People are often surprised to find out just how much sugar negatively impacts our health. Sure, they know it’s bad (in the way that fast food is bad or sitting at your desk is bad). It’s universally accepted, and yet the repercussions are kind of vague: if I eat sugar, I’ll what? Get diabetes? Get a cavity?It turns out it goes much deeper than that–it goes beyond just eating candy from the office sweets jar. And the consequences are way more powerful than you might realize. And, even if you think you’re eating a healthy diet, you might be surprised to learn that your blood sugar could still be out of whack. So today we’re going to dive in and break it down in this blood sugar crash course. It’s going to be sweet. (See what I did there?)
Blood sugar is quite literally, the sugar, or glucose, found in your blood, and it comes from the foods we eat. This glucose is what fuels us and gives us energy. And while you might think it’s just the sugar we eat that ends up in our blood, it’s actually any carbohydrate, as carbs are broken down into glucose.After glucose ends up in the bloodstream, the pancreas excretes a hormone called insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. Insulin essentially sweeps up the glucose and stores it in our cells (especially muscles) for energy. Or it gets converted to glycogen and stored in the liver, or it can be stored as fat in the body’s fat cells.If we need energy, the pancreas releases another hormone, glucagon, which does the exact opposite: it releases stored glucose.Still with me? It’s a pretty intuitive system, and it’s essential that it works optimally for us to thrive.
When you eat foods that are high in sugar, and low in fibre, you end up getting a rush of sugar to your blood stream. When this happens, your body works quickly to clean it up and get back to a balanced level. However, if your levels of blood glucose are constantly high, it gets to a point where the cells can no longer take up anymore glucose, so it stays in the blood stream. The body then releases more insulin. This extra insulin is basically knocking on the doors of the cells to be like, “hey you, let us in!”.Of course, there’s no room so the cells don’t answer the door. The pancreas sends out more insulin, and the cycle continues. And that’s when we start dealing with insulin resistance. Eventually it gets to a point where the pancreas can’t keep up with demand, and we start having bigger issues like prediabetes and diabetes.Unfortunately, blood sugar levels have to be high enough for it to be properly diagnosed–and by that time it’s likely already been an ongoing issue. In fact, if your pancreas is really good at its job of excreting insulin, it may take decades for tests to show high blood sugar, despite the fact that insulin resistance is an underlying issue. The CDC estimates that 90% of those with prediabetes aren’t aware they have it.
While diabetes is of course an obvious result of high blood sugar, it’s not the only thing to worry about. Alzheimer’s, PCOS, hypertension , Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, and obesity have all been linked to insulin resistance, which really goes to show how essential it is to stay on top of it.
So what can we do?
It seems to make sense that if refined sugars cause problems, then reducing them is the solution–and you’d be right! Cutting out added sugars (like soda, candy, processed snacks and …well, basically any food that lacks nutritional value) can be a huge step into balancing blood sugar.Studies also suggest that for people who already struggle with insulin resistance, they may benefit from a lower-carb diet (see here, here and here)–and that a low-carb keto diet may be more effective than a low-glycemic index diet for those with type 2 diabetes.If you’re a big juice lover (we hear you), aim for green juices with minimal fruit. Try Impact Kitchen’s 1000% Green or Impact Green for a more veggie-based drink.
One way to slow down the rate that glucose enters the blood stream is by eating enough fibre. Soluble fibre in particular has been shown to be helpful with this (you can find soluble fibre in foods like beans, oats, sweet potatoes and avocados). The average person doesn’t eat nearly enough fibre (about 14g vs the recommended 25g for women and 38g for men), so aiming to swap refined-carbs with nutrient-dense, high-fibre foods can make a world of difference.High-fibre foods to throw into your diet include flax, chia seeds, avocados, apples, artichokes and lentils.
Another way to slow down carbohydrate digestion? Make sure you’re eating enough fat and protein! Eating meals that have a mix of all three macronutrients can help to keep blood sugar balanced. Pair a handful of nuts with your fresh fruit, or add half an avocado to your morning smoothie. This will also help to keep you fuller longer–without the jitters or brain fog that comes with a sugar crash. At Impact Kitchen: Try our Macro Meal that comes with a healthy mix of all three (think chicken, sweet potato, spinach, lemon-olive oil and avocado). Yes, please!
Exercising helps you to increase your insulin sensitivity (the ability for your cells to respond to insulin) and it helps you use up the glucose in your cells as energy. Win-win! Aim for activities that resonate with you and you can stick to–research shows that both aerobic and resistance training were effective with improving blood sugar levels.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up sweet things entirely, but these tips will help you to make the better informed choices. If you are craving something sweet, opt-in for something like dark chocolate covered almonds–they provide healthy fats, fibre and protein to help slow the release of sugar. Or try one of Impact Kitchen’s baked goods. Our baked goods use ingredients like almond flour, oats, and chia seeds to increase the fibre and protein content, and make for a healthier sweet treat!