It’s All a Balancing Act – The Art of Achieving a Steady Blood Glucose

By Dr Ailsa Care

I have recently attended the 3 day Integrative and Personalised Medicine Congress in London. It was an event with amazing international speakers attended by over 1000 practitioners all with a common aim – to work together in a positive way to improve the health of those suffering with chronic diseases whether that be a physical health issue or a mental one.

One of the key messages was around improving our metabolic health. That means balancing our blood sugars so that we are not experiencing high glucose levels which drive inflammation. The majority of chronic diseases including mental health issues are associated with inflammation, so it makes sense to try and reduce the root causes of that inflammation.

We all know that diabetes is caused by high levels of glucose in our blood but even if we are not diabetic or pre-diabetic, depending on what we eat and how we eat it we can still experience potentially damaging spikes in blood glucose.

So how can we improve our blood sugar balance? I recently read a book called Glucose Revolution by Jessie Inchauspe which i think gives some easily implemented tricks/tips for doing just that.

To reduce the damaging effects of having excessive glucose in our circulation we release insulin. The purpose of insulin is to store excessive glucose in our liver, muscles and once those stores are full, as fat. If the glucose is delivered too quickly and overwhelms our ability to release insulin and store the glucose, blood glucose levels will remain high resulting in inflammation. If we can eat the right foods in such a way that they release their sugars more slowly we can reduce the risk of this overwhelm. Also by avoiding eating excessive amounts of sugars and refined starches we reduce the stress on the pancreas to produce more insulin and lower the likelihood of the sugars being stored as fat.

How does poor blood glucose balance affect us?

  • feeling constantly hungry – “you can eat two meals containing the same number of calories but the one that leads to a smaller glucose spike will keep you full for longer”
  • food cravings – especially for higher calorie foods
  • chronic fatigue – I love the analogy in the Glucose Revolution book of a man (he is the mitochondria which produce energy in cells) shovelling coal (glucose) into a steam train fire to fuel the train. If we have imbalanced blood sugars with frequent spikes or constantly high levels of glucose (like in diabetes), it is like he is receiving deliveries of coal faster than he can cope with and soon the cab he is working in fills up and he can no longer shovel the fuel into the fire. So we end up with impaired mitochondrial function and feel this as reduced energy or fatigue.
  • poor sleep – you may wake in the night with a pounding heart as your blood glucose levels drop and so your body will release adrenaline to mobilise glucose from your stores. Much better to reduce your glucose spikes and get a good night’s sleep!
  • impaired immunity – after a glucose spike your immune system is unable to function optimally and you will be more susceptible to infections.
  • hot flushes and night sweats – symptoms of the menopause are more troublesome in women who have higher glucose and insulin levels
  • migraine – associated with insulin resistance/poor blood glucose balance
  • memory and cognitive function issues including Alzheimer’s/dementia
  • ageing and arthritis
  • increased cancer risk – because cancer cells love glucose
  • depression – your brain gets inflamed
  • gut symptoms such as heartburn, reflux, IBS – unhealthy gut microbes love sugar
  • heart disease – when insulin levels are high the liver produces small dense forms of LDL cholesterol
  • insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – this results in impaired liver function due to the accumulation of fat in the liver as a result of too much glucose and raised insulin levels

How can you flatten your glucose curve? (These tricks/tips are taken from the Glucose Revolution book)

  1. Eat foods in the right order – fibre (vegetables or salad) first, then protein and healthy fats, lastly starches (carbohydrates) and sugars. Tracking blood glucose levels with a continuous blood glucose monitor has shown that eating foods in this order lowers blood glucose spikes and flattens the curve.
  2. Add a green starter to all your meals – such as a side salad or even hummus and crudités – there’s your fibre!
  3. Stop counting calories – foods with the same number of calories will have very different effects on your blood glucose curve. They will also come with a different profile of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which give additional benefits.
  4. Flatten your breakfast curve by moving away from sweet products, especially packaged cereals, and going savoury, including fibre, protein and healthy fat. If we start the day with just starches and sugars we will fuel the blood glucose rollercoaster.
  5. Have any type of sugar – they are all the same in terms of generating blood glucose spikes. You are better to use whole fruit which also contains fibre and other micronutrients if you are needing something sweet. Be careful with artificial sweeteners as some still raise our insulin levels, but then there is no excess glucose to be stored resulting in low glucose levels and a drive to eat something sweet. Over time I have found that reducing my sugar intake changes my tastebuds so that I no longer enjoy something very sweet. (At one time I used to eat a lot of sugar!)
  6. Pick desert over a sweet snack – if you are out and about and fancy something sweet that you see, remember how to eat your food and save it as dessert at the end of your meal
  7. Reach for vinegar before you eat – taking 1 tbsp of vinegar in a large glass of water and sipping it before you eat serves to flatten your curve by inhibiting the enzyme which breaks down starch into sugars. (Make sure you dilute the vinegar enough as otherwise it can affect your tooth enamel due to its acidic nature)
  8. After you eat, move – just 10 minutes of light exercise/movement after eating (such as a short walk) flattens your glucose curve. The effect is greater after a meal compared to before.
  9. If you have to snack, go savoury- you could try yoghurt topped with chopped nuts, carrots and hummus, a hard-boiled egg, seeded crackers and cheese, macadamia nuts and a square of dark chocolate
  10. Put some clothes on your carbs – this means combining your carbs with fibre, fat and/or protein. For example, having avocado and smoked salmon on your toast, or spreading nut butter on slices of apple

I hope I have given some insights into the importance of blood sugar balance and some easily actionable tips to try.

If you are diabetic please work with a health professional if you are trying these tips as improving your blood glucose balance is likely to result in a reduced need for medications.

You can also access information from Jessie Inchauspe on Instagram where she has a Glucose Goddess community.