Are you on a Blood Sugar Rollercoaster?
Blood sugar levels can have a huge effect on our daily health and wellbeing.
For those taking an interest in their day-to-day health, it's very worthwhile understanding what blood sugar is and how the 'blood sugar rollercoaster' can potentially be a problematic issue to our health and wellbeing.
How Does Blood Sugar Relate to Daily Health?
When we digest food, our body turns it into glucose. Blood sugar is glucose (sugar) that is circulated in the bloodstream to be used as a source of energy by our cells and brain.
When eating a healthy and 'balanced' diet, this process is very normal and pretty much takes care of itself.
However, if we eat meals very high or dominant in refined and processed carbohydrates and/or sugar, or having multiple stimulants (such as caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes), our blood sugar levels are likely to ‘spike’ - getting too high and subsequently dropping too low in a short space of time. Another potential trigger for spikes in blood sugar is stress.
This is sometimes known as being on the blood sugar rollercoaster!
The result of this imbalance often produces symptoms such as:
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Tiredness/energy slumps
- Food cravings
- Feeling jittery/hyper
- Weight gain
General inflammation within the body can also occur, and ultimately lead to a wide variety of health issues.
What Does Blood Sugar Do Within The Body?
After eating, blood sugar naturally rises and triggers the pancreas to make a hormone called insulin.
Glucose is converted into a source of energy by insulin to try and keep blood sugar levels at the optimum level. Unfortunately, only a small amount of glucose can be stored (by the liver) at any one time, which leads to the majority of excess glucose being stored as fat.
The body often can’t deal with a sudden excess of insulin, leading to blood sugar levels dropping too low and too quickly.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the body in response to stress. When blood sugar levels are low, stress signals are sent to the brain and trigger the release of cortisol in order to raise blood sugar levels back up. However, if levels have dropped too low too quickly, the blood sugar level is likely to go too high in a short space of time, as the body is likely to overcompensate in its production of cortisol in this situation.
If the pancreas is regularly having to produce large amounts of insulin, our cells may start to lose their sensitivity to it.
This lack of sensitivity can lead to nutrients from food not being absorbed properly, as well as high levels of insulin and glucose remaining in the blood, and more glucose being stored as additional body fat. This cycle can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes and other health issues.
Possible Symptoms of the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster
Many of us will likely identify with the symptoms below on a daily basis.
- Needing coffee or tea to get you going
- Cravings for sweet or sugary foods
- Feeling constantly or almost always tired
- Feeling a need for more than 8 hours sleep
- Energy dips
- Inability to concentrate
- Mood swings
- Feeling thirsty
- Frequent urination
- Regular sweating
For some, such symptoms almost seem 'normal', but it doesn't have to be that way. Understanding the cause and effect of the blood sugar rollercoaster and making small changes can help you reduce or even eliminate many of these symptoms.
How Can I Avoid the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster?
Eating ‘balanced’ meals and snacks are vital, along with trying to keep stress levels under control.
A balanced meal or snack consists of foods containing useful levels of protein and fat, as well as ‘complex carbohydrates’.
This balance helps to keep blood sugar levels normal and give your body the right mix of nutrients to keep going until the next meal or snack.
‘Complex carbohydrates’ often contain useful amounts of fibre, which helps slow down the release of sugars.
Aim to eat whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice and wholemeal pasta, rye, whole grain breads, green vegetables, beans, lentils and peas.
Some fruits are lower in sugar than others - raspberries, blackberries, papaya, watermelon and tomatoes are good choices.
Good protein options are: lean meats, such as good quality cuts of red meat, chicken and turkey; white fish, including cod and haddock; oily fish, such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel; eggs; cottage cheese; and nuts, seeds and legumes.
With regard to fats, aim to choose foods that are mostly high in unsaturated fats. Good examples are olive oil, oily fish, nuts, avocados and seeds, including sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and linseed.
Limit your intake of foods containing high levels of trans fats like biscuits, cakes, margarine, processed meats, many ready meals and pastries.
Cook in oils such as olive oil or coconut oil. Butter and ghee are also good to cook with, although they are higher in saturated fats.
A diet based on unprocessed meals and snacks that contain a balance of high quality protein, beneficial fats and complex carbohydrates, along with regular hydrating drinks, goes a long way.
It's also worthwhile seeking help and advice for any stress, depression and other mental health issues that may be troubling you - as they can certainly be a factor in terms of blood sugar control.