Eating for blood sugar balance
Keep your energy and mental focus going strong
When we eat foods that release sugar into our bloodstream quickly, our energy (and mood) tends to spike and crash like a roller coaster ride instead of being steady and sustained. We also tend to feel less satisfied and feel hungry sooner. It’s also harder on our body, especially our pancreas, and our nervous system. When our blood sugar spikes and crashes it tends to put our nervous system into the sympathetic or stressed out “fight or flight” mode. When our blood sugar stays more even it tends to help keep our nervous system in parasympathetic or relaxed “rest and digest” mode. Having balanced blood sugar in the evening (i.e. avoiding foods that release sugar into our bloodstream quickly in the evening) is also especially important for good quality sleep! Eating at regular times is also important for blood sugar balance. Our bodies like routine! As always, speak with your healthcare provider before making any changes, dietary, lifestyle or otherwise.
Eating for blood sugar balance
Generally, you’ll want to consider limiting, avoiding, or combining with foods that promote blood sugar balance
- Simple carbs (ex. boxed cereals, minute rice/minute oats, pastas, potatoes, bananas, breads, crackers, chips etc.)
- Caffeine (Caffeine can quickly impair blood sugar balance for a period of up to 24 hours!)
- Processed foods (ex. anything from a box, can or bag)
- Dried fruit
You’ll want to focus on
- Complex carbs (eg. vegetables like your leafy greens, squashes, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, brocoli, kale, peppers and grains that take 10-30 minutes to cook)
- Foods that contain water (eg. fruits, veggies, water)
- Fiber (eg. 10 minute oats, steel cut oats, legumes, okra, mushrooms, eggplant, blueberries, pears, zucchini)
- Protein (eg. meat, legumes, eggs, nuts, nut butters)
- Healthy fats (eg. olive oil, almonds, walnuts, certain types of fish)
Did you know?
Foods don’t have to taste sweet to release the sugar quickly into our blood stream!
For example, sweet potatoes release their sugar more slowly than white potatoes. Breads, chips, crackers and pastas typically release their sugar just as quickly as a candy bar.
Whole grains take 10-30 minutes to cook
Processed foods like minute oats and minute rice are prepared at very high temperatures, which destroys nutrients, and allows the sugars in these foods to be released into our blood stream very quickly, whereas whole grains like quinoa, millet, steel cut oats etc. release their sugars much more slowly.
Consider avoiding caffeine
Caffeine quickly and profoundly negatively affects blood sugar balance for a period of up to 24 hours!
Skip the artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweetners are found in diet pop, gum and many other products. There is some ongoing controversy over whether using artificial sweetener poses health risks. Consider decreasing your sugar intake, skipping artificial sweeteners, and perhaps opting for a small amount of honey when necessary. In general, honey can be sweeter than table sugar, so you may find you don’t need as much of it.
Consider combining carbs with protein, healthy fats or soluble fiber
There are two types of fiber – soluble (slimy) fiber, and insoluble (roughage) fiber. The roughage our body can’t really digest, so it bulks up our stools. However, the soluble (slimy) fiber which is in foods like: blueberries, pears, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, okra, oats, psyllium and flax helps to slow the emptying of our stomach and balance our blood sugar. Be sure to take foods with high amounts of soluble fiber like oats, psyllium or flax with enough water or you may find them constipating.
No matter what you decide to eat, if you combine it with some protein, some soluble fiber or some healthy fat, or any combination of the three it slows the release of sugar from other foods we eat at the same time. This allows us to feel more satisfied and feel full longer, and keep our blood sugar balanced and our energy and mental focus going strong.
Consider saving the simple carbs for last
Didn’t your mom always tell you to eat your veggies first? New research shows that starting a meal with protein or veggies and finishing with simple carbs like bread or dessert results in better blood sugar control among overweight individuals with diabetes.
Tropical fruit vs. temperate fruit
In general, tropical fruit (eg. banana, mango, pineapple) has more sugar than temperate fruit (eg. berries) (temperate fruit grows here in Canada and in the U.S.). Oranges and grapes also contain a lot of sugar.
The power of habit
In overweight or obese individuals, simply eating at the same time each day has associated with a ten pound weight loss! You may want to try having snacks and meals at regular times (eg. Breakfast at 8am, mid-morning snack around 10:30am, lunch around 1pm, mid-aftenoon snack around 3:30pm, evening meal around 6pm)
Originally published in the Valley Naturopath clinic newsletter September, 2013Related to: blood sugar balance . complex carbs . energy . healthy eating . healthy fats . mental focus . nutrition . proteins . whole grains