Do you get shaky between meals and feel like you’re going to pass out if you don’t have a snack asap?
Blood sugar balance may be at the heart of your issues.
Have you put on 15 lbs of unwanted weight despite focusing on healthy eating habits and lifestyle? Do you need a glass of wine to wind down and coffee to wake up?
Blood sugar balance is tied to weight gain, poor sleep, poor digestion, hormone imbalances and unstable energy levels. Blood sugar balance is at the heart of all human physiology.
Functions of blood sugar balance
Here are some functions of blood sugar balance:
- Energy production and balance
- Tissue integrity of every organ and blood vessel
- Hormone balance including digestion, stress and sexual function
- Brain health, mood, memory and cognitive function
When blood sugar levels are imbalanced, overall health is compromised leading to oxidative stress, erratic energy and cognitive decline.
Your blood sugar may be flexible until your late 30’s or early 40’s. All of a sudden, you feel the effects of the onset of perimenopause and blood sugar swings hit you like a ton of bricks. I get it!
You’re in the prime of your life and consequently, you want to feel like you are in peak condition.
Yet stress may be at an all time high. Your kids are growing up; your parents need you more and your career commitments have never been greater. You are wearing more hats than ever before. You feel overwhelmed most days.
I know how you feel. I have struggled with many of these symptoms myself. The good news is that it is totally possible to reverse blood sugar issues using nutrient dense foods and clinical nutrition strategies. It takes focused effort to live this way but it is possible.
Hint: – managing your stress plays a huge role!
Glucose and your brain
Blood sugar’s technical name is glucose. Glucose, combined with fatty acids and proteins, converts into ATP (adenotriphosphate). ATP is the “fuel” or energy used to power every cell in your body.
Glucose is your brain’s only fuel. This fuel is so important to the running of your brain that it uses 20% of your body’s glucose.1
Your brain is the primary organ for blood sugar balance. Your brain directs activities via your central nervous system to various organs. Blood sugar regulation is controlled by your central nervous system’s communication with your pancreas, adrenal glands, adipose tissue, liver and skeletal muscle.
If the glucose (sugar) is not used immediately, there are two primary storage sites. Glucose can be stored as glycogen in the skeletal muscles or in the liver.
The excess sugar may also be converted into fatty acids, circulated to other parts of the body and stored as fat. As glucose in the bloodstream is cleared away (either for immediate use or for storage), blood sugar levels return to normal.
Insulin is the hormone produced in the beta cells of the pancreas which helps store excess blood sugar away in our liver, muscles, and fat tissue. You can think of insulin as a key that unlocks your cellular “gates” to let glucose and fat into your cells. Insulin controls how your body uses and stores glucose. When blood sugar levels get too high, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which helps store away excess energy.
Another key hormone produced by the pancreas that doesn’t get as much attention as insulin is glucagon. This is the key that unlocks your cellular “gates” to let glucose and fat out of your cells.
When blood sugar gets too low, the pancreas releases glucagon, which increases the pool of available fuel in the bloodstream.
When your blood sugar rises and dips over and over – it can create a scenario known as insulin resistance.
What is insulin resistance?
As a kid, your body was very sensitive to insulin. However, as you age, if you’re eating a lot of sugary foods like simple carbs, you become less sensitive to glucose. Consequently, your muscles, fat and liver don’t pay attention to it anymore. Your pancreas has to make more insulin to get the glucose into your cells.
Then it’s a game of whether or not your pancreas can make enough insulin to make up for your body not wanting to take in the glucose. This is how insulin resistance happens. People with insulin resistance are unable to balance blood sugar when the process of converting food—specifically carbohydrates—into energy takes place.
Insulin resistance and menopause
Insulin resistance makes your menopause symptoms worse. Because you don’t have enough other things to worry about, right? As a consequence of insulin impacting sex hormones when your blood sugar is high, your estrogen and progesterone will be high. This hormone imbalance can result in hot flashes, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, weight gain, and more.
Want to go through perimenopause or menopause more easily? Cut out the sugar!
Your body’s blood sugar balance is connected to every health challenge. This includes the 15 lbs of unwanted weight and sleep disruptions. When insulin levels are high, weight gain is more likely since a main function of insulin is fat storage. To avoid these health problems, keeping blood glucose within a normal range is important, especially as you age.
Blood sugar roller coaster – what’s happening?
Ever feel like your energy goes up and down like a roller coaster every day? This is your blood sugar levels going up and down during the day.
Say you eat toast and cereal for breakfast. The sugar in your toast and cereal causes your blood sugar levels (glucose) to soar above normal. This can occur for a variety of reasons, but in short, our blood sugar spikes when we have an influx of glucose (sugar) in our blood stream.
At any one time, you should only have about a teaspoon of glucose in your bloodstream. Insulin brings any surplus of glucose to the muscles or liver which store it. Excess glucose converts to fat.
Because the spike in glucose is an emergency state for the body, it must work hard & fast to try to regulate it. It is very capable of this when occurring occasionally. However, when it occurs many times a day, the system may become dysregulated. Often in the rush to bring levels down, it overshoots, which leads to a significant drop in blood sugar level, which will trigger cravings in order to bring the levels back up again.
