Ways to Balance Blood Sugar Levels
Blood Sugar problems can cause a lot of health concerns that have grave complications. Here are some ways to balance blood sugar levels for better health.
Does Blood Sugar Problems Just "Happen"?
'Blood sugar dysregulation does not suddenly emerge.
You cannot wake up one day with a blood sugar issue and not have a clue that something is going wrong.
Type II diabetes follows an insidious pattern of development and involves, to some extent, dysregulation in the three organs of sugar regulation: the endocrine pancreas, the liver, and the adrenal glands. These three organs work in harmony to regulate and normalize blood glucose levels across the day and night.’ (1)
‘Hypoglycemia and insulin resistance are not mutually exclusive.
If you have one you most likely have some degree of the other. Either way, both are a sign your blood sugar is unstable and either dropping too low, spiking too high, or both.
Both cause the insulin surges that skew so many other systems in the body.’ (2)
Why You Need to Balance Your Blood Sugar
As a nutritional therapist, stabilizing blood sugar is the number one issue I deal with and usually the first thing I work on with all of my clients.
Balanced blood sugar will help to manage one’s overall mood. When balanced you can expect to reduce stress, confusion, brain fog, irritability and more. You will find you sleep well, lose weight and have more energy.
Having balanced blood sugar is the KEY to good health.
Moving From Blood Sugar Problems to Type 2 Diabetes
How your body progresses from Hypoglycemia to Diabetes
Step 1. Reactive Hypoglycemia is when you have low blood glucose levels due to an over-reactive attempt of the body to control increasing blood sugar levels. This is due to a diet high in refined carbohydrates or a high glycemic diet. If this is not remedied through dietary changes it can lead to;
Step 2. Insulin Resistance or Pre-diabetes (Syndrome X) -A condition where insulin becomes less effective at lowering blood sugar. Chronically high insulin levels lead to insulin resistance as the cell receptor sites for insulin become blocked. If this is not remedied by dietary changes it can lead to;
Step 3. Hyperglycemia is when consistently elevated blood glucose levels circulate in the blood plasma, due to the inability of cells to properly utilize insulin. Someone with a consistent BGL range between 100-126 mg/dL (according to the American Diabetes Guidelines) is considered hyperglycemic. If this is not remedied through dietary changes it can lead to;
Step 4. Type II Diabetes – this is due to continued insulin resistance that causes the beta cells of the pancreas to continue pumping out insulin, and eventually they become completely exhausted to the point where they no longer can produce insulin. Chronic hyperglycemia is the medical marker for Type 2 diabetes.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin Resistance is important to talk about when discussing blood sugar levels. Any time a cell is exposed to excess insulin, it becomes more insulin resistant. It’s that simple.
When the excess glucose won’t be taken by the cells, the liver or the muscles or fats cells because they are already full, that means it has nowhere to go.
So, the insulin is left to circulate in the bloodstream.
This means that the pancreas will now trigger even more insulin to get the circulating insulin to go somewhere, as this is its job. Eventually, the glucose will have to get out of the bloodstream and get stored. This helps you to begin to see the endless spiral towards insulin resistance.
Eating more sugar or starch causes one to crave more sugar, but then becomes a very nasty vicious debilitating cycle.
How Insulin Resistance Happens and What it Causes
Imagine insulin as a truck carrying sugars into our cells. The truck enters the cells using a special garage-door opener. If the opener stops working, the truck is stuck in the driveway. Soon after, another truck will pull up behind the first one and they’ll both become trapped.
Eventually a whole fleet of trucks will be backed up, causing a major traffic jam throughout the body – or chronically high insulin. All of this happens because the garage door opener (aka the insulin receptor) is no longer responding to the presence of the truck (aka insulin).
Once our cells become resistant to insulin, losing weight becomes harder than ever. Moreover, physiological changes start to occur in the body, signaling a condition called 'metabolic syndrome', which is the clinical manifestation of insulin resistance. This means the blood sugar is chronically too high and as a result causes inflammation, imbalanced hormones and neurotransmitters, all of which lead to rapid degeneration of the brain.
None of us can afford to have our brains under attack, as this speeds up the aging of our brains also increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Did you know that scientists are now dubbing Alzheimer's disease 'Type 3 diabetes." If you have diabetes you are much more likely to end up with Alzheimer's. (3)
Clearly, having imbalanced blood sugar is no minor issue we face as humans in this modern day of excess sugar consumption.
If you have grown up on a typical standard American diet, you probably have insulin resistance.
The longer you remain insulin resistant, the more likely you are heading towards type 2 diabetes. And, you don't necessarily have to be overweight to have diabetes, though that is a key marker.
Anyone with a waist girth that is greater than their hips has cause for concern.
The good news is, you CAN do a lot to improve your health and lead a normal life. However, it will take hard work and sticking to a diet that keeps your blood sugar balanced, moderate regular exercise and avoiding food allergens.
Let's take a quick look at some dietary principles to start getting your body's blood sugar balance back on track.
Some Helpful Dietary Guidelines for Balancing Blood Sugar
Consume 3-5 ounces of protein at every meal, 1-2 ounces with every snack. Optimally, the best sources of protein are grass-fed meats, pastured poultry, wild seafood and pastured eggs.
Legumes are not a complete or optimal source of protein, plus they are rather high in carbohydrates which will likely spike your blood sugar.
There are lots of reasons why you might want to eat fat. Check with your doctor and if recommended, eat good healthy fats with every meal and snack.
Fats are very satiating and the optimal source of fuel for your body--do not skip or skimp on the fats.
Organic, in season, low glycemic veggies are unlimited. Eat as much as you want. Limit carrots, beets, and root vegetables – using in smaller portions and make sure to balance well with other lower glycemic veggies.
Avoid white potatoes – they are very high in starch (small amounts of fermented potatoes may be okay once your blood sugar is more balanced. The fermentation process actually helps to reduce the starch content). Properly fermented vegetables (like this homemade sauerkraut) are allowed and highly recommended.
Soaked nuts or raw nuts are acceptable in small portions, a handful is adequate. Don’t overdo it on the nuts. Peanuts are not recommended, they are actually legumes.
*Note* – Nuts can be problematic for some people, causing digestive issues/complaints or even allergies/sensitivities. If this is the case for you, leave them out of your diet for at least 2 weeks to a month then try again one at a time. Some people will need to keep nuts out for much longer.
Limit fruits to 1-2 servings of low glycemic fruits. Avoid fruit at breakfast for the most part. Once your blood sugar is under control you may be able to tolerate fruit in the mornings here and there.
Avoid the sweeter fruits such as; bananas, mangoes, papayas, grapes and dried fruits. No fruit or vegetable juices at this time, even fresh pressed at home.
Fruit is best as a mid-meal snack paired with some fat. (ex: I like to make homemade coconut milk smoothies or even drizzle some organic coconut oil over sliced peaches)
Most people will need to avoid dairy – it can have an insulin effect. Ghee is acceptable to use. This is different for everyone - you will have to find out what works for you as an individual.
If you do choose dairy, make sure it is not pasteurized and comes from grass fed cows. Choose only full fat dairy products, never low fat or skim as this will actually spike your blood sugar and cause weight gain.
However, if you have gone through an elimination diet or gone through GAPS intro and you know you are not sensitive to dairy – you can have some dairy, such as butter, small portions of GAPS approved cheeses, a small amount of sour cream with meals or as a dip for veggies.
Avoid entire meals of dairy, such as large glasses of kefir or yogurt as your meal.
For some people, in order to balance blood sugars, you will want to truly eat no sweeteners of any kind.
Zip. Zilch. Zero.
Stevia is okay in green leaf form on occasion if need be, but not for those with severe sugar imbalances.
