By Melissa Hohaia, Naturopath
For many of us, reaching for a sweet treat, or indulging in an afternoon ‘pick-me-up’ can be a regular part of our week. If you don’t have an obvious ‘sweet tooth’ it could be lurking in disguise as a love for carbohydrates – chips, crackers or pasta may be harder for you to refuse. I see so many people with an attachment to what I call ‘empty fillers’ – foods that fill us up, provide us with energy, but have no long term nutrient benefit and send us off on a rollercoaster of blood sugar highs and lows.
Our blood sugar levels are tightly under the control of the hormone Insulin. When we eat, Insulin’s job is to go around and pull any excess sugar out of our blood stream. If Insulin doesn’t do this, we are left with elevated blood sugar levels, which are detrimental to so many of our organs and body functions. Our body works best with a steady supply of sugar (or glucose) and it is Insulin’s job to keep it steady.
Problems arise when our glucose supply is unstable and Insulin is forced to work super hard. Over time our body can become less and less respondent to Insulin, which leaves us with unchecked or poorly regulated glucose levels. I see so many people struggling with various health complaints that have an undiagnosed elevated blood Insulin level, despite having an ‘ideal’ fasting blood glucose result from their doctor. They are told that their blood sugar levels are fine, but really their Insulin is through the roof and their body is a ticking time bomb for diabetes! But in the meantime, they are wondering why their weight (especially from the belly) just won’t shift and they are not feeling very well.
If we eat foods that have a high sugar or refined carbohydrate content, then our body gets overwhelmed with a large influx of glucose…once our cells have all they need then Insulin will signal for the excess to be stored as fat. Fat acts like an endocrine gland – meaning that it has the ability to produce hormones, one of them being estrogen! This extra estrogen production is a double whammy – as estrogen causes excess fat storage and the fat storage then causes extra estrogen! It becomes a vicious cycle that can require some specific support to turn around. Unstable blood sugar levels can also contribute to elevated testosterone levels in woman and even prevent your body from making other essential hormones such as progesterone.
Even if you have the best of eating habits there are other factors that can also make your blood sugar levels unstable. These include stress, coffee intake, excess protein, and lack of sleep.
So, what can you do today to help even out your blood sugar levels? I always get my clients to start with these four points:
- Eat regularly – it is important to give your body a steady supply of good quality nutrients. Snacking on small quantities of nuts and seeds can curb the sugar munchies. If you find yourself going for the majority of the day without food and then being slammed with a craving for a carbohydrate rich meal, then you are probably going to benefit from eating more regularly.
- Use healthy fats, protein and wholegrain food sources – you want your food choices to consist of a denser energy source, which doesn’t release glucose into the blood stream quickly. Making sure there is adequate fibre from vegetables and/or wholegrains is ideal, along with an appropriate serve of protein.
- Drink lots of water and cut out the coffee – enough said!
- Work on managing the stress – sugar cravings can be a cry out from the adrenals, so to look after the adrenals we need to manage the stress. Techniques such as exercise, yoga, deep breathing and hobbies can all be beneficial.
In summary, your blood sugar fluctuations can be having a major role in your hormonal health and it is vital that you manage them so that your hormones are not thrown out of whack. Even if you have been told that you are not diabetic, it doesn’t give you the all-clear to indulge that sweet tooth! Think twice before you give in to the cravings and learn to manage your health more effectively.