As a nurse I’ve known the importance of proper blood sugar control, and the dangers of insulin resistance. I’ve worked with patients whose blood glucose levels were critically high and therefore required insulin. I’ve also seen the repercussions of unstable and uncontrolled blood sugars — feelings of fatigue, jitteriness, sweating, neuropathy where their limbs feel tingly or
numb, foot sores, all the way to having to have toes amputated due to poor circulation and dead tissue — not pretty! Did you know that 29.1 million Americans are diabetic? That is approximately 9.3% of the population, and 8.1 million of those 29.1 million don’t even know they have it! 86 million American adults have prediabetes, which is more than 1 out of 3, and 9 out of 10 adults with pre diabetes do not know they have it…ugh! Pre diabetes puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and now they are looking at how unregulated blood sugars can contribute to such devastating diseases such as Alzheimers and cancer. Some are now calling Alzheimers diabetes type 3!
If I could give one piece of advise on controlling your blood sugars, it would be to get your levels checked! It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and I believe everyone should be doing this once a year — especially to get your baseline. I have been doing this for several years now, and I have to be honest, when I first checked my levels I was not very pleased. My A1c was in the normal range, but it was on the high end of normal, and I was not thrilled. A1c stands for glycated hemoglobin and it’s a blood test one can get to measure the average blood sugar amount in your bloodstream over 2-3 months. Based on what you are eating, your daily blood sugars can be all over the board (which actually, if too erratic, is not healthy), so I like the A1c test because it gives you an average reading over a longer period of time.
I have always been a pretty healthy eater and I’ve been eating extremely healthy now for 5-6 years. This is why I was surprised that my A1c was higher than I’d like. BTW - I’m not going to tell you my number because it’s not important to share. Meaning, it’s all relative. Your A1c is your number, based on your health habits. I realize mine is not out of the normal range but in relation to how I eat, I was surprised that it was on the high end of normal. This is why I decided to make some dietary changes.
Here are some healthful habits to help keep your blood sugars in line:
Get rid of the junk food! This is the first thing I would do, if you still have junk food incorporated into your diet. By junk food I mean all sodas, including diet, fast food dining, processed sugary, flour filled sweets like cookies, muffins, and donuts, as well as fried foods like chips, french fries , etc. Basically I look at all things packaged as junk food, unless the ingredient label shows whole food that I can actually read. There are some healthier seed crackers or energy bites out there in health food stores, but they are far and few between and take a trained eye to know if all of the ingredients on the label are a ‘green light’. So to begin, I wouldn’t make any substitutions. Give your body a rest and learn to truly enjoy whole, unprocessed foods.
Protein for breakfast. I have found this to be helpful for a number of reasons. In the morning we are coming off a fast so to speak (i.e., “break-fast”). In a normal state, our insulin levels are fairly low and our cortisol levels are fairly high. Cortisol is called a stress hormone and in part is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. This is a good thing in the morning as it sets us up ready to deal with our day nicely. When we eat a highly processed, high carbohydrate diet, such as muffins, bagels, cereal, pancakes , etc., — all the breakfast type foods — our blood sugars surge, causing insulin to spike, which then causes our cortisol levels to drop. This is the exact opposite of how we’d like our bodies to be set up for the day. Normally our cortisol levels drop gradually throughout the day, and by evening time they are at their lowest, which then allows melatonin, our sleep regulating hormone, to be produced in preparation for a good nights sleep. If insulin spikes and cortisol drops too quickly, we are going against our natural rhythms. We could start off the day feeling lethargic, edgy, and with very little energy. Wrong!
Limit snacking between meals. There’s some controversy here as some believe it is good to snack often in order to keep blood sugar levels even and prevent cravings, and there is some truth to this. However, in my experience, when I have given clients the green light to healthy snacking, I have found the word ‘healthy’ slips out the door after a few days and their snacking continues but it becomes too easy to snack on quick, unhealthy treats. When this becomes the case, their blood sugars are surging up and down all day long which wreaks havoc on our systems and cause inflammation. So, I now like to tell my clients to enjoy 2-3 full, well balanced meals and then, if they must, add only 1-2 small protein based snacks. In a perfect world, for those clients who are focusing on blood sugar control, I’d like them to be eating 2-3 meals only without any snacking. After they eat like this for a while, my clients learn how much food they need to make for each meal so that they won’t feel hungry for another 3-4 hours or so. This gives your blood sugar and insulin response mechanisms a rest in between meals, resulting in less of an inflammatory response.
Increase fiber in your diet. Eating a fiber rich diet is good for many reasons including keeping your blood sugar levels in line. Fiber helps to slow down the absorption of nutrients, including sugar, which helps to stabilize blood sugar. Due to this slow absorption, fiber can also help you feel full longer, reducing unlimited snacking and cravings. Foods that are rich in fiber are your fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes. There is also fiber in grains and bread, but they also contain a lot of non-fibrous carbs (starchy carbs) which can increase your blood sugars and insulin response quickly, so I would prefer my clients to get the majority of their fiber from vegetables.
Watch your carbohydrates. There are all kinds of carbohydrates out there, some good some not so good. When it comes to blood sugar and diabetes prevention, the quality of your carbohydrates is key. A carbohydrate is made up of starch, sugar and fiber, and I prefer my clients to eat more of the fibrous carbohydrates than starchy carbs. Fiber, as I mentioned above helps to stabilize blood sugar by decreasing the absorption time of processed sugary foods and carbohydrates. Starchy carbohydrates are the ones to keep an eye on. Starchy carbs enter the blood stream quicker than fibrous carbs and therefore cause a quicker spike in blood sugar and insulin response. Starchy carbs are things like bread, cereals, grains, pasta , etc., and these have much less fiber than carbs coming from plant based sources. So choose wisely. Limit your starchy carbs throughout the day, but increase your fibrous carbs like veggies, veggies, and more veggies!
Hope these tips help. Let me know how you control your blood sugars or if you have any other ideas for readers. Just put your ideas in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Until next time… happy, healthy eating!