10 Ways to balance blood sugar levels naturally
Are you the type of person that feels dizzy or faint if you go for more than 3-4 hours without eating? Do you get headaches if you do not eat for a while? Does your concentration decrease without getting a pick-me-up with sugar?
Then you most likely have blood sugar imbalances. This basically means that your body is unable to regulate your blood sugar sufficiently, making it harder for you to concentrate, making you more irritable, and making you crave sugar or starch throughout the day.
Blood sugar is tightly regulated within the bloodstream as increases in blood sugar, as seen with people with diabetes, can cause other complications such as kidney, heart, and brain issues. Upon fasting, blood sugar should lie somewhere around 80mg/dL and after a meal, should be around 120 mg/dL. Blood sugar levels are controlled very well between these two numbers in order to keep homeostasis or balance within the body. However, even though a person can stay between these two numbers, it is the sharp fluctuations (in other words, blood sugar going up or down too fast) that can give people the symptoms mentioned above.
Why is it important to regulate blood sugar levels?
Imbalances in blood sugar levels are often a sign that something is not moving in the right direction within the body. For example, blood sugar fluctuations are typically seen in people who have adrenal dysfunction or are undergoing chronic stress, in people who eat a highly-refined and sugar-laden diet, in people who need liver support (as the liver is an important organ in regulating blood sugar), and in people with hormonal imbalances (like in women with PCOS). Blood sugar imbalances leave you craving more sugar and simply add to the inflammation of a dysfunctioning metabolism. This can definitely set the stage for chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Therefore, addressing all the root causes of a blood sugar imbalance and getting rid of a blood sugar imbalance is key to addressing chronic health issues.
10 Ways to balance blood sugar levels naturally
Luckily, there are easy and natural ways to regulate your blood sugar. Let’s dive into a few of them to give you an idea:
Cut the sugar - This may seem like a very obvious one, but eating sugar causes you to crave more sugar and those blood sugar crashes shortly after eating something sweet leave you desperately looking for more sugar. It basically causes a vicious cycle of eating too much. A diet high in sugar is associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Therefore, cutting it out completely from your diet will help you to gain back your health. Ironically enough, if you cut sugar from your diet, you will be surprised how quickly you will not crave sugar anymore. And this will help you to cut the vicious cycle contributing to blood sugar imbalances.
Cut the sugar substitutes – Did you know that having fake sugar (like sucralose, aspartame, or saccharin) starts a hormonal cascade within the body that leaves you wanting more carbohydrates? There is research that shows that these sweeteners contribute just as much to, if not more than, blood sugar imbalances and obesity as sugar does. Therefore, the goal should not be about finding a replacement for your sweet tooth, but instead to change your taste buds so that you do not look for the sweet stuff. Remember, sweet foods should just be the exception and not the rule. Therefore, if you would like something sweet, use a little bit of the natural versions of sweeteners such as organic honey, agave or maple syrup, coconut sugar, or monk fruit every once in a while to make your own healthier versions of treats.
Eat fewer carbohydrates – Many people do not realize that carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, cereals, pasta, white potatoes, and rice quickly turn into sugar within the body. Therefore, eating too much of these foods can cause extreme highs and lows in blood sugar leading to blood sugar imbalances. For many people, including very active individuals, eating better kinds of carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index can help to regulate blood sugar levels. (The glycemic index of a food basically tells us how fast it will raise blood sugar levels. The lower the glycemic index of a food, the better it is for us). Examples of healthier carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index are blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, and squash.
Mix carbohydrates with high-quality protein and fat every 3-4 hours – To further reduce the glycemic index of a meal and to help balance blood sugar levels further, mixing carbohydrates with a higher fibre content with protein and fat can help. Some examples of these types of meals include quinoa with broccoli and some olive oil or a chicken salad with some olive oil or a green apple with a handful of nuts. For those with delicate digestive systems, it is better to mix a carbohydrate with vegetables or a protein with vegetables to aid in easier digestion. (For example, a baked sweet potato with a salad or some salmon with roasted veggies). Although it is better to eat only 3 meals per day instead of snacking, for people with blood sugar dysregulation, it is better to eat every 3-4 hours to balance blood sugar levels.
