How to balance your blood sugar: top nutrition tips

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.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

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.

A range of foods containing protein

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.

A rnage of wholegrain foods

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.

A healthy breakfast of eggs, smoked salmon and avocado

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.

SNACK CLEAN

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!

Woman eating yoghurt with berries showing healthy breakfast

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.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

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.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

 

Beat the winter blues with these top tips for combating low mood this season

Young woman wearing hat and scarf smiling with autumn background

Turning back the clocks is often a pivotal moment in people’s thinking.  Short, dark days can often negatively affect mood, energy and appetite.  However, with greater understanding of how we can effectively ‘by-pass’ the winter, we can enjoy the season rather than wishing the next six months away!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on how we can boost our mood and keep on smiling through the winter.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

It’s estimated that as many as one in 15 people suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or winter depression.  The onset of SAD is often governed by our hormones and the disturbance of natural body rhythms.  The body naturally likes to wake up when it’s light, which is rarely possible for most people during the winter months.

Here are some of my top tips for minimising the winter blues.

EAT YOURSELF HAPPY

Certain hormones have a significant impact on seasonal changes in mood, energy and appetite; a lack of serotonin is often responsible for mood disorders in general.   People (especially those affected by SAD) frequently crave carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, pasta, cereal, cakes and biscuits.  There’s nothing wrong with eating starchy carbohydrates as long as you stick to unrefined whole grain carbs such as brown rice, wholemeal bread and oats and avoid the sugary-laden snacks.

You can also increase serotonin levels by eating more foods containing the amino acid, tryptophan.  Great foods to eat include chicken, turkey, milk, yoghurt, bananas, figs, tuna and oats.

Levels of another brain neurotransmitter – dopamine – are also reduced during the darker months.  Foods that help to raise dopamine levels include lean meat, dairy products, fish and eggs.

BALANCING BLOOD SUGAR

During the winter months symptoms of low mood, lack of energy and increased appetite are common.  One of the ways to combat these is to balance blood sugar levels so that energy is sustained throughout the day.  This, in turn, will help to balance mood and stop food cravings.

The most important point to remember is to eat three meals a day that each contain some form of protein.  If you need a couple of snacks in between, that’s fine, but try to include some protein as well.  For example, sliced apple with nuts, oatcakes with chicken, plain yoghurt with fruit etc.   Additionally, it’s best to avoid or dramatically reduce coffee, alcohol, sugar and cigarettes which play havoc with blood sugar levels.

LIGHT THERAPY

The control centres in our brain determine our moods and daily rhythms, which in part are governed by the amount of light that enters our eyes.  When the light hits the retina of the eye it effects the release of the hormone melatonin.  Melatonin is released during darkness, making us sleepy.  This is one of the reasons we feel tired during the winter because it’s dark much of the time!

Light or phototherapy is a treatment for SAD involving daily exposure to high-intensity, broad-spectrum artificial light from a light box, which suppresses the release of melatonin.  It appears to work really well although sufferers usually need to make the other changes to diet and lifestyle for maximum benefit.

TRY THE HERB ST JOHN’S WORT

This popular and well-known herb is found in many part of the world, including Europe, Asia and the United States.  It produces distinctive yellow flowers and many parts of the plant are used to create a very effective natural solution to help symptoms of low mood.

St John’s wort appears to help raise serotonin levels which in turn improve mood and motivation.  It generally takes around three weeks to really see results but it’s certainly worth persevering.

For more information and to try St John’s Wort visit the Nature’s Way website.

GET ACTIVE!

We all know that the body naturally loves to be active. However, we’re also now realising the wonderful benefits of exercise on mental health.  Indeed, health practitioners involved in treating depression have seen how effective it can be.

When we exercise or ‘get active’ the brain releases endorphins which are powerful chemicals in the brain that make us feel good.  Exercise also relieves feelings of stress and anxiety and actually helps raise energy levels.

If the gym is not for you, don’t despair.  Just getting more active, for example taking a brisk 30- minute walk in the fresh air, can really invigorate and raise your mood.  So, instead of reaching for the remote control and hiding under the duvet when it’s damp and dull outside, get out there!

  1. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts

Warming seasonal food: delicious and nutritious autumn dishes

With summer now quite a way behind us, and the nights’ drawing in, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of eating stodgy, comfort foods. But poor food choices can lead to low energy and low mood. So what are the best warming dishes to eat this autumn?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some healthy and hearty meal and ingredient ideas to warm you up this autumn.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

WARMING SALADS

We tend to think of salads as having to be cold, but there are an abundance of salad recipes that are served warm.  For example, a roasted vegetable salad is both colourful and nutritious.  Why not roast some sweet potato (in season right now) with some red pepper and beetroot?  They can be served warm with some tossed mixed leaves and balsamic vinegar.

Additionally, chicken livers are great in salads, plus they’re really cost effective and are an excellent source of protein.  Even better, liver is high in iron – a mineral that is frequently deficient in the daily diet and is essential for energy and healthy red blood cell production.  Chicken livers work really well lightly sautéed in butter and thyme, served warm on a bed of salad leaves topped with artichoke hearts.

WARMING HERBS

Certain herbs and spices naturally bring blood to the surface making us feel warm even if they’re used in cold dishes; they can act like an internal radiator!  Warming herbs also aid digestion and balance blood sugar.

One great example is cinnamon; it can be used in so many different ways: it is perfect sprinkled on porridge in the mornings which will sustain energy levels throughout the day without leaving you feeling bloated.  In fact, cinnamon is great sprinkled on any dish where you might be otherwise tempted to reach for sugar.  Think natural yoghurt, stewed fruit, pancakes or cereals – the choice is endless.

Ginger is another warming herb which can be used in so many dishes, particularly stir fries or Thai-style fish.  However, for an excellent morning perk-up, ginger can be used in a warming tea, freshly grated with half a lemon; not only will your body feel warm even when it’s cold outside, this tea will help flush your liver through so your skin will glow!

Cardamom is another favourite which also helps to stop indigestion and can be used in the treatment of coughs and colds.  Why not start your day with some fruit topped with natural yoghurt?  Cardamom pods can be simmered gently in water and vanilla extract for around five minutes and then poured over some dried fruits such as pears, prunes and apricots.  For a great breakfast, sprinkle some sugar-free muesli over the top and you’ll be warm and energised all day long!

WARMING MEALS

Forget the stodgy, creamy pastas; think warming lunch-time soups, wraps or hearty chillies.  You can make some great soups at the beginning of the week using butternut squash, lentils and other root vegetables of your choice and refrigerate it in batches for the rest of the week.

Many of us tend to stock up on bread during the colder months which can lead to bloating and low energy.  However, why not make up some wholemeal wraps instead?  Wraps are great for lunch filled with avocado and tuna; this is a high protein lunch which will help avoid any afternoon slump.  Alternatively, wraps can be filled with sizzling beef and salad and topped with guacamole for a warming Mexican-style dish.

Chillies will not only warm the body, but also protect against colds and flu as we get into the season of bugs!  They can be used in traditional chilli con carne as well as curries.  An excellent seasonal curry can be made with spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and chickpeas alongside chilli and curry spices of your choice.

So jump into autumn and breeze through the days without noticing the cooling temperatures by creating some of these warming dishes!

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts