When it comes to managing weight, many people do not understand the basics of what affects their weight. One thing I educate almost every client on, whether or not weight is a factor, is blood sugar balance. Blood sugar not only affects our weight, but our sleep, our mood, our energy levels, and our short and long-term health. Understanding how to support your best health and weight means understanding your blood sugar.
What is blood sugar?
Blood sugar, or blood glucose, refers to the level of sugar in your bloodstream. Glucose is a source of fuel for the body and is obtained through the food you eat as well as the stored sugar in your body. If you’ve ever skipped or delayed a meal and experienced that “hangry” feeling, you have experienced low blood sugar.
Conversely, your blood sugar can spike and be high as well, which is what happens when your kid bounces off the walls after eating a chocolate chip cookie. There is an optimal (and very small) amount of sugar we need to have in the blood, but most of it actually needs to be taken up by cells in our body to be used for energy.
Blood sugar ideally needs to be kept at a steady level with gentle rises and falls, like a sloping hill. Having sharp spikes and dips can be detrimental to our physical and mental well-being over time. That being said, most people do not understand the role our blood sugar plays in our health and how food and other factors can affect it. However, if we don’t understand how to support healthy blood sugar levels, we could potentially be setting the stage for long-term health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
How does our diet affect our blood sugar?
Food – we all eat it! Many times a day, in fact. And usually every day, for the duration of our lives. This means you are affecting your blood sugar levels several times a day depending on what you eat. Paying attention to the food you eat can make or break your blood sugar health.
The biggest food group that affects our blood sugar is carbohydrates. When we eat carbohydrates, they are readily converted to glucose, which enters the bloodstream, and then is hopefully taken up by cells with the help of insulin that our bodies release as a response. Carbohydrates encompass a large variety of foods, so let’s break down the carbohydrates that hinder, and the ones that help.
First, the ones that hinder. Simple, or refined, carbohydrates consist of things like breads, pastas, candy, cookies, fruit juices, crackers, white rice, etc. These carbohydrates have been processed. For instance, an orange is a complex carbohydrate, but orange juice is a processed version of a whole orange. So there’s a difference in eating an orange, which has fiber in it and can slow down the rush of sugar to your blood, and drinking a glass of OJ, which can skyrocket your blood sugar. These kinds of carbohydrates deliver sugar to the blood stream very quickly, causing a spike.
The other type of carbohydrate is complex, and includes things like vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains. These carbohydrates deliver glucose to the system slowly because they come packaged with fiber and nutrients that slow down the rush of sugar to your blood.
So what you eat matters because consuming too many simple carbohydrates can create insulin resistance over time. This happens when the blood is flooded with too much sugar, and the cells stop responding to insulin’s attempt to help the sugar get into the cells for fuel. When our cells don’t take the sugar, it can create chronically high blood sugar or the sugar gets stored away as fat. This sets the stage for weight gain and Type 2 diabetes, in addition to a host of other symptoms.
How does our lifestyle affect our blood sugar?
Beyond food, our lifestyle also plays a big role in our blood sugar! Consider this – missing one night of sleep can make you as insulin resistant as someone with Type 2 diabetes. Sleep is essential for balancing blood sugar. If you’ve ever had a bad night of sleep, you may have noticed that you tend to crave carbohydrates the next day. This is your body searching for a fuel source to get a quick boost of energy. You might find it harder to eat more nutritious foods that day.
Then there’s our good ol’ friend, stress. Most of us are experiencing some stress day to day, and it seems to impact every aspect of our health, from our sleep, to our emotional well-being, to how we digest and assimilate nutrients. When we are stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol and our body goes into fight-or-flight mode. When this happens, our body burns through nutrients quickly.
It is essential to continue fueling the body with good nutrition during times of stress, but you might already know that this can be hard to do. We tend to crave fast-acting carbohydrates during times of stress, or sometimes even forget to eat. Big deadlines at work can lead to getting takeout because we don’t have time to cook a nutritious meal. This can have a huge impact on our blood sugar health. And to add insult to injury, low and high blood sugar creates physical stress on the body. Stress on top of stress!
And lastly, movement! Movement is great for supporting healthy blood sugar. When we move our bodies, especially after a meal, our bodies can pull the sugar from the blood and use it for fuel more effectively. Movement and exercise helps our bodies become more insulin sensitive, which will help lower your blood sugar levels.
How does our blood sugar affect our weight?
As you might have already deduced by now, our blood sugar health is largely related to our weight. High blood sugar over time leads to insulin resistance, which leads to more sugar being stored as fat, and thus weight gain.
If you’re trying to manage your weight, it’s essential to get a good grasp on your blood sugar health. Seeing a nutritionist can help you understand what’s going on with your blood sugar and learn how to eat to support blood sugar balance, in addition to modifying certain lifestyle factors.
How to change your health outcomes
There are definitely steps you can take to positively affect your health. The first step is understanding how food affects your blood sugar. There are lots of nifty devices out there that can help you learn more about your own blood sugar, such as continuous glucose monitoring devices and glucometer kits, either of which I would recommend for anyone wanting to understand more about their health.
Once you have a good grasp on how foods are affecting your blood sugar, there are so many changes you can make in both diet and lifestyle. By scheduling an appointment with our nutritionist, you can learn how to eat and supplement to support healthy blood sugar, as well as create a plan for healthy lifestyle habits. It is a foundational step towards optimal health.