Blood sugar balance is frequently talked about, particularly by nutritionists! But what is its significance and why is it so important for our overall health and wellbeing?
Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for balancing blood sugar levels.
The sugar from the food we eat has to be very tightly regulated within the body so levels don’t get too high, and poor dietary and lifestyle choices can really challenge the system. Fluctuating sugar levels that are constantly up and down can lead to everything from weight gain, low energy and mood swings to general hormonal imbalances and lack of concentration. However, the good news is that everything can actually run very smoothly with a few simple tweaks.
EAT PROTEIN AT EVERY MEAL
Protein found in meat, eggs, chicken, beans, lentils, soya, dairy produce, has a very positive effect on keeping blood sugar levels in good balance.
Protein helps balance blood sugar because it slows the rate at which food is absorbed into the bloodstream, plus it encourages the release of the fat-burning hormone glucagon. It makes sense, therefore, to include some at every meal. For example, egg on wholemeal toast for breakfast, salmon with a mixed bean salad for lunch and grilled chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner.
It’s also a vital part of the diet because it is the basic building block of all cells, muscles and bones, as well as skin, hair and nails. Because muscles are made up of protein, it’s essential to keep muscle mass strong, which also encourages weight loss by increasing the metabolism.
DITCH THE SUGAR AND STIMULANTS
If your diet is very high in white refined carbs then start by switching to ‘brown’ as much as possible. Refined foods, sugars and stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol are quickly released into the bloodstream sending blood sugar levels soaring, which is not what they’re meant to do.
Start by switching to wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and whole grain foods, which are absorbed into the blood stream much more slwoly and therefore sustain energy levels throughout the day. Switch to decaffeinated drinks and keep alcohol to a minimum.
EAT REGULARLY BUT DON’T GRAZE
It’s important not to go for too long without food (ideally around three to four hours). So, aim for three meals a day and maybe a small snack in between each. This will keep blood sugar levels even throughout the day. However, constant grazing is not good; this constantly challenges the insulin response, which will ultimately lead to highs and lows.
It is absolutely key not to miss breakfast. After a long night of fasting, if you don’t re-fuel in the mornings, the body will start to break down muscle. Over a period of time, this will lead to a lowered metabolic rate. Plus, if you just grab a quick espresso, your blood sugar levels will definitely soar and then quickly crash so you’ll be on a roller coaster all day! Eggs or porridge are two of the best starts to the day.
Eating a small nutritious snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon will help to stabilise blood sugar levels. Some great snack ideas include an apple with a few almonds, a small pot of live yoghurt with fruit, ½ an avocado, some chopped vegetables with hummus, peanut butter or other nut butters with oatcakes, fresh fruit with nuts and seeds – so many health combinations to try!
The most important thing to remember is to try to include some protein with every snack, which as well as keeping the blood sugar levels in balance, means you’ll also stay fuller for longer and therefore less likely to reach for sugary treats.
EAT GOOD FATS
Whilst many people believe that ‘fat makes you fat’, the real culprit is actually sugar and refined carbohydrates in food. However, it’s no secret that too many ‘bad’ fats found in red meat and dairy products can cause heart disease if eaten too regularly. They also cause insulin resistance because they can make cell membranes hard and less receptive to insulin, which is essential for blood sugar control.
Enter good fats! These are the essential omegas that need to be eaten very regularly and help to boost metabolism and slow the rate that the stomach releases carbohydrates. Nuts, seeds and oily fish are the best sources of omega-3s. They’re not too difficult to include in the daily diet; nuts and seeds on your morning porridge, pumpkin seed butter on oatcakes as a snack and grilled sardines or salmon for lunch or dinner.
In short, the more even your blood sugar levels are, the more even your energy and mood will be, so adopt these dietary tips to keep your blood sugars balanced every day.
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