We get it, talking about blood sugar isn’t the sexiest thing on the planet, but it is necessary.
Most people assume blood sugar control only matters for people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Blood sugar control is one of the primary pillars of our metabolic health, aka our metabolism.
Our metabolism is so much more than “a fat-burning mechanism” as we hear about from the diet industry. It’s responsible for ensuring every single cell and organ in our body is equipped with the energy to do its job. Without our metabolism in a healthy, vibrant state, we can’t properly convert food into energy, regulate our body temperature, or create essential molecules like hormones and proteins.
Because our metabolism at its core is our body’s main lifeline (we quite literally can’t survive without it), blood sugar control impacts just about every organ and function in our body.
What is blood sugar control?
Blood sugar control is the ability to maintain stable blood sugar levels as we eat, live, and move throughout the day. To do so, our body relies on a delicate balance between glucose and insulin.
Here’s how it works:
1. Glucose is the body’s main energy source, which is derived from carbohydrates. Carbs get broken down into glucose, which is then absorbed into our bloodstream.
2. When our blood glucose levels rise after a meal, our pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is the “key” that enables our organs and tissues to make use of any available glucose.
3. Once inside our cells, glucose can be used for energy or stored away for later use. As glucose gets used up, our blood sugar levels begin to decrease, which signals the pancreas to stop releasing insulin.
After we eat, it’s totally normal to see a rise in our blood sugar since we’re fueling our bodies. However, when we eat sugar and carbohydrates in excess, our bodies start making insulin-like haywire to keep up. This, in turn, exhausts our cells.
They get burnt out, and over time become less responsive to insulin. As a result, our cells struggle to properly uptake glucose from our bloodstream, which leads to chronically elevated blood sugar levels.
This eventually leads to insulin resistance, the opposite of blood sugar control.
How to monitor your blood sugar
There are some basic markers that can help you keep tabs on how strong your blood sugar control is such as getting your glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), fasting blood glucose (post-fast), and postprandial blood sugar (post-meal) tested, but one of the best “data points” you have at your fingertips is your body.
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Pay attention to your body and how you feel after eating certain foods, a combination of foods, and foods in a particular order, as well as how you feel throughout the day.
If you feel sluggish, tired, experience a headache, struggle to concentrate or feel the need to eat again right after a meal, these can all be signs of poor blood sugar control.
More tips on how to improve and prevent this are below!
Balance your blood sugar, and your hormones
Insulin is one of our primary hormones. If our blood sugar levels remain consistently high due to poor blood sugar control, it can create insulin resistance which throws off other hormones, including those involved in reproductive health. Insulin resistance leads to the overproduction of androgens like testosterone, which can disrupt ovulation. If left unmanaged, this can result in PCOS, irregular menstrual cycles, fertility issues, and more.
Blood sugar levels also impact the release of cortisol, aka “the stress hormone.” Chronic blood sugar imbalances caused by frequent spikes and subsequent crashes can dysregulate our cortisol response, leading to adrenal fatigue. Dysregulated cortisol can also impact our HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which directly influences our thyroid function, mood, sleep quality, inflammation levels, and ability to recover.
Lastly, blood sugar imbalances, particularly low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), can affect our thyroid function by suppressing the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to the active form (T3). Over time, this slows our metabolism and leads to hypothyroidism.
Our thyroid is our “master gland,” meaning it controls the release and regulation of almost all other hormones in our body, including those that control the menstrual cycle, fertility, and reproduction (estrogen, progesterone, LH, FSH, prolactin, and GnRH). Thyroid hormones also play a critical role in the maturation and development of eggs, as well as in sustaining a healthy uterine lining for successful egg implantation.
8 tips for blood sugar balance
1. Move your body, especially after meals
Walking after a meal helps you deploy blood sugar in your bloodstream for energy and regular exercise boosts your insulin sensitivity (aka, your body’s ability to effectively use glucose).
2. Up your fiber intake
Fiber slows carb digestion and sugar absorption, which promotes a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels, as opposed to a sharp increase followed by a subsequent crash.
3. Get high-quality sleep
When you’re sleep deprived, your ghrelin levels increase (hunger signaling hormone) and your leptin levels decrease (satiety signaling hormone), leading to increased appetite and cravings, especially for sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods.
4. Opt for low-glycemic foods when you can
Low-GI foods break down and absorb slowly into your bloodstream, meanwhile, high-GI foods break down and absorb quickly. Low GI foods like berries, non-starchy veggies, sweet potatoes, and Greek yogurt have the lightest impact on your blood sugar levels.
5. Avoid “naked” carbs and sugars
We’re not demonizing carbs, don’t you worry. You can have your cake and eat it too…but try to incorporate a fat or protein source with carbs when you can. This helps slow down the rate at which carbs are digested and broken down into glucose.
6. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not
Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and prevent large blood sugar spikes.
7. Nourish your gut microbiome
The composition of your gut bacteria influences your appetite and food choices (kind of wild!). Imbalances in your gut microbiome are associated with an increased preference for sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods, in addition to low-grade inflammation — both of which contribute to poor blood sugar control.
8. Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water helps your kidneys flush out any excess sugar through urine. It also rehydrates your blood, which helps dilute the concentration of glucose in your bloodstream.
So, the next time you reach for that afternoon snack, keep your blood sugar in mind. Your body (and fertility) will thank you later.
Caroline McMorrow is a Content Strategist at Rescripted.