Soon it is mid-morning and you’re getting hungry again because that toast and cereal don’t fill you up for long! You grab some coffee (with cream and sugar) and maybe a small treat. Up goes your glucose again.
The blood sugar roller coaster
You may begin to see how this can be a vicious blood sugar roller coaster.
If you’re eating simple carbs like bread, pasta, dairy, cereal and tortillas at every meal, you’re eating sugar! It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you’re not eating something sweet, you aren’t eating sugar.
What happens when your blood sugar drops too low – hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia happens when your pancreas releases too much insulin after you eat a meal high in refined carbs. Instead of leveling out your blood sugar, it drops too low.
Hypoglycemic symptoms can include:
- mood swings
- irregular heartbeat
- cold hands and feet
- issues with food (severe cravings and intolerances)
Fasting isn’t good if you are hypoglycemic because you need to eat at regular intervals. Choosing meals higher in protein, moderate in fats and lower in carbohydrates can help with hypoglycemia.
Carbohydrates and blood sugar balance
Carbohydrates have a direct impact on blood sugar balance and blood glucose.
Think of carbohydrates as the kindling on a fire. Carbs are burned quickly during short, intense activity, and you need to eat them constantly if this is your main fuel source. Even complex carbs like brown rice, sweet potatoes and berries – without enough fat or protein, can leave you hungry an hour or two later. Carbs are like kindling and are designed for rapid burning.
Starchy carbs, empty calorie foods, and heavily processed products provide little nutritional value. If you replace these foods with more nutritious foods that provide fiber, protein, and healthy fats, you’re likely to gain a wide range of health benefits, including more stable blood sugar levels.
Blood sugar balance and the Keto Diet
The keto diet is helpful for maintaining stable blood sugar levels but this is too simplistic an answer. Keto diets and ketosis is a complex subject that involves more than removing carbohydrates from your diet. We certainly don’t recommend you try a keto diet on your own. Talk to your health professional before embarking on any special diet. The keto diet needs to be undertaken with medical supervision. Using any one macronutrient as your primary fuel for energy production can cause problems. You don’t want your body to “forget” how to use one of the other groups of macronutrients for energy production. And this can happen!
Think of fat as the logs on the fire to continue the fire analogy we discussed above. Fat burns more slowly, which is ideal for long, low intensity activity. Because it doesn’t need to be tended to as often, you find yourself full for longer when eating fat. This is also why your body stores 20 times more energy from fat than carbs2!
Stress and blood sugar balance
In addition to a poor diet high in refined sugars and carbs, stress plays a huge role in blood sugar balance. Having low-level stress all the time makes it harder for insulin to work correctly. And then you’re stressed out so you crave comfort foods. Managing stress by taking time to relax and getting enough sleep will help you make better food choices.
Your goal is not to treat the low blood sugar once it happens, it’s to keep it from dropping in the first place. Choosing meals high in protein, moderate in fat and low in carbs can help with this.
Your body is amazingly flexible when it comes to energy production because you can use carbs, fat and protein to build cells.
Your activity and stress levels, genetics, insulin sensitivity and how metabolically flexible you are determines how you make and burn energy.
Note: this is why the meal and workout plans your sister and best friend love may not work for you!
Metabolic flexibility is the way to make your health goals a permanent way of life.
Metabolic flexibility is your body’s ability to use whichever fuel source (fat or carbs) is available3.
And it can come from fuel already stored in your body, that extra 15 lbs or the fuel you get from today’s meals.
Imagine not feeling like you need to snack every few hours because your body can just use what’s available?
If you’ve been struggling with weight loss, you’ve lost metabolic flexibility. Your body isn’t using the stored fat, is it? One reason may be that your insulin levels are just too high and lack metabolic flexibility.
Let’s talk about solutions!
3 solutions for getting your blood sugar under control
Making dietary and lifestyle adjustments is going to support your body in 3 key ways:
- regulating blood sugar balance
- increasing insulin sensitivity
- improving metabolic flexibility
1. Eat a balanced diet
What do I mean? Your meals should be packed with nutrient-dense, properly prepared whole foods. It also means adjusting your macro ratio between fats, carbohydrates and proteins as needed to reduce spikes in blood sugar and insulin. Remember, this is a process!
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it will take more than a few weeks to get the hang of this and start seeing results. Stay the course.”
I know, you may feel that you already have a balanced diet. But I promise you there are hidden sugars in your kitchen and pantry that will sabotage your efforts to get on track.
Avoid these hidden sugars
- Flavored yogurt
- Salad dressing – this is a huge one!
- Pasta sauce
- Nut butters
- Ketchup and BBQ sauce
- Dried fruit
- Protein powder
- Non-dairy milk
Sugar by another name
These foods may have ingredients that are sugar but sound like something else such as:
- malt extract
- maple syrup
- rice syrup
- barley malt
- corn syrup
- dehydrated fruit juice
Not so obvious, is it?
Ok, so you’ve cleared your pantry of sugar and refined carbs, including non-sugar sweeteners like stevia. Did you know that even the taste can trigger an insulin response in some people?
