We reveal our top tips on how you can control your blood sugar levels, naturally…
Glucose is essential for energy production throughout the body and particularly in the brain. However, it is important to keep blood sugar levels balanced opposed to highs and dips.
“After a sugary snack we may experience a rush of energy,” explains nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb, technical advisor at ADM Protexin, manufacturers of Bio-Kult and Lepicol. “Our pancreas will be working hard to produce lots of insulin to get the glucose into our cells. If not used immediately as an energy source the body will store the excess sugar in the liver, our muscles or as fat around our middle. Glucose storage worked well when we were hunter-gatherers but these days food shortage is rarely a problem. When blood sugar gets low we can experience symptoms such as tiredness, low energy, irritability, dizziness, headaches, poor concentration and subsequent sugar cravings and the cycle starts again.”
“Nowadays, we tend to eat a lot of refined foods and these contain high amounts of sugar and starch that raise the sugar levels in our blood very quickly,” adds nutritional therapist Marta Anhelush, clinical nutrition manager at BioCare. “What goes up must come down, so the body will often process excess sugar quickly so that the energy high is followed by an energy slump. Symptoms of low blood sugar levels can include hunger, sweating, dizziness, fatigue, irritability and confusion. It is at this point that you normally reach for the nearest chocolate bar, but this can cause the cycle to start over resulting in the blood sugar ‘rollercoaster’.”
Both high and low blood sugar levels can lead to complications, so it’s important to help support blood sugar levels to stay balanced. “Blood glucose imbalance (dysglycaemia) underlies most chronic health conditions; from cardiovascular disease to mental health problems and Alzheimer’s disease, therefore managing your levels through diet and lifestyle interventions is arguably one of the most important things you can do for your health,” comments Anhelush.
High blood sugar can have a negative impact on our weight, energy, mood, brain function and hormones. If blood sugar levels are too high in the short-term it can lead to type 2 diabetes, which can lead to serious health complications in the long-term, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and eye, nerve and muscle disorders.
“One major consequence of high sugar levels is a process called glycation, whereby glucose attaches to proteins in the blood and form Advanced Glycation End (AGE) products. AGEs can affect the integrity of cell membranes and increase inflammation. As the name suggests, they literally age our body cells too,” comments Anhelush. “Also, sometimes the body produces more insulin than necessary which indicates the pancreas is working overtime because they body’s cells are resistant to the effects of insulin. This means the cells have difficulty absorbing glucose and producing energy. Eventually both of these processes, resulting from persistently high blood glucose may lead to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and multiple other complications, such as inflammation and cardiovascular disease.”
Low blood sugar levels can lead to hypoglycemia, with long-term symptoms including confusion, abnormal behaviour, visual disturbances (including blurred vision), seizures and loss of consciousness.
“Over time, these peaks and troths of blood sugar and insulin production can lead to cells becoming resistant to insulin and the pancreas no longer able to keep up production, leading to a condition called ‘insulin resistance’,” advises Lamb. “We are seeing increasing rates of obesity, hypertension, the metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes, and kidney disease. It is thought that sugar, particularly excessive fructose intake, has a critical role to play in the epidemic. Insulin resistance is commonly observed in these conditions.”
How can we naturally control our blood sugar levels?
- Have protein with every meal: “Be sure to consume a good quality protein source with each meal or snack helping to satisfy hunger and sustain fullness for longer and reduce subsequent sweet cravings later in the afternoon,” recommends Lamb.
- Reduce stimulants/sedatives: “Although caffeine in the short term may seem like it good idea to boost energy levels, it can impair insulin sensitivity in high doses. Alcohol, such as beer and sweet wine, contains carbohydrates so will increase blood sugar levels. Alcohol can also stimulate the appetite, resulting in overeating and consequently weight gain,” suggests Anhelush.
- Focus on a healthy diet: “Swap processed foods high in sugar or refined carbs for ‘real foods’ such as colourful seasonal vegetables, salads and fruits supplying you with a wide range of energising nutrients the body needs to function optimally throughout the day,” advises Lamb.
- Increase your omega-3: “Enjoy some omega-3 fats such as oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts or saturated fat such as coconut oil, butter or ghee from grass fed cows, helping to ensure fullness after eating, reduce sugar cravings, inflammation and burn stored body fat,” explains Lamb.
- Manage stress: “Stress levels can also help to balance out blood sugar levels. Activities such as meditation, walking and taking a bath can aid relaxation and lower cortisol levels and in turn, reduce insulin resistance,” suggests Anhelush.
- Create a routine and stick to it: “Stick to a regular routine so your body can regulate hunger hormones and mood fluctuations,” said Lamb. “Keep focused and calm when eating to improve digestion and to notice when you’re full!”
- Exercise regularly: “Introduce some form of gentle daily exercise such as walking, cycling, dancing or yoga and increase regular movement in your daily routine such as taking the stairs instead of the lift, parking your car further from work or getting off the train a stop early. Remember more muscle mass means more storage capacity for glucose so it won’t get stored as fat,” explains Lamb.
Are there any supplements that can help?
There are a number of supplements which can help support your blood glucose levels. Anhelush recommends chromium, manganese, magnesium, cinnamon and B vitamins – here she explains why:
- Chromium supports glucose control by its action on insulin receptors and reduces insulin resistance. It can prevent hypoglycaemia, reduce fatigue and attenuate body weight gain. Chromium is needed for metabolism of fats including cholesterol, so may have an additional benefit on high cholesterol levels. The best food sources of chromium are broccoli, grapes, potatoes and garlic.
- Manganese is required for enzymes that are critical in gluconeogenesis and it also sensitizes cells to insulin. Food sources include pineapple, pecans, almonds, peanuts.
- Magnesium plays a central role in cellular energy production and can prevent blood sugar levels from falling excessively. It does this by regulating insulin secretion from the pancreas. Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, chard and pumpkin seeds.
- Stress can deplete B vitamins as these nutrients are required for energy production and therefore need replenishing frequently. To support this, eat a wide range of colourful fruit and vegetables, include wholegrains in your diet, and ensure you eat enough protein and nutrient rich foods. Vitamin B3 works alongside chromium in insulin regulation and preserves pancreatic cell function.
- Cinnamon contains polyphenols which mimic insulin, therefore improving glucose metabolism and reducing blood sugar levels. Cinnamon also slows the emptying of the stomach to reduce sharp rises in blood glucose following meals and improves the sensitivity of insulin.