With World Diabetes Day approaching on the 14th November, we turn the spotlight on disease prevention and an individual’s blood sugar level.
Type 2 Diabetes makes up 90% of diabetes patients in the UK. This disease is heavily influenced by lifestyle and diet, to the point that it can be reversed by positive measures and support, but should not be confused with Type 1 Diabetes which is an autoimmune condition where the body cannot make enough insulin, requiring daily medication.
What affects your Blood Sugar Level
Our body needs fuel to provide us with energy so that we can function normally. When we eat high glycaemic load foods such as white bread, pasta and rice, cakes and biscuits, the body breaks these down through digestion to produce a sugar called glucose. Glucose is then transported throughout the whole body by insulin, a hormone to shuttle the energy from the bloodstream into our muscles, organs and tissues.
However, if we eat too many starchy or sugary carbohydrates or drink alcohol, our blood sugar level can increase rapidly causing too much insulin to be released. The body responds by lowering the sugar levels as quickly as possible, which causes the blood sugar to drop too low instead of returning to a normal range, known as hypoglycaemia. This rollercoaster of blood sugar can cause symptoms such as:
● Regular headaches
● Fatigue relieved by eating
● Cravings for sugary snacks and desserts
● Waking up in the early hours, and sleepy in the afternoon,
● Irritability, poor concentration and shakiness when a meal is missed
● Premenstrual syndrome
● Frequent thirst
● Frequent urination
Unfortunately, poorly controlled blood sugar in combination with excess weight over time can result in insulin resistance, the pancreas struggling to keep up with the near constant sensing of sugar in the blood from our food, that it eventually cannot produce enough insulin to keep up. This can take years to develop before full blown Type 2 Diabetes is diagnosed, but is also linked to high blood pressure, polycystic ovarian syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and dementia.
Other risk factors
Stress, whether that be physical or psychological can unfortunately make fluctuations in blood sugar worse. Cortisol, another hormone released when we are under pressure, causes blood sugar levels to rise in a ‘fight or flight’ response, priming our muscles and brain to be on high alert
for danger. This is completely natural, however when stress becomes chronic, the perpetual pumping of cortisol and in turn glucose into the blood can exacerbate a blood sugar imbalance.
On a more positive note though, exercise helps maintain healthy blood sugar, using up excess glucose as energy, maintaining muscle mass to absorb glucose and supporting insulin messaging. 7-9 hours of sound sleep is also vital.
How to maintain healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Unfortunately sugar is everywhere in our food environment, and plays an important role in our culture, and tastes delicious making it difficult to resist! It’s the overall pattern of consumption that is more important than that one off desert, with the following principles supportive of long term health:
- Replace high glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates with low GI alternatives
Wholemeal and wholegrain versions of bread, pasta and rice are preferred. Consider beans and pulses and lentils which are rich in protein, fibre as well as carbohydrates.
- Reduce intake of carbohydrates
Instead of eating carbohydrates with every meal, can you reduce it to two meals, or can you reduce the portion size, for example going from half the dinner plate to a quarter and increase your veg intake?
- Increase soluble fibre
Fibre slows the digestion of carbohydrates and sugars, causing a more gradual release of glucose. Consider sweet potatoes, brightly coloured vegetables which are in season, oats, beans and pulses.
- Increase protein
Lean meats, fish and dairy as well as nuts, seeds, eggs and pulses also slow down the digestion and absorption of energy from our food, blunting the impact of any carbohydrates in your meal, aim for some protein with every meal.
- Include healthy fats
Omega 3 fats found in oily fish, walnuts and seeds (linseed, chia, pumpkin) help support the function of insulin, to pass the glucose from the blood to our tissue. Olive oil instead of vegetable oil has consistently been shown to be beneficial to health, and including fats in our diet helps us to feel fuller for longer.
- Consider fasting
Time restricted eating, limiting your eating window to 10-12 hours in the day can be a useful way to give your gut and pancreas a rest. However this may not suit everyone, particularly if you are taking medications, have intense cravings or mood swings.
- Drink water and avoid caffeine
Water helps the kidneys to get rid of excess amounts of blood sugar in the urine. Reducing or eliminating caffeine can lessen the burden on the adrenal glands which produce cortisol, one of our stress hormones, which as described earlier can maintain sugar in our bloodstream in times of stress.
The good news is there are lots of positive steps within your control if you feel that blood sugar imbalance is an issue, but of course any symptoms of concern are recommended to be discussed with a healthcare professional or nutritionist.
To access our experts at We Are Wellbeing, enquire with us today.