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Dietary changes

you could make

to control unstable blood sugar levels

Karolyn Boyd

If you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, you have probably been told that keeping your blood sugar ‘stable’ is key in blood sugar management.  More specifically, it is important to maintain your blood sugar level within as narrow a range as possible for optimal blood sugar control.  This means that you want to reduce or eliminate spikes as much as possible and maintain your blood sugar as near as possible to a baseline.  In the accompanying photo, this would mean maintaining your blood sugar level within the green band.  When blood sugar rises, it will definitely take a dip as steep as the rise and this is where you lose control like a yo-yo!  This is the scenario you will want to avoid as these decreases are the precise times where you will crave sugar, sweets, coffee or stimulants to bring your blood sugar back up.  Rather, you want complete control of your blood sugar levels by keeping it as steady as you can.  Blood glucose-lowering medications may be necessary when you are starting out on your progress, but most of my clients end up being able to decrease their medication, and possibly even get completely off their medication with the help and guidance of their family physician.  Simple but specific adjustments to your lifestyle and diet will allow you to manage your blood sugar levels more effectively.  Most people can easily go 3 hours or more between eating without experiencing sugar cravings or feeling shaky, irritable or tired.

 

When we ingest a piece of food, it gets assimilated by being bichemically broken-down by digestive enzymes and absorbed through the lining of our digestive tract.  It ultimately ends up in our circulation as blood sugar and increased glycemia, which is the concentration of sugar in our blood.  Our liver is the master organ which determines what happens to the glucose molecules which is another word for simple carbohydrate or sugar.  Sugar is important because it is a souce of energy in our cells.  Our body uses the sugar, or glucose, in the foods we eat for energy and also breaks down, balances, and creates nutrients for the body to use.  Think of it as fuel that keeps your body moving throughout the day.  Our liver is the largest glandular organ in our body which produces bile, a substance needed to digest fats but it also has several functions related to glucose management.  It stores glucose and also converts stored sugar to functional sugar when the body’s glucose levels fall below normal.  (1)

 

The glucose is absorbed from the circulation by the action of insulin, a peptide hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreatic islets of the pancreas.  It regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein by promoting the absorption of, especially, glucose from the blood into fat, liver and skeletal muscle cells, so it becomes evident how important it is for your energy creation.  When you are thinking, your brain will use the glucose.  When you are active, the muscle cells will use the glucose.  Your liver manages any extra glucose that may be available when your blood sugar levels are high and either places it in reserve as glycogen or sends it into cells to be used, or directs the extra glucose into your fat cells for storage as fat.  The liver also converts stored sugar to functional sugar when the body’s sugar glucose levels fall below normal, and is therefore a feedback loop for when the blood sugar is either too high or too low.  (1)

 

Many of my clients have difficulties managing their blood sugar levels and this displays itself as multiple symptoms which I will enumerate below.  It becomes apparent that they have issues managing their glycemia and maintaining stable blood sugar levels with the many symptoms that are present.  Many of them also exhibit symptoms of liver issues and additional support for the liver is also necessary.  If you are suffering from any of the following symptoms, it is an indication that more stringent blood sugar management is necessary and you will need to become more careful of your diet.  The more you lose control of your blood sugar, the closer to diabetes you are getting.  You can review the figure below to determine where you are positioned on the continuous spectrum of the progression of diabetes. 

Figure 1 :  Spectrum of disorders of glycemia (from American Diabetes Association 2010) 

I have found over the years that helping people with unstable blood sugars has resolved so many symptoms.  I have sorted the most common ones I have seen in my practice in four different categories:

A fifth category which needs special mention since it is predominant in so many people is an increased activation of the inflammatory process.  Minihane et al. in 2015, reviewed the role of inflammation in the development of chronic diseases (3).  It has already been shown that metabolic syndrome and obesity play a role in the activation of inflammation (4).  Minihane further demonstrates the evidence relating diet composition and early-life nutrition to inflammatory status.  It shows that diet can positively modulate inflammation and must be considered when evaluating chronic diseases.  Inflammatory processes may include generalized pain, swelling, stiffness in joints including joint pain, stiffness in the spine, arthritis, low back pain, stiff aching muscles, joint inflammation and burning sensations or rheumatoid arthritis as well as muscular pain.  If you regularly experience some of these symptoms, it would be worth your while to investigate the possibility of the link between your daily diet and how this may affect your blood sugar levels.  This may very well eliminate the root cause of your pain and suffering.  As you may know, I was diagnosed with an inflammatory auto-immune condition, systemic lupus erythematosus in 1998.  The disease was initially debilitating, however, I changed my diet and am now able to manage my level of inflammation.  I get my inflammatory biomarkers verified on a regular basis to ensure I am on the right track and to encourage healing.  This has been a primary means to control the disease process and development. ​

