Blood Sugar Balance in Plain English
Before we get started with tips to balance your blood sugar, I want to cover some basic blood sugar terms that I will be using in this discussion.
Blood sugar/blood glucose – Glucose is the form of sugar that is in our bloodstream. Glucose is the body’s preferred source of fuel.
Insulin – the pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that shuttles glucose from the blood into body cells. It knocks on the cell and says, “Open up, I’ve got some glucose that I need to get out of the bloodstream so take it and use it for energy.”
Insulin resistance – When we consume a large amount of refined carbs with very little fat and protein, our blood sugar spikes very high and the pancreas frantically overcompensates with insulin release. This overcompensation of insulin eventually causes insulin resistance, which leads to Type 2 Diabetes if poor dietary practices are continued. The good news, however, is that it can an be reversed through a healthy diet that balances your blood sugar.
Glycogen – Glucose that doesn’t enter body cells is taken to the liver where it is converted to glycogen. This is a form of stored sugar that is broken down to stabilize low blood sugar levels between meals and during the night. It is healthful for the body store of glycogen, but stress and hormone dysfunction deplete our ability to store glycogen and this can contribute to blood sugar imbalance.
Hyperglycemia – Hyperglycemia is another term for high blood sugar. It is normal to have a spike in blood sugar after a meal, but chronically high blood sugar causes severe health issues.
Hypoglycemia – Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar. Glycogen, the sugar stored in the liver, is responsible for raising blood sugar in-between meals and should prevent hypoglycemia. Stress and hormonal imbalances, however, reduce the body’s ability to store glycogen. Hypoglycemia can also occur after a high-carb, low-fat meal when excessive insulin pushes too much sugar into the cells.
Balance blood sugar, get healthy!
Here’s the scenario we’re aiming for when we take steps to balance blood sugar naturally:
- When we consume healthy sources of carbohydrates with plenty of good fat and protein, the glucose from the meal enters our blood in a slowly, and the pancreas responds by secreting a measured amount of insulin.
- Insulin shuttles the right amount of glucose into the cells and it is used for energy. There is not excess insulin running around in the blood stream to promote inflammation.
- We avoid “sugar highs” and “sugar lows” with balanced blood sugar throughout the day. We can easily go 3 hours or more between eating without experiencing sugar cravings or feeling shaky, irritable or tired.
- Since blood sugar imbalances perpetuate inflammation, stable blood sugar reduces inflammation and helps balance hormones.
- Because stable blood sugar means no sugar or carb cravings, even stubborn weight starts to melt away with balanced blood sugar levels.
Ready to balance blood sugar naturally? Let’s get started!
1. Balance blood sugar with plenty of healthy fats
Whenever we eat a source of carbohydrate, it should be accompanied by a quality source of fat. Fat slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and prevents sugar highs and sugar crashes. This keeps us full longer so we can reach or maintain a healthy weight.
What happens when we attempt a low fat diet? First, we replace the fat in our meal with sugar and refined carbohydrate, because removing fat from food also removes flavor and moisture. Second, we experience sugar cravings and frequent hunger. This results because fat provides satiation and satisfaction after a meal, while carbohydrates alone do not.
Additionally, the presence of fat in a meal signals the gallbladder to release bile. A stint on a low-fat diet, be it months or years, causes the bile to become thick and stagnant. Since the bile contains hormones and toxins that need to leave the body, stagnant bile allows these things to be reabsorbed into the body. This can contribute to inflammation and blood sugar imbalances.
When it comes to choosing fats, opt to skip anything that requires a factory to produce it. Corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil and margarine are all highly processed and highly inflammatory. As a rule of thumb, enjoy fats that allowed your ancestors of 10,000 (and even 100,000 years ago!) to thrive. These include fats from grazing animals, like butter, egg yolks, lard and tallow. Coconut oil is another excellent option. For an example of what a daily intake of fat should resemble, read my post 10 Reasons Why Low Fat is NOT High Nutrition.
Wait a minute! You may be thinking. Won’t those fats clog my arteries? Nope, but blood sugar problems will! Science tells us that saturated fats does not cause heart disease, and neither does cholesterol clog arteries. Studies show that a low fat diet increases triglycerides and lowers HDL cholesterol. A meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that there is no evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. Further, studies show that low cholesterol actually correlates to numerous health problems.
