Foundations: Blood Sugar Control

August 16, 2022

Welcome to the Foundation’s series where I highlight factors of health that I consider ESSENTIAL to healing and thriving. I talk about these concepts with all of my clients to make sure that they are addressed before we ask the body to do more intense healing. These topics may not be as flashy as what the people with six-packs on magazines are selling, but as the saying goes, you can’t build on a weak foundation. 

Being mindful of your blood sugar balance isn’t just for people with diabetes. Dr. Sarah Gottfried says “I want you to care about your blood sugar more than you care about your retirement account!”. This stuff is important!

If you experience one or more of these symptoms frequently, you may have blood sugar imbalances: 

  • Feel hungry an hour or so after eating a meal
  • Feeling shaky or dizzy in between meals
  • Mood swings throughout the day
  • Energy highs and lows,
  • Frequently feeling “hangry”
  • Waking up in the middle of the night hungry
  • Having to change your schedule to eat (ex: when on vacation, the schedule is decided by your “hangriness”) 
  • Anxiety 
  • Poor sleep
  • Excessive thirst 
  • Sugar cravings
  • Brain fog
  • PCOS or infertility 
  • Stubborn weight, especially belly fat
  • Persistent hot flashes
  • Headaches/migraines

Did any of these sound like you? Odds are, you experience one or more of these symptoms because 88% of Americans do not have optimal metabolic health according to a study that analyzed data from 2009-2016. If you do have a pre-diabetes or Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis or PCOS diagnosis, your blood sugar has been imbalanced for years leading up to the diagnosis. Even if you do not have a Diabetes or PCOS diagnosis, chances are that you could benefit from regulating your blood sugar. 

What is blood sugar balance?

When we eat food, the food is broken down in the GI tract and absorbed as small particles of sugar, lipids (fats), or protein, primarily into our bloodstream. At any given time we can measure the amount of sugar in the blood.

–> First, When eating, the sugar in our blood starts to increase and a hormone called insulin is released from the pancreas.

–> Next, insulin acts like a key that opens a door on our cells, allowing the sugar from the blood to enter the cell – where we want it! All of our cells, like muscle cells, liver cells, and brain cells utilize sugar to make energy so that they can do their jobs. 

We naturally have a rise and then decrease in blood sugar when we eat. On a graph, we would want a small bell curve of blood sugar ups and down after a meal. This makes sure that we have enough steady energy! Carbohydrates raise our blood sugar and insulin the most. Protein and fat raise our blood sugar and insulin much less.

A chard of balanced blood sugar vs. a blood sugar spike and crash

Where things go wrong

When we eat large amounts of sugar (ex: a soda or piece of cake), or carbohydrates on their own (a bowl of plain pasta), our blood sugar dramatically increases. The body doesn’t like there to be too much sugar in the bloodstream, so to compensate, the pancreas releases a lot of insulin. This causes our blood sugar to quickly go from really high, to really low.

Then the crash can leave us feeling hungry and craving more sugar to bring our blood sugar levels back up again. We may also feel tired, shaky, and anxious. You can see how it would be easy to get stuck in this rollercoaster of ups and downs. 

Our muscles, liver, and brain cells can only use so much sugar at one time. When those reserves are full, our bodies start to store the extra sugar in adipose tissue, more commonly known as fat cells. This is so smart of the body – It is storing extra energy on our body in case we are ever starving!  The problem for most of us is that food isn’t scarce and we have plenty of food around for energy. 

Tip: High levels of triglyceride levels on your lipid panels can signify increased sugar intake that has been converted to fat. 

Reasons to control blood sugar

Besides just preventing Type 2 diabetes, balancing blood sugar has numerous health benefits. First of all, having balanced blood sugar levels will make you happier and more pleasant to be around. It will give you the energy and freedom to enjoy your life, without feeling addicted or controlled by food. It will also help you manage or lose weight, decrease anxiety, and support hormonal health. Additionally, the health of our brain depends on it! Alzheimer’s is now categorized as Type 3 Diabetes, indicating that improper blood sugar control and the damage it causes may be at the root of some neurodegenerative diseases.

Tip: Look at your past lab work: Your fasting blood sugar should ideally be < 95mg/dL and your HbA1c should ideally be < 5.4% (this is a 3-month average of blood sugars).

How to naturally balance blood sugar: 

  1. Include protein, fat, carbohydrates, and vegetables AT EVERY MEAL
    • Protein, fat, and fiber from vegetables will slow the blood glucose spike of carbohydrates.  Remember: proteins and fats slow down blood sugar! When paired with protein and/or fat the same amount of carbohydrates eaten alone will raise blood sugar and insulin much less. 
    • This could look like a simple plate of meat/fish, potatoes, and vegetables with olive oil, a Buddha bowl/Sweetgreen inspired bowl, or a soup that contains each of these categories. 
  1. NO naked carbs
    • Remember rule #1? Yes, it even applies to snacks. Carbohydrates should not be “naked”. Pair carbohydrates with fat, protein, or veggie to “dress them”. Here are some examples to avoid naked carbs:
      • Banana + peanut butter
      • Apple + almonds
      • Rice cake + avocado
      • Bowl of pasta with chicken sausage, broccoli, and olive oil
      • Oatmeal + peanut butter + a scoop of protein powder 

Tip: did you know that the order of which foods you eat at a meal also makes a difference in your blood sugar balance? To keep your blood sugar from spiking, eat vegetables first, protein and fat second, and carbohydrates last. This could look like deconstructing your sandwich or having a salad or some carrots before your meal. Click here to learn more!

  1. Eat enough
    1. Use the principles in #1 and #2 to build satisfying meals and snacks that keep you full for 3+ hours. Yes, even if you are trying to lose weight, you need to eat full, balanced, filling meals. Balancing out your blood sugar and insulin will help to prevent unintended fat storage. 
    2. When it comes to losing weight in a healthy way, the number of calories hardly matters. What matters most is what are you eating and how is it impacting your blood sugar. 
  2. Apple cider vinegar
    • The old wives’ tale that Apple Cider Vinegar helps with weight loss may just be true! Studies have shown that vinegar will help slow down the breakdown of food into sugar molecules, leading to a slower glucose spike. 
  3. Movement & exercise 
    • Research shows that even just 10 minutes of activity can help steady a blood sugar spike.
    • This can be easily integrated into your life by scheduling walks after lunch or dinner. Or if you are getting ice cream with friends, opt to walk to the ice cream store and back to help your body manage the dessert better. 
Snack ideas that will keep your blood sugar balanced

Resources/Further Reading:

  • Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspe
    • A fantastic book that covers many of these topics in great detail. I recommend this book to almost everyone! 
  • Levels Health
    • Levels Health offers continuous glucose monitors. However, even if you aren’t a member, their blog offers great education and inspiring stories from individuals who have worked to figure out how to optimize their blood sugar 
  • Sara Gottfried M.D.

NOTE: People with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes should consult their doctor before attempting major dietary changes that may affect blood sugar levels. 

A diagram of how to build a balanced meal including non-starchy veggies, protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats


Disclaimer: Please consult your medical provider before making dietary changes. 

Who do we work with?

We work with clients who are dedicated to changing their health. Making dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and taking supplements are part of the healing journey.