by Dr. Will Cole
If you struggle with weight gain, weight loss resistance, low energy, fatigue, insatiable cravings, and brain fog, there could be many different underlying reasons for these symptoms—but blood sugar imbalance is one of the biggest offenders. As a leading functional medicine practitioner, I have seen blood sugar problems perpetuating thyroid, cortisol, leptin, and insulin hormone imbalances that can leave people constantly “hangry,” irritable, exhausted, frustrated in their weight loss efforts, and always looking for that next sugar fix.
What’s more, I’ve seen the most well-intentioned people actively contributing to their blood sugar problems without realizing what they are doing wrong. It all comes down to the foods we eat on a daily basis. Every dietary choice you make will either feed disease or fuel health, but which foods do what may not be as obvious as you think. Many so-called healthy foods we’ve all been taught are the better choices may be exacerbating blood sugar imbalances. To get control over your blood sugar once and for all, consider these top 10 strategies for optimal blood sugar balance throughout your day:
1. Choose healthy fats.
One of the best ways to keep blood sugar steady is to switch your body from burning sugar to burning fat for fuel. (This is the primary purpose of the popular ketogenic diet.) This metabolic switch is essential for keeping blood sugar under control. Like kindling to a fire, sugar may give us a quick boost of energy, but it quickly dies out, leaving us on that wild blood-sugar roller coaster, whereas fat is like a log to a fire—slow burning and long-lasting.
In order to make this shift, it’s crucial to make sure you’re eating an adequate amount of healthy fat. Healthy fats keep you satiated and help curb cravings so you are less tempted to grab blood-sugar-spiking junk foods, but in the absence of a lot of carbohydrates, they also help your body make the switch to fat-burning mode. But not just any old fat will do—avoid the highly processed, polyunsaturated fatty acid oils such as corn, canola, soybean, and sunflower oil. These oils oxidize at high temperatures, and oxidized oil can trigger inflammation. I suggest sticking with healthier, more natural forms of fat, such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and the fats in avocados, wild-caught fish, and eggs.
2. Be less sweet.
No matter your goals, staying away from sugar is a wise choice, but when blood sugar balance is an issue, it’s even more critical. Thankfully, there are many natural options on the market now to help you satisfy your sweet tooth without spiking your blood sugar—but be wary because not all options are created equal. Check out my guide for the full list of natural sweeteners I recommend (in moderation), but some of my favorite ones include 100 percent organic, unprocessed monk fruit extract and stevia.
3. Eat fruit in moderation.
As with all natural sweeteners and sweet foods, moderation is the key to blood sugar balance. Fruit contains fructose, so while it’s obviously a much better choice than processed foods loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, even natural fructose can significantly affect your blood sugar if you overdo it. Not only should you be mindful of the amount of fruit you eat, but it’s also smart to prioritize fruits that that are lower in fructose, such as lemons, limes, and berries. Bonus points for berries, which are loaded with powerful antioxidants.
4. Personalize your diet.
The diet that works perfectly for one person doesn’t always work for the next. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, but there are some eating plans that are more conducive to lowering blood sugar than others. If blood sugar is one of your issues, one of these diets may be best for you. One of my previous articles explains in detail exactly how these diets can help manage blood sugar, but basically, they all focus on removing the foods most likely to mess with your blood sugar. Specifically, the Paleo diet, autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet, and ketogenic diet are the most effective for blood sugar balancing because higher-fat, moderate-protein, and lower-carb diets (especially the ketogenic diet) have been shown to reverse symptoms of type 2 diabetes in just 10 weeks! I advocate for a mostly plant-based keto diet in my book Ketotarian.
5. Cool it with the healthy carbs.
When you eat carbs, they quickly convert to glucose, which cues your body to prioritize sugar burning over fat burning. You may already skip the bread basket and sub your regular pasta with zoodles, but even starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes are potent carb sources and can affect your blood sugar. Sweet potatoes are fine in moderation, but if you’re going to load up on veggies, go for non-starchy options such as dark leafy greens and broccoli, which are also rich in many micronutrients.
6. Eat less often.
Intermittent fasting (IF) has become one of the most popular trends in the wellness world because of how efficiently it lowers inflammation, but IF can also play a significant role in managing blood sugar. There are many different methods for fasting intermittently. To start—maybe try to go 12 hours from the last bite of dinner to your first bite of breakfast. The more experienced you get, the more you can experiment to find a fasting practice that works best for you.
7. Support your big health picture.
You know you need to keep all the parts of your car running optimally, from the tires and breaks, to the oil and antifreeze. If one part goes bad, the whole car can break down. It’s the same with your body. All your parts and systems are interlinked, so when one system is thrown off, chances are good that it will affect other areas, including blood sugar. For example, poor gut health and bacterial imbalances in your microbiome are linked to blood sugar problems.
8. Move it or lose it.
Although it may not seem directly related to blood sugar, exercise helps your muscles take in more glucose to use as energy in the moment, and over the long term, a regular exercise routine decreases insulin resistance. Of course, exercise is also an essential part of overall health. Make sure you move your body daily some way; your blood sugar—and the rest of you—will be better for it!
9. Try natural medicines.
Food is the primary influencer when it comes to blood sugar, but it’s not the only game in town. Many natural plant medicines can support blood sugar management. Some superstars include cinnamon, which contains a bioflavonoid called proanthocyanidin that can lower triglycerides and blood sugar, and the adaptogenic mushroom reishi, which down-regulates the alpha-glucosidase enzyme that breaks down starch into sugar.
10. Stress less.
If I had to pick one lifestyle element that has the broadest negative impact on just about every possible health issue, it would be stress. When you’re stressed, your body can undergo a cascade of negative changes and dysfunction, not he least of which is an increase in your body’s release of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol plays an important role in blood sugar balance because that stress response spikes blood sugar to help you act quickly in a crisis. That’s great if you are fleeing for your life, but constant, unrelenting, chronic stress can result in chronically elevated blood sugar, and that can lead to more serious blood sugar problems (like metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes) down the road. Head off a future of metabolic dysfunction by finding a mindfulness practice that works for your life, so you can start to de-stress today.
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