2. Don’t eat constantly to balance blood sugar
How often have you heard, “It’s best to eat small, frequent meals to balance your blood sugar”? This is a debated topic. Many nutrition researchers whom I greatly respect, including Sarah Ballentyne who wrote The Paleo Approach, believe it is best to transition to larger, less frequent meals to help regulate hunger hormones. As a matter of fact, we do not have proof from studies to show that smaller, more frequent meals improves health.
With that said, I believe that it may be necessary to slowly transition to less frequent meals if you have issues like adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, autoimmune disease, inflammation, and/or compromised digestion. A good starting point is three solid meals a day, if you are used to snacking all through the day. Intermittent fasting can be healthful, but, in my experience, not when blood sugar balance is severely compromised.
3. Eat protein with breakfast for balanced blood sugar
With that said, breakfast is usually an important part of the day to balance blood sugar. If you are not hungry for breakfast, it indicates that you may suffer slow digestion due to inadequate stomach acid. It can also be a sign that your stress hormones are out of whack.
When we skip breakfast, the body increases production of stress hormones and starts to break down muscle (not fat – muscle!) to use for energy. It’s a very stressful situation for the body and wreaks havoc on blood sugar balance for the rest of the day.
Focus on fat and protein at breakfast, rather than carbs. I usually eat eggs, sausage, and low-carb veggies for breakfast, leaving the carbs for lunch and dinner. Chris Kresser and Dave Asprey both suggest timing carb intake at dinner. First, starch-digesting enzymes follow a circadian rhythm, and are more active at night. Second, carbs have a sedative effect, which can be beneficial before bed.
A breakfast with 40 grams of protein, according Chris Kresser in Your Personal Paleo Code, has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar throughout the rest of the day. That’s a therapeutic dose of protein and not necessary for everyone. If that dose is out of the question, shoot for at least 20 grams of protein each morning. Some grassfed collagen added to your coffee helps!
4. Protein is essential to balance blood sugar levels
Quality fats slows down the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, providing satiation and satisfaction. Protein helps pull sugar into the cells so your body can use it for energy. And, of course, carbohydrates provide your body with the preferred source of fuel: glucose.
See how the three macronutrients – fat, protein and carbohydrate – works together nicely?
We run into problems when we consume poor quality macronutrients and/or consume them out of proportion. Too much protein without healthy fats, for example, can deplete fat soluble vitamins A and D. Consume a healthy source of protein, carbohydrate and fat at each meal to balance your blood sugar.
Remember, protein powders are not healthy options. Even plant-based protein powders provide poor quality protein without the fatty acid co-factors required to properly utilize the protein. One healthy protein addition that I recommend is Grassfed Collagen Hydrolysate, found here, which is gelatin that dissolves instantly in hot or cold beverages. It can supplement your protein intake with healthful amino acids, but should not replace whole-food sources of animal proteins. Take one tablespoon twice daily.
5. Skip the “healthy whole grains” to balance blood sugar
Gluten free is the new “in-diet” but it’s not enough. I strongly believe gluten free diet is always the way to go, due to the genetic composition of modern wheat and the methods of wheat preparation. However, a gluten free diet does not automatically quality as a healthy diet, because it often includes extremely inflammatory ingredients like vegetable oils, soy, refined sugar and other grains.
While going gluten free didn’t bring significant results, eliminating all grains from my diet changed my life. Why did going grain free transform my health?
The consumption of grains perpetuates carbohydrate malabsorption and blood sugar imbalances. This is because the starches in grains damages the vili and microvilli in the small intestine, which are the finger-like projections responsible for absorbing nutrients. As discussed in The Gut and Psychology Syndrome, this creates a permeable gut lining and fosters the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria. Both these factors damage your blood sugar balance by instigating sugar cravings and inflammation.
