Updated: Nov 26, 2020
Balancing blood glucose (sugar) levels is a powerful tool.
The term ‘blood sugar’ is probably something you’ve read or heard, without knowing exactly what that term means.
Our blood glucose levels dictates our hunger, our cravings, and our energy. We feel our best when our blood glucose is balanced; not too high or too low.
Balanced blood sugar helps us achieve better concentration and mood, alertness and increased energy.
However, when unbalanced, our blood glucose levels can lead to increased sugar cravings, irritability, poor sleep, brain fog, anxiety, low energy and weight gain - and in the long term, type 2 diabetes.
It is important to understand that balancing blood glucose is not only important for those with diabetes or severe health conditions, balancing blood glucose is important for everyone!
What happens when we digest a meal?
(Bare with me, it’s going to get a bit scientific here, but you’ll need to know the foundations to understand the overall picture)
When you digest a meal, particularly one which is high in refined carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta and cakes, the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood rises.
Note: Glucose is important to the cells of the body, particularly the brain and the muscles as an energy source for cellular respiration.
When your blood glucose levels rise after a meal your pancreas releases insulin (a hormone).
Insulin allows glucose to be taken into the cells of your body where it is used in cellular respiration. It also allows soluble glucose to be converted to an insoluble carbohydrate called glycogen which is then stored in the liver and muscles.
Therefore, insulin helps balance out blood glucose levels and keeps them in a normal range. As blood glucose levels rise, the pancreas secretes more insulin.
What happens when blood glucose levels are unbalanced?
When we have unstable blood glucose levels, it results in wide fluctuations throughout the day.
Basically a roller coaster effect of highs and lows. And with this comes highs of energy and lows of, well, no energy, fatigue, irritability and low mood.
These fluctuations in turn cause the pancreas to secret insulin in erratic amounts over time.
When this mechanism is disrupted, insulin will also convert excess glucose into triglycerides, which is a blood fat. Eventually, triglycerides stores this fat in your adipose cells (cells specialised in storing energy as fat) causing weight gain.
When insulin surges occur over many months or years, eventually the insulin receptor sites on the cells lose their ability to respond to insulin causing insulin resistance.
What is insulin resistance?
When the body loses its ability to respond to insulin (becomes insulin resistant), many problems can occur.
Once receptor sites stop responding it means that there is less glucose inside the cell to utilise for energy, which results is fatigue that then leads to consuming sugary foods or caffeine to try to get an energy boost.
However, that increased sugar in the diet causes more insulin to be secreted, but since the receptors no longer respond, this excess sugar is converted to and then stored as fat.
This creates a vicious cycle of fatigue, poor energy, and weight gain. In the long term, type 2 diabetes may often occur.
So, when you are insulin resistant and your blood glucose is disrupted you end up with low energy, more cravings, irritability when a meal is missed, trouble with sleeping, poor concentration, and increased fat storage, especially around the belly.
Insulin resistance can further lead to hypertension, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, certain forms of cancer and Alzheimer’s. (1), (2)
How to balance blood glucose levels?
Let’s talk about the good news! Unbalanced blood glucose levels can be corrected with changes in diet and lifestyle.
Consume a protein source with every meal and snack. This helps normalise insulin secretion and reduces cravings. (3), (4)
Minimise the consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, breads, pastas, chocolates, sugary drinks and sweets to minimise dips and spikes in blood glucose levels.
Consume complex carbohydrates such as whole grains (e.g. brown rice, oats, quinoa and sweet potatoes), beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables, which help stabilise blood glucose levels since they are high in fibre and are nutrient dense.
Exercise to increase insulin sensitivity by acting directly on muscle metabolism and by assisting in weight management. (5), (6), (7)
Get adequate sleep. Poor sleeping habits and a lack of rest affect blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. They can increase appetite and promote weight gain. (8)
Control stress levels as chronic stress is linked to a greater risk of insulin resistance. (9)
Some research suggests that cinnamon may have the ability to reduce blood glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity. (10)
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2) Wilcox G. (2005). Insulin and insulin resistance. The Clinical biochemist. Reviews, 26(2), 19–39.
3) Mary C. Gannon and Frank Q. Nuttall. (2004). Effect of a High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Blood Glucose Control in People With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes. 53(9): 2375-2382.
4) Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ, Saeed A, Jordan K, Hoover H. An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 78(4):734-41.
5) Dâmaso AR et al. (2014). Aerobic plus resistance training was more effective in improving the visceral adiposity, metabolic profile and inflammatory markers than aerobic training in obese adolescents. J Sports Sci. 32(15):1435-45.
6) Suh, S., Jeong, I. K et al . (2011). Effects of resistance training and aerobic exercise on insulin sensitivity in overweight korean adolescents: a controlled randomized trial. Diabetes & metabolism journal, 35(4), 418–426.
7) Abou Assi H et al. (2015). The effects of aerobic, resistance, and combination training on insulin sensitivity and secretion in overweight adults from STRRIDE AT/RT: a randomized trial. J Appl Physiol. 15;118(12):1474-82.
8) Tasali E, Leproult R, Ehrmann DA, Van Cauter E. (2008). Slow-wave sleep and the risk of type 2 diabetes in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 22;105(3):1044-9.
9) Li L1, Li X, Zhou W, Messina JL. (2013). Acute psychological stress results in the rapid development of insulin resistance. J Endocrinol. 15;217(2):175-84.
10) Medagama A. B. (2015). The glycaemic outcomes of Cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials. Nutrition journal, 14, 108.