Similarly, if you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms noted in the table above, these are all signals that you need to balance and monitor your blood sugar!  As mentioned, you can reclaim control of your blood sugar with simple natural, diet-based methods (5).  It remains important to therefore understand your blood sugar levels with a glucose meter.  It is all about making mealtime compensations to manage your blood sugar.  It is in your power!  Whether your blood sugar levels remain high and you are in a state of hyperglycemia or whether you are low and in hypoglycemia, the symptoms remain similar and are an indication to take action.  Here are 8 important tips that I have noted make a huge difference in my clients and helps them take reclaim control of their blood sugar levels naturally:

  1.  Eating breakfast:  Eating breakfast is the first thing you must do to effectively manage your blood sugar levels.  Eating a nutrient-rich breakfast and getting your day off on the right foot helps manage weight and improves overall nutrient intake. It is also important that your first meal contain a protein and a healthy fat.  These satiating micronutrients are great way to maintain your blood sugar levels more stable (6).

  2. Nutrient timing:  When you eat is almost as important as what you eat. The timing of your meals and snacks can affect your metabolism and sleep cycles. Eat at regular intervals to help keep your blood sugar steady.  Include a small healthy snack in between main meals to maintain your blood sugar levels.  This will allow you to stay nice and stable throughout the day.  I always encourage protein-rich snacks such as a mixture of nuts and dried fruit or a boiled egg.  A study conducted in 2009 also showed that timing of food intake itself may play a significant role in weight gain and the circadian system also affects weight gain (7).

  3. Protein with each meal:  Bell et al. examined the effects of increasing fats and protein with your meal on blood sugar outcomes following eating (8).  It has previously been shown that specific foods that slow down the digestive process of the carbohydrates positively affecting the insulin response favorably and preventing blood sugar spikes.  I have found that eating protein with each meal is especially important for my clients when they eat carbohydrates, especially along with high-glycemic index foods.  It appears to slow down the release of energy and prevents sugar spikes.  Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and will release energy slowly.  This will signal your brain that you are full.

  4. Eat foods low on the glycemic index:  These are foods which release energy slowly into the bloodstream comparatively to high glycemic-index foods which release energy quickly into the bloodstream (9).  In Blood Sugar Balance Plan and Diabetes UTurn, I teach you how to determine which food fits in which category and whether it is acceptable.  It makes it easier to remember according to how the vegetable grows.  If it grows above the ground, such as greens, it is usually low glycemic index and will not cause much havoc to your blood sugar.  Veggies that grow below the ground however, starches, like potatoes, carrots are high glycemic index foods and you need to be careful on the serving sizes and the amount consumed.  Fruits vary, but the ones I advise diabetics to stay away from specifically are bananas and pineapple as they contain a lot sugar, even though it is natural sugar.  Berries are also good as they are high in fiber, which may also help with blood sugar control.  I also advise to limit any cereal products and fruit in general in the daily intake to limit the total sugar.  Legumes, nuts and seeds generally have a lower glycemic index and generally don’t cause the blood sugar to fluctuate so much.

 

There are certain elements to avoid to help you better manage your blood sugar:

  1. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates:  These are generally high glycemic-index foods and are they key players in causing the blood sugar spikes (9).  They are usually processed foods and are generally unhealthy and do not nourish and sustain your body.    

  2. Avoid sodas and sweet drinks:  They are obviously filled with sugar, artificial sweeteners and preservatives that will inevitably lead to hormonal imbalance and blood sugar spikes.  Available data indicate clearly the large caloric intake associated with soft drinks (10).  This study also confirms the decreased accompanying nutrition and the link to several key health conditions such as diabetes.  You are better off drinking pure water. 

  3. Avoid artificial sweeteners:  Even though artificial sweeteners contain no glucose, they can have the same effect on the blood sugar that sugar does.  They are essentially biochemically transformed sugar and are even potentially more dangerous for your body (11). 

  4. Reduce stimulants:  NACs or Nicotine, alcohol and caffeine also cause you to lose control of your blood sugar levels (12, 14).  Nicotine stimulates the secretion of norepinephrine and endorphins and balances moods and increases energy.  The blood sugar rises as the liver increases glycogen release and brings about the satisfying energy lift.  Not many research has been conducted on the effects of blood sugar levels directly, but in 1992, on group confirmed that diets with a combination of a high glycemic load and a low cereal fiber content increase risk of NIDDM in men (13).  Alcohol is a source of empty calories and is fermented glucose and is therefore easily absorbed and spikes the blood sugar readily.  It is also a sedative that depresses the central nervous system.  Caffeine is a worldwide ubiquitous drug.  It is one of the most highly marketed addictive substances in the world and is used as a stimulant throughout history.  The amounts consumed and the constant stimulation on which people come to depend many times daily is the actual problem.  Finally, all drugs have some toxicity.  All of these stimulants cause our blood sugar to rise due to an increase in adrenaline.  Stimulants provide phony energy which you have to pay back.  When you go to a stimulant, you go into energy debt, hence the fatigue which follows.        