6. Favor roots and fruits as carbs to balance blood sugar
Instead of obtaining carbohydrates from grains, opt for healthy carbs from fresh, whole fruits and root vegetables. These carbs do not perpetuate inflammation or intestinal damage like grains. Enjoy fresh fruits in season as well as a variety of frozen fruits. Sweet potatoes, carrots, celeriac, beets and other root vegetables provide a nutrient-rich source of healthy carbs. Remember, to balance blood sugar, enjoy fruits and roots in the presence of healthy fats and protein.
7. Balance blood sugar with Healthy Buttermints
Remember how I told you that healthy fats are the key to balance blood sugar? My Healthy Buttermints recipe here provides a dose of nourishing fatty acids to nip sugar cravings in the bud within 5-10 minutes of eating them.
How does it work? It contains butter and optionally coconut oil, two extremely healthful sources of beneficial saturated fats. (Yes, I used healthful and beneficial in the same sentence as saturated fats… I’m trying to make a point here.) Calorie-for-calorie, these good fats provide profound satiation while promoting hormone balance and weight management. And, of course, these fats help balance your blood sugar. The small amount of refined honey in the recipe satisfies your sugar cravings but won’t spike your blood sugar, because it is balanced with fats. Additionally, honey is shown to improve blood sugar balance in comparison to other sweeteners.
8. Emphasize quality sleep
Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on blood sugar. On the bright side, improving your sleep habits will go a long way in supporting healthy blood sugar levels.
Sleep deprivation affects blood sugar in numerous ways. In one study, sleep deprived participants experience a decrease of cortisol concentrations that was 6 times slower than usual. The higher evening cortisol levels are linked to insulin resistance.
Inadequate sleep also drastically reduces glucose tolerance (making it more difficult for cells to uptake glucose, creating higher blood sugar). This finding is so significant that researchers drew the conclusion that “less than 1 week of sleep restriction can result in a prediabetic state in young, healthy subjects.”
9. T-Tapp: Exercise to balance blood sugar levels
T-Tapp is a unique physical therapy approach to fitness that I use as the main part of my own exercise routine. It uses a specific sequence of left brain/right brain and rehabilitative movements to tone muscles, detox the body and support blood sugar balance. One specific T-Tapp move lowered my blood sugar 30 points in two minutes! I share that move and my review of the T-Tapp program here.
Chronic cardio activities like running, Zumba and spinning keep your heart rate constantly elevated, spike stress hormones and create damaging free radicals. All these factors throw hormones and blood sugar out of balance, but T-Tapp has none of these problematic “side effects” and is specifically designed to support ideal hormone and blood sugar balance. To learn which T-Tapp program to choose and how to use T-Tapp for optimal results, please read my T-Tapp Review and Guide here.
10. Use a glucose meter to balance blood sugar
We can take hints from our body about our blood sugar levels. For example, if you feel shaky or irritable in-between meals, this points to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). If you buzzed after a carb-dense, low fat meal or snack, that indicates hyperglycemia.
With that said, the only way to truly understand your blood sugar levels is to use a glucose meter. This is a pretty affordable and easy option, and the only reoccurring expense is the test strips. I highly recommend this article by Chris Kresser explaining how and when to monitor your blood sugar with a glucose meter.
I purchased the glucose meter recommended in his post, the RelionUltima, and I take my blood sugar readings one day each week or so (4-6 times on that day). This helps me stay on track with my blood sugar, although by now I know how to keep it pretty balanced. You may find it helpful to monitor your blood sugar daily for a month while your are tweaking your diet.
It’s all about making mealtime compensations to balance blood sugar. If your blood sugar is too high, increase the healthy fat at your meals and decrease the carbs (remember, fruits and roots are the best carbs!). If your blood sugar is too low between meals, consider increasing the carbs at your meals and perhaps include a snack such as the Healthy Buttermints.
Are you on a mission to balance blood sugar? Do you follow any of these steps?
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Thank you for a wonderful, comprehensive, helpful article.
I very much enjoy T-Tapp though I am new to it and was excited to see another naturally minded person talking about it! Doing Hoe Downs then taking your glucose reading is a great idea which I am going to try.
Our family of 5 is getting ready to go through the 21 Day Sugar Detox which is grain and dairy free; staying away from grains (and legumes) makes us feel MUCH better, even with long soaking periods for the legumes.