AVOID – Grains, Legumes and Most Starches. Even properly prepared grains and legumes can cause a blood sugar spike. Once you get your blood sugar under control and more balanced you can add back small amounts of properly prepared starches, keeping in mind to avoid the problematic ones that you may be sensitive to.
Never assume you can go back to carbohydrate-laden meals like most Americans do today.
Water is best – try to drink half your weight in ounces of water per day. It is VERY important to make sure you get enough electrolytes as well.
Adding a pinch of good quality sea salt to your drinking water is ideal, especially the water you drink during and after your workouts. Water makes up 70% of our bodies – it is the most important and critical nutrient we need. Adding a slice of lemon to your water is also a good option. Make sure, however, that you know how to make choosing a good water filter.
Avoid, alcohol, fruit juice, milk.
This is a biggie – caffeine actually disrupts your blood sugar. If you are a coffee drinker, take the first two weeks to wean off of coffee – decaf is better but still has caffeine. 1 cup of decaf can be okay. Dandy Blend is a popular coffee substitute that can be used. As well as organic herbal teas with no additives of any kind. This Rich and Nutritious Coffee Substitute is a great option as well.
That is a basic clean diet to balance blood sugar. Most people need to shift more slowly into a diet like this. Some people can jump right into it without much trouble at all and end up feeling amazing rather quickly. Everyone will be different, but the common denominator is to watch your overall carbohydrate intake.
More Blood Sugar Helps
Have you heard about Intermittent Fasting?
There is growing evidence that intermittent fasting contributes to better control of blood sugar.
It's really incredible information. The above post has some information on how fasting can help with blood sugar issues.
Blood Sugar Management Course
If you really want to step up your game to manage your blood sugar so you can have better health, this course is something to really look into!
Jennifer of Purposeful Nutrition runs a fantastic course on How to Balance Blood Sugar. The information in this course has helped Jennifer and others to stop the progression towards problematic issues that can lead to diabetes.
In short--it works.
You can find out more and sign up here. And good news -- you can use code wholenewmom to get 10% off!
Is there Diabetes in Your Family?
Have you done anything to manage your blood sugar?
(1) Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. A Question by Question Guide. Dicken Weatherby, N.D., pg. 23
(2) ‘Why Isn’t My Brain Working? Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS, pg. 68
Lydia Joy Shatney is a certified Nutritional Therapist Practitioner through the Nutritional Therapy Association. Additionally, she is the chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation in Delaware County, Pa. Lydia founded Divine Health From The Inside Out in March of 2010.
Lydia- As always, thanks for your informative articles! I'm very intrigued by many things. My husband was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago and our diet has changed dramatically. He is seeing a naturopath doctor that addresses nutrition, but also has him taking some supplements to control blood sugar levels. Lately his BGLs have been in the prediabetic range. Do you have any thoughts about supplements to control sugar levels, as I'm wondering if they are even needed when one is looking at controlling sugar levels from a dietary standpoint? Thanks so much.
You might like gymnema sylvestre - however, it tastes nasty, just a fair warning!
Thanks so much Lydia! I will definitely check into the ones you discussed.
Great reminders! I had GD with my last pregnancy and ate much the way you recomend in the article and exercised at least 20 minutes every day. I never felt better! But when my blood sugar was completely normal (even eating higher GI foods) immediately after my baby was born, I slowly returned to the SAD and now...wouldn't you know...slightly elevated A1C levels. I've been making small tweaks back in the right direction, but I still need to reign it in more. Thanks for your tips!
