Blood Sugar 101:
Blood sugar impacts overall health in many ways. Blood sugar levels act like a wave, constantly ebbing up and flowing down. The height and speed of this wave depends on things like food, stress levels, diet, and movement. The key is keeping blood sugar balanced by avoiding aggressive spikes, or a build up of sugar in the bloodstream.
Most Americans struggle with maintaining this balance. And as a result, many people experience chronically elevated blood sugar levels that are associated with weight gain, infertility, heart disease, stroke, hormonal imbalance, some types of cancer, and dementia. Imbalanced blood sugar is also the culprit for many common symptoms such as headaches/ migraines, irritability, acne, bloating, weight gain, and lack of energy, all of which certainly make it harder to be present and enjoy the spirit of the holidays!
Why We Over-consume Sugar as a Society:
- 1. Sugar cravings are hard to resist! Though some glucose is necessary, excessive added sugars and processed foods can activate dopamine pathways of the same reward center in our brains as many addictive substances, drugs, and stimulants. The more we consume, the more hard-wired we are to want it in the future, and this can lead to intense cravings that feel impossible to resist.
These cravings can lead to what I refer to as a blood sugar roller coaster. It goes like this: we eat sugar, our blood sugar levels spikes, and then dips over the next 90 minutes. The bigger the glucose spike, the more significant the dip. When blood sugar levels dip low, the brain is signaled to bring these levels back up, compelling us to eat more carbohydrate-heavy foods to bring blood sugar back to equilibrium, even overriding our hunger and satiety signals. It becomes hard to recognize when to stop.
- 2. Added sugars are incredibly accessible. In fact, sugar is added to 70% or more of packaged foods on the market. Sugar is literally everywhere. Especially this time of year!
As much as I love the holidays, I recognize that they can pose extra challenges when it comes to balancing healthy routines and optimal nutrition. In my practice, I encourage my clients to avoid thinking about this season as a three month free-for-all that ends with a well intentioned, but often unsuccessful, yo-yo diet come January. Instead, view each day – even each meal – as a new opportunity to support your health with simple tools, while also enjoying and savoring the season.
My Top Strategies To Help You Feel Your Best During The Holidays:
- 1. Commit to a high protein, balanced breakfast.
As tempting as it may be to skip breakfast after an indulgent holiday party or extra slice of pie from the night before, doing so might be one of the worst things you can do. Research indicates that eating a high protein vs a high carbohydrate breakfast translates to less cravings, fewer dips in energy, and better objective blood sugar control throughout the entire day. Easy, go-to breakfast ideas I love are an egg scramble with veggies and avocado or a blood sugar balancing smoothie with 30+ g of protein.
- 2. Avoid eating sugar on an empty stomach.
Eating sweets or consuming sugar-sweetened beverages that are void of fiber on an empty stomach can create an aggressive glucose spike, leaving you feeling groggy, irritable, and reaching for more sugar an hour later. To avoid riding this blood sugar roller coaster, I recommend pairing sweets and carbohydrates with a balanced meal of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Eating the protein & fiber – ie veggies – before the carbohydrates can lead to a more desirable post-meal glucose level.
- 3. Choose lower sugar, more nutritious substitutions when possible.
The key to cultivating nutrient-dense, balanced meals starts with simple ingredient swaps. Read food labels, look for added sugars, and make swaps when possible. A few examples include: swapping refined white flour for almond flour; cane sugar for date sugar or monk fruit; or simply choosing the option with the lowest amount of added sugars.
- 4. Stay hydrated.
When you are dehydrated, you have less total blood volume, leading to higher levels of circulating blood sugar levels. I recommend drinking 12 oz of water as soon as you wake up, hydrating throughout the day with electrolytes, and if you partake, aiming for a full glass of water after each alcoholic beverage at your holiday events.
- 5. Incorporate movement.
When schedules get busy, exercise is often the first thing to be cut. If you find yourself caught up in the hustle and bustle with minimal time for exercise, focus on simply incorporating short bouts of movement throughout the day. A recent study out of Columbia University found that just 5 minutes of walking every half hour reduced blood sugar spikes by almost 60%!
- 6. Get some sleep.
The amount and quality of your sleep has a profound effect on blood sugar balance and cravings. Research shows that just a few nights of poor sleep can alter hormone levels, encouraging sleep-deprived people to crave and overeat sugar. Prioritize sleep hygiene and aim for 7-9 hours each night to help your body best assimilate the extra holiday sweets with less side effects.
- 7. Don’t forget about micronutrients.
When we talk about blood sugar balance, macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) are typically the center of the conversation. But micronutrients, like magnesium, B6 and selenium also have an impact on metabolic health. Supplementation can be very helpful, especially during busy seasons like the holidays. I recommend incorporating a quality multivitamin or prenatal, like WeNatal, to help maintain nutrient levels and optimize overall health.