Eat a plant-rich diet – There are many dogmas about which diet is the best diet for human consumption. The one thing that all these dogmas can agree on, however, is the importance of eating a variety of plant foods. Plants naturally have a very low glycemic index and contain important phytonutrients essential to balancing blood sugar. For example, anthocyanins are phytonutrients found in deep purple or blue vegetables and increase the cell’s sensitivity to insulin (decreasing one’s chance to develop insulin resistance). Quercetin is a phytonutrient found in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and apples and has been found to help regulate blood sugar levels. The best way to ensure that you are getting all the amazing benefits of these phytonutrients is to eat the colours of the rainbow in vegetables on a daily basis.
Stop eating processed and refined foods – Refined flours like those found in pancakes, bagels, pizza, and white bread are a recipe for disaster when it comes to balancing blood sugar levels. Not only do these refined and processed foods sharply increase blood sugar levels, but they also contribute to the total toxic burden of your body. This means that by eating processed foods with a ton of mystery ingredients, you are putting more pressure on your liver to remove them from your system. And if you are eating a diet predominantly made up of processed foods, you most likely do not have the nutrients needed to support the liver in its detoxification endeavours. Simply put, more toxins in the body equal less blood sugar control as one of the many functions of the liver is to regulate blood sugar levels.
Address nutrient deficiencies – Magnesium, b-complex vitamins, chromium, vanadium, lipoic acid, iron, coenzyme q10, and zinc are only a few of the nutrients needed to address imbalances in blood sugar levels. It is important to work with your naturopath or functional medicine practitioners to address these nutrient deficiencies through diet and supplementation in order to optimize your ability to balance your body.
Stimulate your vagus nerve – One of the biggest causes of blood sugar imbalances is chronic stress. It is essential to implement relaxation techniques such as exercises that focus on the breath (like pilates or yoga), meditation or prayer, and getting high-quality sleep. All of these things will help to regulate blood sugar levels. In particular, stimulating our vagus nerve, which in turn helps us to rest and digest, can help this effort tremendously. Singing loudly, gargling, taking a cold shower, or breathing exercises can all help to stimulate the vagus nerve and ultimately balance our blood sugar levels.
Address any underlying issues – For those people who still find it difficult to not crave sweets, you may have more underlying issues going on such as bacterial, fungal, or parasitic overgrowths. These little critters love sweet stuff and make it that much harder to cut sweets. Therefore, overgrowths need to be addressed with your naturopath or functional medicine practitioner in order to help with sweet cravings and blood sugar balance.
Exercise – Exercise makes our cells more sensitive to nutrients and to hormones like insulin, which is responsible for taking the sugar from our blood and putting it into our cells for metabolism and the production of energy. Therefore, finding any movement that you can do daily will help you to balance blood sugar levels and to actually crave sugarless!
How will you know if your blood sugar levels are more balanced?
You will be able to go for at least 5-6 hours without eating without symptoms such as irritability, feeling faint, headaches, or dizziness. Ideally, reaching this state is a very good sign that your health is improving. We should not be in the fed state for most of the day, therefore, eating every three to four hours is a tactic we use in the beginning to balance blood sugar levels until we are able to go for more hours without eating.
Also, it is important to note that tactics such as intermittent fasting, while you are experiencing blood sugar imbalances, is not a good idea. After you have resolved this issue, it is wise to work with your naturopath or functional medicine practitioner to ease you into an intermittent fasting protocol that works best for you.
Main points to remember to balance your blood sugar levels:
Avoid a highly-processed diet from sugar and refined grains
Eat a plant-rich diet choosing vegetables from all the colours of the rainbow.
Eat every 3-4 hours mixing a high-fibre carbohydrate with a high-quality protein and/or fat
Address nutrient deficiencies
Address any underlying overgrowths
Decrease your stress levels
Implement practices like exercise, deep breathing, and meditation to help you to stay calm
Article Author: Tina Christoudias Spyrou, Dietician and Functional Medicine Practitioner
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