Updated: May 26
We've all been there, it's 3pm, we're craving something sweet, we go all in, it feels great, for about 20-30 minutes and then we feel it - the inevitable energy slump that makes us either want to eat more sweet stuff, or we can't stop yawning and feel like we could fall asleep at our desks !
This is part of what we call the blood sugar rollercoaster, because when our body is not balancing blood sugar well, we can really feel the ups and downs in our energy levels. Although this is unpleasant, it's also worth bearing in mind that over a long period of time, unbalanced blood sugar levels can even result in chronic health issues.
When we eat, our blood glucose levels rise, which causes a hormone called insulin to be released from the pancreas. This hormone helps to ensure that we can move glucose into our cells, so that it can be used.
Eating a large amount of sugar at once, whether regularly or just as a one-off will cause a spike in the level of glucose in our blood and as a result, our pancreas will release a larger amount of insulin to cope (whether we are using it for energy in our cells, or storing it in liver or in fat cells). The insulin will act to remove this excess glucose in the blood, so our blood glucose levels will drop, hence the drop in energy that we often experience not long after eating something sweet.
There are some signs and symptoms that can indicate that your blood sugar levels are not balanced. These include things like fatigue, weight gain, headaches, excessive thirst, mood swings, agitation, cravings for sugar and carbs, frequent urination and even blurred vision (note that talking to your GP is advisable if you experience symptoms such excessive thirst, urination, fatigue, persistent headaches, and blurred vision, just to check what might be causing it).
Luckily there are various things we can do to balance our blood sugar levels to regain control over our energy levels, avoid those nasty slumps or dips in energy, and feel less dependent on sugar to get us through the day.
Adopting a wholefood diet that moves away from refined and processed foods is an excellent foundation for keeping your blood sugar levels balanced, but let's look into a bit more detail at 6 ways that can specifically help you to start balancing your blood sugar today:
The Type of Carbohydrate is Important!
Try and move away from refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, rice, sweets, cake, and biscuits and opt for wholegrain varieties such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta and chickpea pasta. Try and opt for fruit if you do have a craving for something sweet - but it's best to aim for fruit that doesn't have a high glycaemic load (i.e. less likely to spike our blood sugar levels). These include things like: apples, cherries, blueberries, grapefruit.
Look at Your Fibre Intake!
Fibre is a powerful thing and a lot of us aren't getting enough in our daily diets. The NHS recommends consuming at least 30g fibre per day. Fibre is important for a number of reasons, but it's particularly important when it comes to blood sugar balance as it is able to slow down the rate at which we digest carbohydrates, meaning that it can lesser the chance of spikes in blood sugar levels, and instead they remain at a more consistent level after eating.
Sources of fibre include lentils, beans, chickpeas, avocados, oatmeal, cruciferous veg (e.g. broccoli, brussels sprouts) and dark leafy greens.
Look at Your Protein Intake!
Protein has a similiar effect as fibre does, in that it can stop spikes in blood sugar levels after eating. The amount you need depends on the individual, as requirements can be linked to things such as activity levels and if you're male or female. The recommended intake is 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day, which equates to approximately 56g/day for men and 45g/day for women (depending on bodyweight of each individual).
There are a wide variety of animal and plant sources of protein, ranging from chicken, eggs, wild fish, tofu, tempeh, beans, chickpeas and nuts.
It's quite common for us to reach for a sweet tasting breakfast, but try and think about adding in a protein source of some kind at breakfast, because this will set you up for the day and possibly reduce any afternoon cravings later on in the day too!
Hydrate with Water!
There are so many important reasons for keeping hydrated of course, but in terms of balancing blood sugar, water can help the kidneys to remove excess blood sugar (through the urine).
Don't forget to check out my top tips for keeping hydrated!
Pay Attention to Your Sleep Quality & Stress Levels!
Interestingly, not getting enough sleep can impact on our appetite the following day. It can cause increased cravings for sugar (when we are feeling tired our body seeks out ways to get quick and easy energy) and it can also raise levels of the so called "stress hormone" cortisol, which raises blood sugar levels!
In addition to prioritising rest, also think about your stress levels, which can have a simliar negative impact on our blood sugar levels.
Don't forget to check out my top tips for improving your sleep quality!
Did you know that exercise can increase our insulin sensitivity? (meaning that it can help increase our cells' ability to absorb and use glucose by increasing our cells response to insulin). It doesn't need to be high intensity exercise either, just going for a walk, or a gentle bike ride will have a beneficial impact too!
Nutritional Nugget: Cinnamon might help to support blood sugar levels, as it might help to improve our cells sensitivity to insulin (meaning greater efficiency at transporting glucose into our cells). The good thing is that it tastes good, so try adding it into your cooking, sprinkle it on top of a snack of sliced apple and nut butter, or add it to your morning porridge or smoothie (don't forget to add a source of protein!!).
There is no magic fix when it comes to balancing your blood sugar and energy levels. It's important to think about focussing on a minimally processed diet, looking at including a source of protein at every meal or snack, steering clear of refined carbohydrates, checking you're getting sufficient fibre in your day and of course, don't forget to hydrate, prioritise sleep, manage stress and integrate some regular exercise into the mix.
There are quite a lot of areas to address and consider when it comes to balancing blood sugar and energy levels, therefore if you'd like to have some support along the way, please book your complimentary 20 minute call with me, to see how I can help you to feel healthier and more energetic!
Registered Nutritional Therapist
Please note that Amy Cottrell Nutrition does not claim to prevent, treat or cure any physical, mental or emotional conditions. These blog articles are written for educational & informational purposes only and are not a substitute for medical advice.
Do not stop or start taking medication or supplements without first talking to your primary health care provider.