I am really struggling with nutrition right now, and this article doesn't help. I have an uncommon liver disease with cirrhosis and Type 2 Diabetes, plus chronic gastritis as a result of complications from gallbladder surgery (pancreatitis included) and the liver disease (esophageal varicies). It is up for debate as to whether the liver disease contributed to the diabetes or vice versa. I know how I SHOULD be eating for the diabetes and the liver disease, but the chronic gastritis complicates things, because the foods that don't make me feel nauseous or cause pain are some of the worst for my blood sugar. Plus, I don't cook. I've been to three different nutritionists since I was diagnosed with diabetes almost 6 years ago, and each one wants to completely change my diet and have me eat foods that I don't like/can't eat, versus working with me where I am and with what I CAN eat. Extremely frustrating, to say the least. Reading this article doesn't really help me feel any better about it. But I'm going to check out the rest of your website, and see if there is something I can use (besides drink more water... that is one thing I have no problem doing).
I'm sorry you are frustrated and not finding the help you need. This article is not meant to get at the core of everyone's deeper issues -that would be impossible.
Lydia, I am wondering how a vegetarian with blood sugar issues would survive nutritionally from this diet?
I'll be honest -it won't be easy as a vegetarian. You will need to consider how you will get fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, K and B12 for one thing -very hard to get in a plant based diet. If you can consume raw milk dairy, pastured eggs (so long as you tolerate them) and maybe fish - I know some vegetarians do eat fish -then you may do well. I don't recommend depending on faux 'meat's' made from soy, as soy has many issues. Too many nuts in the diet can be inflammatory and depending on grains/legumes to make 'complete proteins' is not at all ideal as they truly are not complete and the amount you'd need to eat to replace the nutrients in meat would be insane. Not to mention that grains/legumes are mostly starch. If you are open to bone broths that might help support your body. I'm not sure where you are at in your vegetarianism -it can be so varied from person to person. \Hope that helps some....Please do contact your physician for advice on diet changes.
Thank `you so much for this article. The type 2 diabetes lifestyle is prevalent in many of our relatives. I have lately been thinking that my husband and I should start "steer away" from that lifestyle now...while in our early 30's....before we actually have any issues! Much of what you are saying sounds just like what I have read in the book "Trim Healthy Moma". Are your familiar with that book, and do you recommend their "plan"? Thank you again for this article!
I am. I personally think some of their reasoning is wrong (i.e. God made coffee so you can drink it). I do think the fat / carb issue might be real, but I am concerned about blood sugar as well and think Lydia could speak better to that. I also think that the 1/2 of the book's focus on pricey fat free subs (many with loads of chemicals) is problematic. So I have numerous thoughts. I think it also breeds obsession more than just going paleo / grain free or reduced grain.
Julie, I am not familiar with the book....
I must comment on the recommendations here.
It is assumed that following a low- to no-starch diet is what does the trick for most people. Because as most of us are taught that carbohydrates are bad if we want to get blood sugar issues back on track, so to speak. I followed the GAPS diet for three months to the tee - no dairy, no honey, no fruit but lots of fat, vegetables, grass-fed meats and fat - I ended up with low blood sugar after every meal (crashed by sleeping), tooth decay and bone loss.
I ended up healing with starches and raw dairy. Not everyone can tolerate these kinds of low-carbohydrate diets. In some people, these kinds of diets are too stressful for the adrenals, hence the worsening of blood sugar issues.
There is room in the diet for properly prepared starches - even white potatoes. I do not believe in the demonization of these starches. My ancesteors were Irish and would have eaten white potatoes.
So, here's the thing, I do not demonize starches. I in fact eat them myself. However, there are several things to consider. If one goes too low carb too fast and has adrenal/thyroid issues -yes, it can be a problem. In my course I teach an approach to work towards a lower starch diet for this very reason. There is room in the diet for starches -but not everyone, especially those with diabetes or severe insulin resistance will be able to heal if they consume too much. There is definitely no exact template that works long term for everyone. This template is a starting point to help people reset and then find a healthy starch tolerance. I'm curious is you ever used a blood glucose monitor - often times people feel better with starch because they have trouble assimilating fat which is our bodies best option for long burning fuel. There is much to consider and it's not simple to include in a basic post helping people to understand that starches are what spike the blood sugar. Though this template will work for most people to get started, some will need a different approach. I totally get that and work with people individually in varying ways! I actually prefer fermented potatoes because the starch content is reduced quite a bit -there is so much we could discuss on this - yet for a basic overview it's just not something I can really get into. Hope that helps a bit!