 

When your blood sugar is too high, increase the healthy fat in your meals and decrease the carbohydrates.  If your blood sugar gets too low between meals, consider increasing the carbohydrates at your next meal and don’t forget to have a snack.  These techniques will help you maintain healthy stable blood sugar levels throughout your day.  I recommend the Low-Glycemic index Mediterranean diet as per a study completed by Iris S. et al in 2008 in The New England Journal of Medicine.  The low-glycemic index non-restrictive calorie Mediterranean diet produced weight loss and elicited beneficial metabolic effects and improved biomarkers over time up to a 24 month point.  I have been applying this diet to hundreds of clients in my practice over the past several years to control blood sugar levels in clients that demonstrate difficulties in managing their glycemia and where it is apparent that the liver needs additional support.  I have found that the diet is very wholesome, detoxifying, and primarily assists in blood sugar as well as weight management, supports the liver, and elicits the appropriate metabolic response in pre-diabetics and diabetics.        

When the techniques mentioned above are mastered, blood sugar control becomes much easier.  Cravings subside, weight and mood stabilize, memory improves, and hormones become balanced.  More importantly, risks are minimized for the progression of sugar-related diseases such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes including heart disease.

  1. Hall, John, E.  (2016) Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology 13th edition (Guyton Physiology).  Philadelphia, PA :  Elsvier Inc.

  2. American Diabetes Association.  (2010)  Diagnosis and classification of diabetes mellitus.  Diabetes Care.  33 (1) :  S62 – S69.

  3. Minihane, A., Vinoy, S., Russel, W., Baka, A., Roche, H., Kieran, M., Tuohy, K., Teeling, J., Blaak, E., Fenech, M., et al.  (2015)  Low-grade inflammation, diet composition and health: current research evidence and its translation.  British Journal of Nutrition.  114:  999–1012.

  4. Monteiro, R. and Azevedo, I.  (2010)  Chronic inflammation in obesity and the metabolic syndrome.  Mediators Inflamm.  2010;  2010 :  289645.

  5. Asif, M.  The prevention and control the type-2 diabetes by changing lifestyle and dietary pattern.  J Educ Health Promot.  2014 Feb 21;  3 (1) :  1 – 8. 

  6. Reutrakul, S., Hood, M., Crowley, S., Morgan, M., Teodori, M., Knutson, K.  (2014)  Relationship between breakfast skipping, chronotype, and glycemic control in type 2 diabetes.  Chronobiology International.  31 (1):  64 – 71.      

  7. Arble, D., Bass, J., Laposky, A., Vitaterna, M., Turek, F.  (2009)  Circadian timing of food intake contributes to weight gain.  Obesity.  17 (11) :  2100 – 2102. 

  8. Bell, K., Smart, C., Steil, G., Brand-Miller, J., King, B., Wolpert, H.  (2015)  Impact of fat, protein, and glycemic index on postprandial glucose control in type 1 diabetes :  implication for intensive diabetes management in the continuous glucose monitoring era.  Diabetes Care.  38 (6) :  1008 – 15.

  9. Brand, J., Colagiuri, S., Crossman, S., Allen, A., Roberts, D., Truwell, A.S..  (2009)  Low-glycemic index foods improve long-term glycemic control in NIDDM.  Diabetes Care.  14 (2) :  95 – 101.  

  10.  Vartanian, L., Schwartz, M., Brownell, K.  (2007)  Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health :  a systematic review and meta-analysis.  Am J Public Health.  97 (4) :  667 – 675. 

  11.  Swithers, S.  (2013)  Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements.  Trends Endocrinol Metab.  24 (9) :  431 – 441.

  12.  Bornemisza, P., Suciu, I.  (1980)  Effect of cigarette smoking on the blood glucose level in normals and diabetics.  Med Interne.  18 (4) :  353 – 6.

  13.  Salmeron, J., Ascherio, A., Rimm, E., Colditz, G., Spiegelman, D., Jenkins, D., Stampfer, M., Wing, A., Willett, W.  (1997)  Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of NIDDM in men.  Diabetes Care.  20 (4) :  545 – 550.

  14.   Keijzers, G., De Galan, B., Tack, C., Smits, P.  (2002)  Caffeine can decrease insulin sensitivity in humans.  Diabetes Care.  25 (2) :  364 – 369.