diet)
What are the side effects of long term blood sugar imbalances?
One of the major negative side effects of having long term blood sugar imbalances is diabetes. Diabetes is problematic because it has many side effects that can impact the entire body system, including: heart disease, eye problems & blindness, nerve problems that untreated can lead to amputations due to gangrene, kidney issues and kidney failure, gastrointestinal problems and gums & teeth issues. It can also require long term medication use & insulin injections as treatment to help manage the disease. Recent research shows the inflammatory molecules called “LTB4” causes insulin resistance. And we now know that insulin resistance leads to high blood sugar and diabetes. This research suggests that managing inflammation is another preventative health strategy that can help to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.
Some practical ways to regulate your blood sugar and make sure you are on track to your optimal health & wellbeing include:
- Having an initial consultation with your integrative health care team
- Having a check-up with your integrative GP to get some blood pathology tests done
- Having a follow-up consult with your integrative naturopath to help review your blood pathology for a preventative health perspective and design foods & meal plans to suit your body’s needs
- Hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions per week to help kick start a healthy, balanced exercise regime that suits your individual needs
Navigating your way through lifestyle changes can be challenging. Some people may need further mental & emotional support through counsellors or psychologists and I can’t recommend this approach highly enough. Often we wait until there is a major ‘crisis” before we take steps to support our mental/emotional spheres, whereas if we address these areas with a good skill set of tools and techniques, then we can often dodge the crisis before it happens.
If you would like some further insight into any of the topics covered in this blog, please leave a comment for me below or contact me direct by clicking here.
I look forward to chatting with you soon.
With much love and balanced blood sugar!