Blood sugar levels refer to the amount of glucose circulating in your blood. The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is the body’s source of fuel.
There are different qualities of carbohydrate:
- complex carbohydrates which the body breaks down slowly, releasing glucose in a controlled manner (wholegrains: wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice, beans, vegetables)
- refined carbohydrates which release their sugars quickly causing blood sugar levels to rise rapidly (white bread, pasta, rice, biscuits, cakes, carbonated drinks)
When glucose levels rise rapidly the body responds by releasing insulin. This hormone enables glucose to enter cells, which convert it into energy. Any excess glucose is stored as fat (hence weight gain).
Blood sugar levels will then drop, and you will feel hungry again. If blood sugar levels continue to drop, you may experience symptoms such as headaches, irritability, cravings and poor concentration. Your response to this should not be to grab a refined carbohydrate snack or another food that releases its sugars quickly.
By doing this, your blood sugar levels would shoot up again. This would cause your body to release insulin and so the cycle would continue.
If subjected to this yo-yo-ing of blood sugar levels for too long, the body becomes exhausted and susceptible to illness. Eventually, the body could become insulin-resistant, and more serious diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes could become a possibility.
By choosing complex carbohydrates your body is able to maintain even blood sugar levels as the glucose is released over time. The body won’t have to release large amounts of insulin to deal with it. As a result, your regulation of mood and feelings of hunger will also be better.
Stress can also have an effect on blood sugar levels – causing them to fall rapidly. The body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which rapidly break down stored glucose to provide extra energy for the perceived crisis. If your response to the stress is not physical then this extra, unwanted glucose is stored as fat.
Tips for controlling blood sugar levels:
- Eat little and often. Try to eat every 2-3 hours. A mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack are essential
- Eat lean protein with every meal, even snacks. We digest protein slowly and it can slow down carbohydrate break down, leading to steady glucose levels in the body
- If you choose fruit as a snack ensure that you eat it with a handful of nuts or seeds (protein)
- Switch from refined and processed carbohydrates to whole grains eg wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, beans
- Avoid sugar – it breaks down into glucose extremely quickly
- Reduce and replace the stimulants in your diet eg coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, smoking
- Find ways to reduce your exposure to stress and build time for relaxation into your day
- Try to build 20 minutes of exercise into your day, every day. Exercise increases your metabolic rate and improves your response to stress.
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