I completely agree with you. Every "body" is different and I don't think that a one-size-fits-all dietary approach is going to cure these issues for everyone.
I also notice that nothing in this article does not address stress and how it effects the endocrine system. I think stress plays a huge part in weight issues and the development of long-term issues like diabetes. If you look at populations most vulnerable to diabetes you will see a common thread of financial stress and social stress related to stigma and sometimes discrimination.
This article was a bit disappointing to me because it seems to just be feeding the old party-line that diabetes is solely related to weight and the way we eat. In fact, what we know is that these things are correlated with one another and we do not which causes what. Perhaps it is the diabetes and pre-diabetes and a dysregulated endocrine system that cause sugar cravings and not the other way around... It is certainly something that I hope will continue to be studied.
Diabetes is a modern disease -it's most likely from diet as it correlates directly to issues with insulin. That said, I do actually cover all aspects of metabolic health further in my course. There is now evidence too that to some degree diabetes is 'genetic', however in order for diabetes to actually set in the environment has to be there. Typcially in populations with stress, comes poor diet as well. I'm not saying it's the ONLY piece, but it's likely the main piece.
This article was really only meant as an introduction to the idea that anyone is susceptible to diabetes, and to raise awareness that many have what we call 'metabolic syndrome'. And one thing anyone can do to help themselves is adjust things dietarily. We need to hear this over and over again in our society -people do not seem to be getting the message that our bodies cannot handle the stress of the modern day diet.
There is a hormonal chain of command that occurs in the body and it starts with leptin before it gets to endocrine hormones.
Wow, that is interesting about the caffeine. I go back and forth between ditching it and not. With my last pregnancy (I tested negative for GD), I could NOT drink coffee, starting from about 26 weeks on - an hour after drinking coffee, I got a reactive drop in energy/etc like some form of blood sugar issue. I have a monitor and tested my sugars and they were fine, but does this mean I was still reacting somehow? Why wouldn't it show up on the monitor? I avoided coffee for the rest of my pregnancy, though I did occasionally have a cup and then regret it.
I'm back to drinking coffee now, but wondering if maybe I shouldn't. I know tea has less caffeine - do you think that would be ok while I weaned off?
It's hard to say Susan - coffee has an effect on the liver as well, maybe your blood sugar tanked after you checked it - who knows and if you didn't know what your BS was before it still could have shifted enough for you to have felt it -make sense?
Hi! I'm wondering about the NO sweeteners comment. I thought Stevia was okay because it was natural? I use the NuNaturals vanilla stevia liquid, and I'm not getting any BS spikes from it. Why do you say not to use it? I don't use any of the other artificial sweeteners at all, and no sugar. I do however, put the stevia in my tea...
I am very interested in Lydia's response. I use stevia a lot and was hypoglycemic but not that is healed. I do use some xylitol, glycerine as well. There is some bad press out there about stevia (I don't mean at all from Lydia) that I hope to address in an upcoming post.
I'm not against stevia -however, I do recommend people with serious insulin resistance give their body a break from sweeteners of any kind. In some people the sweet taste can automatically cause an insulin spike -not everyone. It's nice to start out off all sweeteners to give the body a break and teach the palate to not need sweet. If you are monitoring your blood sugar and not seeing any spikes from the stevia, it sounds like it is okay for you! I too use stevia -and tolerate it well. I will try to clarify that better in the post to avoid confusion -thanks for asking!
I was wondering too,g ood to know! It's true that you can teach yourself not to like sweet after avoiding it for a while, I found this to be true for myself anyway!