You’ve probably heard about blood sugar at your doctor’s office, but do you really know what it means and how it impacts your health? With an abundance of sugar alongside ultra-processed foods and a distressing lack of fruits and veggies, the truth is that most of us could afford to be a little more aware of our blood sugar levels.
Why? According to Jessie Inchauspé, biochemist and author of Glucose Revolution, imbalanced glucose can lead to fatigue, cravings that know no bounds, acne, out-of-balance hormones, wrinkles, and the like—you know, all the fun stuff. But while food certainly has an influence on our blood sugar levels, the larger picture looks a bit more complex. So drop your Dunkin’ habit (or DIY your brew with a sprinkle of cinnamon) and get to scrolling—here’s everything you need to know about balancing your blood sugar to feel your best.
What is glucose?
Before we get to thinking that glucose (or blood sugar) is the root of all bodily evil, let’s take a step back. Glucose is not bad—it’s actually necessary. “Blood sugar is a type of sugar that circulates in the blood,” explained Dr. Hector Perez, a board-certified general and bariatric surgeon and chief surgeon at Bariatric Journal. “It is the primary energy source for the body’s cells and is transported through the bloodstream. The hormone insulin regulates blood sugar levels by helping move glucose from the bloodstream into cells.” But here’s the cliffhanger: It’s necessary to have enough glucose, but when we have too much, it can be harmful. So when it comes to blood sugar, it’s all about balance.
What does balanced blood sugar really mean?
First off, let’s make something clear. Your body’s natural inclination to break down and process digestible carbohydrates into glucose that’ll later be used for energy will cause glucose levels to rise. This is perfectly normal. Insulin is released, your cells use glucose to generate energy, and—like clockwork—glucose levels return to normal. Order restored. But sharp rises and falls in our glucose levels can send things south. You’ve likely heard of “glucose spikes” (sugar highs, sugar crashes, etc.). This is when your blood sugar skyrockets, and the body overcompensates by sending too much insulin into the bloodstream: the proverbial high, the dreaded crash. Dizziness, brain fog, stress, headache, exhaustion, and hanger—among many other symptoms—can ensue.
On the flip side, “When blood sugar is balanced, the body is better able to access stored energy, leading to improved mental clarity, energy levels, and mood,” Dr. Perez explained. Our bodies speak to us constantly, sending us signals pointing to the ways we can care for ourselves better, and we won’t start feeling better (or feeling our best) if we don’t start listening.
“It’s about taking note of how our body actually feels,” agreed Dr. Janine Mahon, a doctor of Chinese Medicine. “When we eat something sweet, while it feels good in the moment and may fill an emotional need, we might feel a little depleted after. But you always have the opportunity to get curious, to question how your body and mind feel, and to begin again.” Trust yourself, proceed with confidence, and reap the benefits of a blood sugar-balancing lifestyle. If you’re unsure about the state of your blood sugar levels, often experience symptoms of imbalanced blood sugar levels, or just want to learn more about your body, consult your doctor.
Foods to help balance blood sugar levels
To provide further insight into understanding how diet impacts blood sugar and harness that knowledge to *actually* feel better, I tapped Dr. Mahon. The good news is that widely held wisdom continues to ring true, and it doesn’t have to be that complicated: Eat whole-food sources of fiber, protein, and fats. “Eat a whole foods diet so that there isn’t excess blood sugar running through the body,” she suggested. Dr. Mahon’s favorites are nuts, eggs, legumes, beans, and fish.
Dr. Perez emphasized the importance of eating a diet that includes plenty of low-glycemic foods. In other words, focus on high-fiber fruits, veggies, and legumes, so if your overnight oats game is strong, keep doing what you’re doing. Fiber is known to slow our body’s digestion of carbohydrates and sugar absorption, resulting in a gradual increase in blood sugar following a meal or snack (as opposed to spikes and crashes). When you are having a meal or snack high in simple carbohydrates, try adding in high-fiber foods with every meal, like ordering veggies on your pizza or fruit with a dessert, to help the body slow its digestion of the carbohydrates.
Consuming enough healthy fats and protein is key too. For fats, opt for whole-food picks like avocado and nuts (or the TikTok-favorite olive oil shot!). For satisfying protein, go for Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, and lean meats to stay satisfied and keep your hunger levels steady. Lastly, a bonus tip to try for yourself: In Glucose Revolution, Inchauspé writes that sipping on a vinegar-based drink (like a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed into a large glass of water) before eating sugar might mitigate the effects of the resulting glucose spike. As with any wellness rec or change to your diet and routine, consult your doctor and be your own guinea pig to identify how your body feels.
Lifestyle habits to help balance blood sugar
Be intentional about how you eat
With those foods now in your pantry and fridge, it’s also important to know that it’s not only what you eat but also how you eat that matters. Food order counts, folks! Inchauspé recommended starting with fiber first (veggies, legumes, etc.), protein and fat second, and starches and sugars last. In fact, a Cornell University study done in 2015 found that by following this order, your overall glucose spike can be reduced by 73%. If following a specific order feels confusing or restrictive (because food is meant to be enjoyed and eating is meant to be intuitive), just remember this: Have a balanced meal full of veggies or fruit, protein, and healthy fats before indulging your sweet tooth or opting for a tasty dinner roll when possible. In other words, no, you do not need to cut out your favorite foods. Instead, be mindful of more balance in your meals by ordering a side of eggs and avocado with the french toast and have a fiber-filled salad before your favorite pasta dish.
Exercise (the right way)
Exercise is another great way to keep blood sugar levels in check. Dr. Perez always recommends exercise as an effective way to keep blood sugar levels balanced. “Exercise helps increase insulin sensitivity, which can help the body regulate blood sugar levels better,” she explained. “It can also reduce stress levels, which can positively impact blood sugar levels.” As for movement that lowers your blood sugar, the general rule applies: The best form of exercise is the one you’ll actually do (and do consistently). Dr. Mahon loves gentle workouts, such as walking, yoga, swimming, and qi gong to ensure you’re not depleting the body of energy.
Get more sleep
The amount of time and the quality of our sleep have a significant impact on nearly every aspect of our lives and health—glucose levels included. According to the Sleep Foundation, our circadian rhythm naturally raises blood sugar levels, both at night and whenever we sleep. When we get a good night’s rest (re: restorative, rejuvenating sleep), we’re actively lowering unhealthy glucose levels. On the other hand, poor sleep or a lack of sleep is considered a risk factor for increased blood sugar. Find the nighttime routine that helps you snooze best, and follow and repeat daily.
This article is intended to provide inspiration to help you reach your health goals, not as treatment for a medical condition. Please consult a doctor before beginning any treatments, supplements, or product routines. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.