by Dr. Will Cole
As a functional medicine practitioner there are many underlying reasons for why a person struggles with weight gain, low energy, insatiable cravings, and poor brain function, but blood sugar imbalance is one of the biggest offenders. Blood sugar problems can perpetuate thyroid, cortisol, leptin, and insulin hormone problems and leave you constantly hangry, irritable, and looking for your next sugar fix.
I’ve seen the most well-intentioned people contribute to their blood sugar problems without even realizing it. The foods we eat on a regular basis can either feed disease or fuel health – and the so-called healthy foods we are taught by society as being a better choice are often exacerbating these health problems. These are the most common mistakes I have seen after years of clinical practice that can contribute to poor blood sugar:
1. Too much fruit.
Whole fruits are a fantastic choice to curb your sweet tooth. However, they still contain natural sugars like fructose which can further perpetuate blood sugar imbalance when eaten in excess since your body still reads it as sugar – natural or not. It is still perfectly ok to enjoy fruit but shift your focus to low-fructose fruits like melons and berries instead of high-fructose fruits like apples, pears, cherries, and watermelon.
2. Using the wrong “natural” sweeteners.
There are an increasing number of studies showing the damaging effect sugar can have on your health and the food industry has responded with more natural options. However, not every choice is created equal. Agave nectar claims to be the perfect alternative to traditional sugar since it is considered low-glycemic. This measurement of how quickly foods elevate blood sugar, in my opinion, is overly simplistic. Even though it raises blood sugar more slowly, it raises it your blood sugar over a longer period due to its fructose content. This ends up being harder on your liver which can contribute to insulin resistance and fatty liver disease.
Many other natural sweeteners are heavily processed which increases inflammation and insulin resistance. It is important to be choosing the 100 percent, organic, unprocessed forms of the best natural sweeteners like monk fruit extract and stevia. My sugar guide gives my full rankings of the best sweetener options. And remember, it is possible to have too much of a good thing – enjoy even the best sweeteners in moderation!
3. Skimping on healthy fats.
Healthy fats are essential for changing your body from a sugar-burner to a fat-burner – a key concept when it comes to managing blood sugar. Sugar is like kindling to a fire – offering a quick spark but quickly dying out and leaving you looking for your next fix in a state of hanger. On the other hand, fat is like a log to a fire – slow burning and long-lasting.
Healthy fats keep cravings at bay while keeping you feeling fuller longer. But not all fats are considered healthy. Vegetable oils such as corn, canola, soybean, and sunflower are known as polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) oils. These are commonly used in many pre-packaged foods you find in the grocery store because they are inexpensive and considered “heart healthy.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. These oils are extremely processed and oxidize quickly at high temperatures which can flare-up inflammation and perpetuate blood sugar problems. The best fats can be found in extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, wild-caught fish, and eggs. I utilize all of these in my upcoming book Ketotarain: The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Cravings, and Calm Inflammation.
4. Constantly eating.
One of the most common myths around blood sugar is that eating throughout the day can help keep your blood sugar at manageable levels. But ongoing research has shown that intermittent fasting can have a powerful impact on blood sugar levels. Surprisingly, you won’t have to battle with hunger since fasting actually decreases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
5. Too many “healthy” grains.
Most of us are familiar with the negative impact gluten can have on our health. This leaves many turning to gluten-free and whole sprouted grains as another option. While these choices don’t have gluten, the proteins they do contain are similar enough to gluten and are high in amylose sugars which also spike blood sugar and contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance.
6. Too many starchy vegetables.
Carbohydrates are quickly converted to glucose in your body. While you may be avoiding bread and pasta, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes are still carbs and can impact blood sugar. Fill up your plate instead with non-starchy options like mushrooms, dark leafy greens, and broccoli. These vegetables are loaded with nutrients that help your body lower inflammation and regulate detox pathways.
7. Overloading on legumes.
Legumes are filled with fiber that can help with digestion and support good gut bacteria. But for those with blood sugar issues, the starch content in legumes can spike blood sugar and the lectin and phytate proteins increase inflammation. Since many plant-based dieters eat a lot of legumes for protein, these can be a major contributor to blood sugar problems.
8. Not considering natural medicines.
It’s easy to zero-in on what you need to eliminate from your diet rather than what you need to include more of. Cinnamon contains a powerful bioflavonoid called proanthocyanidin that has the ability to lower triglycerides and blood sugar levels. Green tea also contains EGCG which also has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar.
9. Forgetting about adaptogens.
I can’t talk about healing and not talk about adaptogens. These plant and herb medicines help rebalance different areas of your health that are out of whack, including blood sugar. American ginseng berry juice has been shown to improve glucose tolerance and blood sugar levels after 10 days. Reishi mushrooms also work to rebalance blood sugar by down-regulating the enzyme alpha-glucosidase that breaks down starch into sugar. Add these into your diet for a blood sugar regulating powerhouse.
10. Only focusing on blood sugar.
All areas of your body are inextricably linked. Focusing on areas that contribute to blood sugar imbalance is just as important as looking at blood sugar itself. For example, poor microbiome health is linked to blood sugar problems. Therefore, when looking to rebalance blood sugar, load up on probiotic-rich fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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