Blood sugar spikes and drops result in undesirable symptoms. Are you dealing with headaches, brain fog, or fatigue? Are your cravings for carbohydrates all over the place? If yes, this could be due to imbalanced blood sugar. Keep reading for a brief physiology lesson + 3 nutrition tips to stabilize blood sugar.
Blood Sugar FAQs
Before we talk about stabilizing blood sugar, it’s important to understand what it is and how it works.
What is blood sugar?
Blood Sugar is also known as blood glucose. Glucose is one of the body’s preferred sources of energy. Glucose provides nutrients to the body’s organs, muscles, and nervous system (aka- it’s essential for normal functioning).
What is healthy blood sugar?
It is recommended for fasting blood sugar to be less than 99 mg/dL. Fasting Blood Sugar is a test that your doctor can order for you. Another way to test blood sugar is A1C. This tests blood sugar average over a longer period of time.
If you have diabetes, you should speak with your doctor about target blood sugar ranges as healthy blood sugar targets will look different for you:
- The American Diabetes Association recommends target levels of 70–130 mg/dL before eating for a person with diabetes. Within 2 hours of eating a meal, blood glucose levels should be less than 180mg/dL. (1)
How does the body digest and absorb sugar?
When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose. Digestion begins in the mouth where enzymes are active in this process. Next, the pancreas plays an important role by releasing insulin to “pick up” glucose in the bloodstream and carry it to the cells where it can be used for energy. Problems with blood sugar regulation occur when insulin does not work properly (ie. diabetes, insulin resistance, etc.)
When this process goes fast as with simple sugars (ie. sugary beverages, candy) you are likely to feel a spike and crash feeling. Also, you are likely to feel hungry again soon.
When this process goes slow as with complex carbohydrates (ie. whole-grain/high fiber foods), you’re likely to feel a steady level of energy and feel satisfied for a longer period of time.
The goal of blood sugar stability is to avoid the spike and crash feeling and aim for steady energy where you feel satisfied from the foods you eat.
What other factors affect blood sugar?
In addition to food choices: Sleep, stress, hydration status, and activity level can affect blood sugar. For the remainder of this post, we will focus on Gentle Nutrition Tips for Blood Sugar stability but know that these other areas of health are equally important.
Signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugar?
- Low Blood Sugar Symptoms: shakiness, nausea, light-headedness, being nervous or anxious, sweating and chills, confusion, hunger, feeling sleepy, headaches, tingling or numbness in lips, tongue, and cheeks. (2)
- High Blood Sugar Symptoms: frequent urination, increased thirst. (3)
3 Nutrition Tips to Stabilize Blood Sugar
Let’s review carbs, fiber, fats, protein & their role in blood sugar stability.
1 – Let’s Chat Carbs
There are 3 types of carbohydrates: sugar, starches, and fiber. Carbohydrates are considered simple or complex based on how quickly they are digested and absorbed.
Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and send an immediate burst of glucose into the bloodstream. These can be categorized as “refined” or “naturally occurring”:
- Refined sugars: candy, simple syrups, soda, table sugar, etc.
- Naturally occurring sugars: fruits & dairy products. Emphasis is placed here because these sugars also come packed with vitamins, antioxidants and minerals!
Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly and provide a steady flow of blood glucose into the bloodstream. Examples include:
- Starchy Vegetables: potatoes, squash, peas, corn
- Legumes: beans, lentils
- Whole Grains & Fiber: Bread, rice, pasta, quinoa, bagels, farro, etc.
So when it comes to recommendations around carbohydrates:
- Focus on high-quality carbohydrates including a mix of fruit and veggies, whole grain products, or even non-traditional grains that are high in fiber. Where possible, limit refined simple sugar foods that cause undesirable symptoms on your energy levels. (4)
2 – More on Fiber!
Dietary fiber is defined by the Institute of Medicine Food Nutrition Board as “nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants. (5) Fiber helps slow the digestion of sugar.
The Adequate Intake for fiber is 25 g for adult women and 38 g for adult men, based on research demonstrating protection against coronary heart disease.
To add fiber to meals and snacks, eat more whole grains over white refined grains, add beans, nuts, lentils, and fruits/veggies.
Putting it all together
- 1 cup raspberries = 8 g fiber; enjoy over yogurt for a satisfying snack
- ½ cup oats (dry) = 4 g fiber; try hot oats or overnight oats for your next breakfast
- 1-ounce flaxseed = 8 g fiber; add flaxseed to your next smoothie
- 1 cup cooked broccoli = 5 g fiber; add as a side to dinner
We’ve already hit 25 grams!
3 – Protein & Fats
Research suggests that protein does not increase blood sugar levels, and it can help a person feel fuller for longer. (6)
Protein-rich foods include animal & plant-based proteins:
- Lean Meat
Healthful fats include:
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
Key Takeaway: Including healthful fats & proteins with meals and snacks helps us feel fuller longer and minimizes the spike of blood sugar.
- Think about your typical dietary intake. Which meals typically lack protein, fat, or fiber? What is one adjustment that you can to stabilize blood sugar?
- What are 3 fiber-rich foods you could add to your grocery list this week? (for more fiber-rich food ideas, see this article)