Right alongside of digestion comes another extremely important foundation: blood sugar regulation. Usually when working with any client, I make either blood sugar regulation or digestion a top priority, and for good reason too, as both are so intimately connected to our overall health and wellness.
When we eat foods that contain any level of carbohydrates, our bodies work to break those carbs down into a usable form of energy for the body: glucose. When glucose is detected in the blood stream, the pancreas is signaled to release insulin, a storage hormone, that takes the glucose and shuttles it to various cells around the body for storage. Insulin acts as the "key" to unlock the "door" to the inside of a cell so that the glucose can enter and be utilized.
Glucose is normally stored in the liver and muscles (another perk of having more muscle mass!), and glucose that is stored is called glycogen. Glucose becomes glycogen (the stored form of glucose) through a process called glycogenesis.
We store glucose as glycogen so that if and when our blood sugar becomes to low, we can break down that glycogen back into glucose to use for energy if food isn't near. This process is triggered by the hormone glucagon (the antagonist of insulin) and is known as glycogenolysis.
Alongside of these processes are three very important organs: the pancreas, liver, and adrenals. These are the main hormones associated with blood sugar regulation. Our pancreas releases insulin and glucagon, the two main hormones involved in blood sugar regulation. The liver stores glucose as glycogen, can produce glucose from protein if needed (glyconeogensis), and is the main organ called upon when our blood sugar is too high or too low. Lastly, the adrenal glands, which sit atop our kidneys, release cortisol when our blood sugar is too low and our glucagon hormone isn't working properly. The adrenals can also stimulate the breakdown of fat and/or protein for energy as needed via glycogenolysis and glyconeogenesis.
When all of our organs and hormones are working to digest real, whole foods in a body that understands the importance of stress management and proper digestion, blood sugar isn't much of an issue. But that is rarely the case in most people in today's society, including myself.
We start to see issues with blood sugar regulation when we eat a nutrient poor diet, one that is rich in refined carbs (even ones that are overloaded with "healthy" whole grains). These carbs break down into glucose in the blood stream, but if the cells in our liver and muscles are already full of glycogen, that glucose continues to float around in our blood stream.
In addition, many of us have impaired insulin function and responsiveness. This is known as insulin resistance, and can be developed from eating a nutrient poor diet, leading an inactive lifestyle, missing out on sleep, and not managing your stress levels over several months or years. When our insulin response isn't working properly, when we have glucose in our blood stream, we either don't respond to the call for insulin properly OR the insulin that doesn't come doesn't have the right "key" to unlock the "doors" to the cells for storage. It creates quite a mess.
When glucose remains in our blood stream too long, it can also start the process of glycation, or when proteins become "sticky" and covered with glucose. This means that these proteins (or amino acids at that point) cannot perform their functions as needed. Overtime, these glycated proteins will start to harden, and we all know the effects of hardening of tissues and blood vessels.
There are numerous symptoms associated with dysregulated blood sugar levels including energy dips and spikes, mood swings, sugar cravings, irritability if meals are skipped, constantly thinking about food, hypoglycemic tendencies, trouble staying asleep at night, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and so much more!
Even if you think you don't have trouble with blood sugar regulation, I encourage you to work to balance it anyway. You'd be surprised at how even the healthiest of eaters might have dysregulated blood sugar!
The best way to balance blood sugar levels is to eat based on a PFC balanced template.
Step 1: Pick an animal protein source the size of your entire hand - beef, chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, seafood, etc. Don't buy the super lean cuts, and don't be skimpy on protein! And no, beans and peanut butter don't count as your protein.
Step 2: Add in tons of healthy fats - avocado, avocado oil, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, coconut butter, full fat coconut milk, dry roasted nuts and seeds, butter, full fat dairy, almond or peanut butter, etc. Fat helps stabilize blood sugar levels, so don't be concerned about eating more fat. It won't make you fat - too many refined carbs will!
Step 3: Aim to have 2-3 servings of vegetables at each meal, preferably those of different colors and varieties. Leafy greens, carrots, Brussel sprouts, onions, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. The more the merrier!
Keep fruit and starchy vegetables to 1-2 servings per day, always with plenty of fat and protein to manage the blood sugar response. Avoid grains and legumes, as well as all processed foods and sweeteners (even artificial sweeteners) most of the time. These foods have the greatest impact on your blood sugar!
And lastly, don't drink your carbs, whether they come from a "healthy" smoothie or a soda. These carbs will have a greater impact on your blood sugar. Instead, focus on eating plenty of protein, healthy fat, and vegetables.
Of course, this doesn't even begin to touch the surface of blood sugar regulation, but it helps give you a starting point. Eat real, whole food in at PFC balanced template for a couple of weeks (even a couple of days!), and I promise you'll notice a difference!
If you are looking for serious help with blood sugar regulation, I highly recommend completing a 21 Day Sugar Detox, a program through which I am a coach. I will be hosting a group starting in August at Prairie Life Fitness in Lincoln, NE, if you are local. Otherwise, you can reach out to me to discuss individual coaching or pick up the latest book in the series here to do the program yourself!
Past articles to review: