Blood sugar is literally that: the sugar in your blood. Your blood contains all kinds of important nutrients and other substances that we need to be healthy. Including sugar. Blood is the liquid transporter that distributes these compounds to all parts of our bodies.
Sugar (a type of carbohydrate) is one of our body’s main fuels. The other two fuels are fat and protein. I call it “fuel” because our cells literally burn it to do work. It’s this “biochemical” burning of fuel in all of our cells that is our metabolism.
So, how does blood sugar get too high? What diet and lifestyle upgrades can we do to manage it?
In this post, I’ll talk a bit about blood sugar balance, insulin resistance, and diabetes. I put together a detailed handout going over the top 11 proven strategies that can help manage blood sugar level naturally. Don’t forget to download it at the end of the article!
The good news is that blood sugar levels are responsive to diet and lifestyle upgrades.
NOTE: There are several medical, diet, and lifestyle approaches to managing medical conditions. None of these are a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have any of these conditions, or are taking medications for it, please make sure you’re being monitored regularly.
Blood Sugar Balance
Our body strives to be in balance. It exerts a lot of energy to make sure that our systems are all running smoothly. Our digestive system, nervous system, cardiovascular (heart & blood vessels) system, etc. And this includes our blood too. Our bodies try to balance our blood pressure, blood volume, blood sugar, etc.
There is a normal and healthy range of sugar levels in our blood. The problem doesn’t start until these levels are out of range, i.e. too high for too long.
Here’s how our bodies strive to maintain optimal levels of blood sugar:
- We eat a food containing carbohydrates (i.e. sugar and/or starch).
- Our digestive system breaks down the sugar and/or starch into smaller sugars like glucose. These smaller sugars are then absorbed into our bloodstream. This naturally raises our blood sugar level.
- When our blood sugar gets too high, the pancreas (a gland in our digestive system) sends out insulin. Insulin is a hormone that tells our muscles, liver and, ultimately, fat cells to grab that sugar from the blood. These cells use the sugar they need for energy now, and store the rest for later.
- The muscles and liver store sugar (e.g. glucose) temporarily. When we need it, our muscles and liver give up their sugar into the blood. This happens, for example, when we haven’t eaten for a few hours, we’re exercising, or we’re under stress.
As you can see, the amount of sugar in your blood is constantly flowing up and down. Up when we eat; down when the insulin tells the cells to pull it out of the blood. Then up again when we eat again and/or start using some of the stored glucose. And down again as it’s used (burned) or stored.
This is all good and healthy! This is what we aim for.
Blood Sugar Imbalance (Insulin Resistance & Type-2 Diabetes)
The problem is when the balance is thrown off. When the blood sugar ups and downs become unhealthy. When the “ups” get too high, and they stay there for too long.
Too much blood sugar can cause heart rate issues (arrhythmias), and in extreme cases, even seizures. Too high blood sugar for too long can eventually cause long-term damage to organs and limbs.
A healthy blood sugar balance is key.
A common way our blood sugar gets too high is when we eat a lot of sugar in a short time. Especially processed sugar, like in soda pop, energy drinks, desserts, etc. Our digestive system absorbs as much sugar from our food as possible. This is an evolutionary thing. We inherited this from thousands of years ago when food was scarce and the next meal was unknown. Our bodies adapted to crave, absorb, and store as much sugar as possible in one sitting, because it didn’t know how long it would be until the next meal. It’s a survival mechanism.
Over the years, if we frequently eat a lot of sugar and have increased body fat, our bodies can change. The muscle and liver cells start ignoring insulin’s call to absorb sugar from the blood. They become “insulin resistant.” When this happens, the sugar stays in the blood for a lot longer than normal. Blood sugar levels become too high for too long.
But this doesn’t stop the pancreas from releasing even more insulin. When this happens, you have the paradox of high blood sugar and high insulin.
Some symptoms of insulin resistance are:
- Fatigue after meals;
- Sugar cravings that don’t go away, even if sweets are eaten;
- Increased thirst;
- Frequent urination.
Too-high levels of both blood sugar and insulin is not a healthy place to be in. In fact, it can be dangerous and lead to pre-diabetes, and eventually type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a long-term (a.k.a. “chronic”) condition of too high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and inflammation. It increases the risk of many serious conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation. Not to mention the number of medications often prescribed to try to keep blood sugar balanced.
DIABETES TYPE 1 vs. TYPE 2: Type 1 diabetes is when your immune system actually destroys the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. It’s an “autoimmune” condition where your pancreas literally cannot make insulin. This is often diagnosed early in life (childhood/adolescence) and requires lifelong insulin injections. Less than 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes; everyone else has type 2.
These are the connections between blood sugar balance, insulin resistance, diabetes, and their symptoms and risks.
Sugar and Immune System Impairment
It’s well known that Vitamin C is needed by your immune system. It’s needed by our white blood cells to engulf and absorb viruses and bacteria. However, sugar’s structure is very similar to that of vitamin C and it can get absorbed by the white blood cells by mistake severely slowing down the process.
Did you know? Eating any king of sugar has the potential to reduce your body’s defenses by 75% or more for 4-6 hours!
You know that sticky feeling you get on your hands if you’ve been in contact with sugar or sugary food items? Imagine that feeling on the inside of your body. That’s pretty much what it’s like for your immune system. A slow, sticky process…
Sugar and Digestive Health
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I’m a huge advocate for digestive health and always supporting our gut flora. As part of my 30-day Candida Crush Cleanse, eliminating sugar is one of the key components of the diet protocol.