Now it’s time to shop for the foods that are going to support blood sugar balance!
You’ve probably heard of the glycemic index (GI). It’s a numerical system that measures blood sugar increase after eating 50 grams of available carbs in food. Pure glucose equals 100, so generally, you want to focus on foods with a GI rating of 55 or lower.
Glycemic load (GL) takes into account the number of carbs in one serving of food. It’s rated from 0-20, with less than 10 being low.
It’s important to use the glycemic index and glycemic load together as you put together your menu and grocery list.
Have you tried intermittent fasting yet? You should really consider it for its effect on blood sugar balancing (unless you’re hypoglycemic).
If you’re perimenopausal or menopausal, it’s super helpful.
Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool for balancing and minimizing your symptoms. And did I mention it also helps with weight loss?
I don’t recommend intermittent fasting more than 13 hours at a time since there are so many factors that play into your health. Cut out late-night snacking. For example, eat dinner between 6 pm and 7 pm and then don’t eat again until breakfast between 7 am and 8 am. Did you ever realize that your morning meal is actually called break-fast for a reason?
Personal note: A 13-hour fast works really well for me. I eat dinner early and then resist (most of the time) a sweet snack later in the evening. I know that when I give in to my cravings, I don’t sleep well because my blood sugar is off.
Blood sugar balancing foods
You have a lot of great blood sugar balancing foods options to choose from as you wean yourself off sugar:
- Organic, pastured/wild meats, fish and eggs. Limit any meal alternatives, including tofu, and stick with nitrite-free bacon and sausage.
- Natural fats like organic grass-fed butter, ghee, olive oil and avocado oil (and avocados!).
- Vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and dark leafy greens.
- Low-glycemic fruit like berries or green apples.
- Nuts and Seeds – Favorites are walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Raw is best!
- Grains and Legumes – soaked and sprouted lentils.
- Dairy -ghee and grass-fed butter for cooking.
- Sweeteners and alcohol – none!
How to get over cravings when reducing sugar intake
Here are a few tips to help you get over the initial sugar cravings:
- Up your fat and protein intake
- Dissolve L-Glutamine powder under your tongue. It’s a protein that can lower blood sugar levels.
- Add a pinch of sea salt to your water for better hydration.
Once you’ve given your body the chance to detox for a few weeks, you can add back in a bit of sugar.
You may be surprised once you’ve made it over the hump, you don’t want it anymore because you don’t like how it makes you feel.
Can you see why working with a nutritional professional is important to put together a bio individual plan? Schedule a FREE Blood sugar analysis call with our office to discuss how we can help you put together a blood sugar balancing plan for you.
2. Reduce stress levels
Stress is directly linked to blood sugar imbalance because cortisol and adrenaline make it difficult for insulin to work correctly.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation are great ways to manage stress. Don’t be scared to give it a try. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing your mind, it’s about being aware of the present.
And you shouldn’t be surprised that mindfulness extends to your eating habits. A recent study has shown the role of mindful eating in improving metabolic health. Thinking about what you are putting in your mouth is so basic. But when you’re stressed, spend most of the day sitting and have easy access to junk food, it’s hard!
3. Get moving and get enough good rest
Do you get up and move every day? It’s so important in managing cortisol. Next time you’re frustrated, take a walk or run in place. You’ll lower cortisol, use up excess blood sugar and increase metabolic flexibility.
Poor sleep is linked to blood sugar imbalances. Sleep deprivation affects your metabolism – hello extra 15 lbs – and also decreases your insulin sensitivity and metabolic flexibility.
So if you get shaky between meals, and feel like you are going to pass out, you now understand more about what is happening. You’ve learned what blood sugar balance is, how to manage blood sugar swings and how it affects your overall health,. It is time to implement.
You have the steps to:
- regulate blood sugar balance
- increase insulin sensitivity
- improve metabolic flexibility
- Eating a nutrient-dense food program, eating mindfully and reducing stress will lead to healthier blood sugar levels. And it’s time to lose that 15 lbs of unwanted weight!
No matter the effort you make yourself, it is always easier to work with a coach to get the results you desire.
Schedule a free blood sugar analysis call with our team today.
- Mergenthaler, P., Lindauer, U., Dienel, G. & Meisel, A. (2013) Sugar for the brain: the role of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function. Trends Neurosci, 36(10), 587-597. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3900881
- Nutritional Therapy Association (2021) Blood Sugar/Insulin Regulation [PDF Doc] Retrieved from https://nutritionaltherapy.instructure.com.
- Smith, R.,Soeters, M., Wüst, R.,& Houtkooper,R. (2018) Metabolic flexibility as an adaptation to energy resources and requirements in health and disease, Endocrine Reviews, 39 (4), 489–517. https://doi.org/10.1210/er.2017-00211
Your partner in health,
Clare Kelway FBIH HHP FMP
Clare Kelway is the Founder of Metabolix Health Institute, a premier women’s virtual health center. She reversed her own metabolic health challenges. She specializes in helping high achieving professional women who want help with hormones, digestion and detox. Schedule a FREE call with our clinic to learn how you can work with us.