Are you like me? My blood sugar can drop at any time… even though I try to manage what I eat as I’ve always suffered from this. I don’t have a serious blood sugar disease like diabetes, but I do have that kind of ‘Porsche’ metabolism where I struggle to put on weight. I’m slim, petite and maybe a little wiry (that’s quite hard to write as all women want to be curvaceous, don’t they!).
Whatever I eat, my body seems to burn it off quite quickly making me want more. I can feel hungry within half an hour of having a roast dinner! Leaving the house without some form of snack, just in case my blood sugar plummets leaving me shaky and spaced out, just never happens. I always have to be prepared when I travel, or if I’m out and about – in fact anytime I’m not at home where I have instant access to food.
Obviously I try to avoid sugary foods and drinks, though I am a woman and I do like cake! My body, as if in silent cooperation, doesn’t tend to crave sugar (except in cake!). I also get into trouble when I’m running long; I have to carry nutrition as I am also hungry, but if I take too many gels I feel spaced out and nauseous. What to do!
Nutritionist Henrietta Norton (www.wildnutrition.com) believes understanding how certain foods or methods of eating effect our blood sugar, will help us optimize our energy, essential to running.
Why does the food we eat make a difference?
When we eat foods containing sugars, the pancreas responds by releasing insulin to push the blood sugar into the cells. If we eat foods higher in fast releasing sugars, insulin will be used to remove that sugar quickly because it’s not safe for us to continue experiencing high blood sugar. However, sometimes this process can cause a sudden ‘high’ in blood sugar levels followed by a more dramatic drop or ‘low’. Symptoms of low blood sugar may include not being able to go for more than 1-2 hours without food, not experiencing fullness from meals (being more prone to snacking after meals) and experiencing dizziness, nausea, fatigue and mood swings when feeling hungry. Another sign of blood sugar fluctuations may be sugar cravings or a ‘sweet tooth’. We can moderate this process by eating foods that support this process better.
What can we do then to help limit and manage any fluctuations?
“Be your own sugar-detective,” says Henrietta, “high sugar foods are not always obvious.” Here are just some of the hidden sugars Henrietta says you may be eating daily.
White flour products: These are often both nutrient poor and release glucose quickly into the blood stream. Avoid all white flour carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta. Switch to brown rice, quinoa, oat or buckwheat. Ideally stick to a fist-sized amount of carbohydrates and have generous servings (ie half your plate) of vegetables and salad and proteins like meat, fish, eggs, beans and legumes. Avoid white potatoes and switch to sweet potatoes instead. You can also use vegetables as a starchy carbohydrate replacement. For example, a raw carrot and beetroot salad instead of brown rice.
Fruit:Getting the right ratio of fruit and vegetables in your diet is also important. Try to stick to 2 pieces of fruit per day to minimize fructose (fruit sugar) and choose fruit lower in fructose such as pears, apples, plums and any berries. If you do suffer from blood sugar fluctuations you may wish to avoid bananas, mango and pineapple. Dates have become enormously popular with health food blog recipes but they are very sweet, so you only need a few (not 10 or 20)! A good trick to slow down the release of sugar is to combine fruit with nuts and seeds so you might eat 1 apple alongside 4 almonds and a small handful of pumpkins seeds. All vegetables are great but be careful to either moderate your intake of starchy vegetables such as parsnips and pumpkin and preferably eat them with plenty of protein and healthy fats (see point no 2). Generally try to avoid fruit juice, as the fruit sugar will be released more quickly than when eating whole fruit because fruit juice lacks the fibre.
Sugars: If you want to sweeten a hot drink, try a little maple syrup, natural stevia root powder or coconut sugar. Honey is OK if local or manuka (some bees are fed sugar to make commercial honey so avoid these where you can). Be vigilant about checking snack food labels for glucose syrup, dextrose syrup and high fructose corn syrups, as these types of sugars will cause blood sugar levels to soar. We recommend avoiding sweeteners, as even these have been show to affect blood sugar levels as the sweet taste still signals insulin production in the body. Watch out also for sugary drinks and alcohol which often contain quite a lot of sugar too.
These are Henrietta Norton’s top tips to be on top of your blood sugar levels:
Eat protein and healthy fats with every meal: All meals should include protein (e.g chicken) and healthy fats (e.g avocado), as these food groups take much longer to break down in the stomach and provides a slow and steady source of energy – imagine a dripping tap of sugar rather than a tap turned on full blast.
Managing your stress levels: When our adrenal glands produce stress hormones such as cortisol, our liver also releases stored glucose called glycogen. In more primitive times, this was so we would have the energy to fight or run away from danger. However our daily ‘stresses’ are more desk bound than mammoth based which means that the released glucose is now circulating in the blood stream and more likely to be converted into unwanted fat in the body. Simple tips to improve this include getting enough rest, eating well and cutting down on caffeine containing drinks.
Supplementing your diet with magnesium and adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha as well as practicing calming exercise such as yoga or Pilates can be very supportive too. Supplement with chromium. This mineral is required for normal blood glucose concentrations and the maintenance and achievement of normal body weight. Research has shown that chromium works by supporting insulin sensitivity by optimizing the receptor sites on the cell wall. Back to our analogy, this is basically all about helping to get our ship with sugar cargo get into the harbor by the aid of the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper. Chromium may also be really helpful taken alongside a healthy diet for weight management.
Eat breakfast: Research has shown that those who eat a good solid breakfast each day are less likely to experience blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day. Aim for a balance of food groups rather than just a plain piece of toast or cereal. Try a bowl of wholegrain muesli with full fat milk or full fat yoghurt with nuts, seeds and berries or sliced pear on top OR wholegrain (or rye) brown toast with scrambled eggs, half an avocado and a green smoothie.
Get your ‘Z’Ss: Research has shown that getting enough sleep can improve blood glucose levels and how effectively our body uses insulin. Practice winding down earlier in the evening and aim form 8 hours sleep, preferably between 10.30pm-6.30am. If you find it a challenge to fall asleep try chamomile herbal tea or a valerian based natural sleep aid.
Wild Nutrition stockists include Space NK, WholeFoods UK and online. Henrietta Norton’s new book ‘Your Pregnancy Nutrition Guide’ will be published 8th August 2015 (Vermilion).