This is because sugar directly feeds our bad bacteria, including the yeast like Candida which can cause so many health problems. Candida uses sugars (including natural fruit sugar – fructose!) as their primary source of fuel and energy to grow and build up their cell walls called biofilm.
Their cell walls are made of around 80% carbohydrates. As the candida grow and age the biofilm becomes a hard thick layer of protection against both our immune system and treatments. This protective matrix is what allows them to live and multiply safely within your digestive tract.
Even medical studies have shown that within 2 hours of the biofilm development they were already highly resistant to any anti-fungals used. Once mature, it’s almost a near-total resistance
Often when there is a Candida overgrowth, you will get cravings for sweets. This is a direct call from your bacteria asking for fuel to grow and multiply!
Eliminating sugars is the first step in the Candida Cleanse where we starve out the bacteria. The other 2 steps are to kill off the overgrowth and then to repopulate your flora with healthy bacteria.
If you’re having sugar cravings and think you might struggle from Candida overgrowth, read up more on my Candida Cleanse HERE.
Surprising Foods High in Sugar
The thing I hear the most from my clients after they complete the cleanse (after they tell me how great they feel of course! Lol!) is that they were surprised on how many things had sugar in it, and lots of it!
This can be so discouraging to some people for they do such good work at trying to eliminate the obvious culprits like pop, candy, donuts, and even cutting down their carbs, but then they find out where else sugar is hiding and it’s frustrating!
The food packaging companies literally put sugar in EVERYTHING!
So, that being said, here are the top foods that you might think are healthy but are actually hiding places for sugar:
- Low-fat yogurt (there might not be fat, but there is most likely sugar! I take the fat over sugar)
- Sauces (BBQ, Ketchup, Stir-fry Sauces, etc)
- Fruit Juice (Did you know there is about 22g of sugar in 1 cup of orange juice? Almost as much as a pop! Best to just eat the fruit 😉)
- Vitamin Water and Sports Drinks
- Protein Bars (Some contain even up to 30g per bar! Look for a low sugar brand like the SimplyBar which are 1-3g per bar)
- Cereals and even Granola (yup, even the healthy versions have quite a bit of sugar. Best to make your own granola!)
- Tomato Sauce (who knew!)
- Pre-made Soup (really…it’s everywhere!)
- Flavored Coffees and Iced Tea
- Packaged Fruit (because fruit isn’t sweet enough…?)
So as you can see, sugar is literally in everything! Reading labels is the best way to start to gain awareness. Your goal for daily sugar intake should be as low as you can, but not higher than about 20g.
The good news about blood sugar imbalance
The good news is that improved blood sugar balance can be achieved with proper nutrition and lifestyle! What you eat, how you eat it, how much exercise and sleep you get, and how you handle stress are all factors that you can improve.
Eliminating any infections that are increasing your cravings is a good start for success and with a little bit of will power, you can do it!
The first step is to get rid of and cut out all the high sugar foods from your diet. These are the ones that you know aren’t good for you. (You know… pop, candy, donuts, sugary cereals, etc)
The second step is then to start label reading. Initially, you really just need to check out the total sugars in grams on the nutrition facts label of the food you’re eating. The goal should be less than 4g per serving, and then stick to the serving size! 😉
Exercise is probably the next most important step in creating healthy blood sugar levels within the body. By exercising, you’re burning stored sugar in your body. This not only improve your blood sugar levels, and your physical and mental health in many ways, but also can reduce insulin resistance. Win-win-win! This means your muscle cells, especially when they’re moving, absorb and burn more sugar from the blood. This goes for both medium- and high-intensity exercise.
I put together an extensive list of The Top 11 Tips for Keeping Blood Sugar Balanced. Download it below!
CAUTION: If you’re already diagnosed, and/or taking medications or insulin injections, make sure you speak with your doctor and/or pharmacist before making any changes. They may also want to monitor your blood sugar levels a bit closer when you start making diet and lifestyle upgrades.
So other than totally impairing your immune system, here are 10 more reasons why cutting your sugar for good is a great idea!
- Increases your risk for diabetes (depletes chromium which is needed for blood sugar regulation)
- Increases your risk for heart disease
- Increases your LDL cholesterol levels (when sugar is floating around in your blood vessels, it’s like little crystals scratching the lining as they pass by. The cholesterol increases to help heal the wounds)
- Impairs learning and memory, especially in kids
- Increased risk for diseases (with an impaired immune system, your body is less able to fight off disease and infections)
- Can cause depression (reduces B vitamins as well as affective your digestive system which helps to regulate hormones like serotonin – 90% of serotonin in gut)
- Increased risk of asthma and can worsen asthmatic attacks
- Causes weight gain with excess sugars getting stored as fat
- Speeds up the aging process by binding with your amino acids creating glycation
- Creating an imbalanced gut flora (This not only affects your digestion, but of course impairs your immune system, increases inflammation, etc.)
Looking for a sugar alternative? There are 2 that I allow on my cleanse for they don’t spike your blood sugar levels: Xylitol and Stevia.
Xylitol is the only alcohol sugar that doesn’t spike your blood sugar. Just note that for some this might create bloating.
Stevia is a plant extract which although tastes sweet is not sugar nor does it affect your sugar levels. Just make sure there I no added sugars like Maltodextrin or dextrose in the one you buy.
So don’t fret. If your blood sugar is creeping up, there are some nutrition and lifestyle upgrades you can make for better health.
Struggling on where to start? Or have tried different approaches without any luck? Schedule in a free 30 min consultation so that we can go over your Whole Body Health Profile and find out what imbalances in your body could be inhibiting your health success.
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