Written by Tim McComsey, RD, CPT TRYM Fitness Owner and Sunwarrior Contributing Writer
Ever had that uncomfortable shaky feeling when you’ve had too much refined sugar? It’s possible you were experiencing low blood sugar. Regulation of blood sugar is an important yet tricky concept to understand so here is a crash-course to help you understand how your body creates and uses blood sugar.
Your body produces blood sugar from the protein, fats, and carbohydrates you consume from foods. However, poor levels of blood sugars can wreak havoc on the body, causing you to become lethargic and mentally confused while increasing appetite and shakiness. On the other hand, maintaining proper blood sugar levels will help your brain and body function properly. All carbohydrates, simple or complex in nature, get broken down by the body and turned into sugar. Even healthy vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach, asparagus, peppers, etc. get broken down into sugars to be absorbed by the body as fuel.
The body is always trying to maintain homeostasis, a certain level of blood sugar, and is only happy with a small window of variation in blood sugar. Any form of carbohydrates eaten without the addition of fat or protein to slow the absorption into the bloodstream will cause the blood-sugar level to quickly rise above your body’s natural comfort zone. As a result, your body then releases the fat storage hormone insulin to regulate the sugar level back down to normal as quickly as possible. Unfortunately it also stores the excess sugar that can’t be used for fuel as fat.
Food can regulate our blood sugar to avoid this scenario in day to day living when used correctly and effectively. First, always choose carbohydrate sources that break down to sugar gradually. Your best choices are organic above-ground vegetables, which are less starchy and sweet than the below-ground vegetables. When choosing grains, go for whole, unprocessed options like brown rice, millet, quinoa, and so on. Even certain bread options can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, like flourless options made of sprouted grain—for example, Ezekiel breads.
Second, a little-known trick worth sharing is to consume quality protein and fat along with the non-starchy vegetables and whole grains. This helps to slow the sugar rush into the body, therefore minimizing a blood-sugar spike. When combining your foods in this fashion it is important to keep portions smaller as you are ingesting more calories. This is why I love to use the Sunwarrior Warrior Blend protein in addition to meals or as meal replacements. Easy to portion, you can add your macronutrients as needed. More protein and fats might be needed to minimize the sugar spike depending on how starchy or sweet the meal and carbohydrates are. According to the “Nutrition Almanac” by John Kirschmann, certain dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese provide ample amounts of protein, calcium, and vitamin D and can help raise low blood sugar levels slowly and enhance overall blood sugar management.
Here are a few clues that you may be experiencing extreme abnormalities in blood sugar levels or hypoglycemia. Watch for symptoms including: confusion, abnormal behavior, visual disturbances (double vision and blurred vision), seizures, loss of consciousness, heart palpitations, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, hunger, or a tingling sensation in the mouth. All of the above are not specific to hypoglycemia as there may be other causes.
Hyperglycemia is mostly found with those that have diabetes and is experienced when blood glucose levels are above 200 mg/dL. Symptoms develop over several days or weeks and include frequent urination, increased thirst, blurred vision, fatigue, and headache. If you feel or see any symptoms, it is wise to contact your doctor and have him test your blood sugar. In closing, your blood sugar levels are directly affected by what you eat. Be smart about your choices, combinations, and portions sizes of the food you consume. Play it right and you can maintain well balanced blood sugar levels which, in turn, will enhance your overall mood and energy levels.