Do you feel like you’ve tried every diet under the sun but nothing has worked in the long run? The truth is, that’s how diets work. They are temporary fixes that often leave us feeling deprived and unsatisfied. But what if I told you there is a better, more sustainable option? Because yes, you deserve to feel your best without meticulously count calories or put certain foods on a naughty list. None of these really make sense. Food is medicine, but it is also culture, spontaneity and fun! Life is too short to deal with it with a diet. Ultimately, balance is best. Enter: blood sugar. Say hello to better energy, stable mood, and better health by prioritizing foods that lower blood sugar.
By eating whole, nutrient-dense foods (leaving room for your favorite treats!), you can create sustainable habits that support your overall well-being. Today we dive into the science behind blood sugar balancing and explore why eating to balance blood sugar isn’t a diet. It’s a lifestyle change.
Featured image of Michelle Nash.
What’s the best diet for you?
The world of wellness is full (read: overflowing) with different ways of eating. And this is not surprising. Food brands and diet companies have figured out the secret: that variety is the spice of life. If paleo doesn’t work for you, try vegan. Want to cut carbs? Go keto. Need to improve your heart health? Opt for the Mediterranean diet. The list could go on and on. But with so many options, it’s hard to know what’s best for you. At the end of the day, how you choose to fuel your body is completely personalized. It is based on your current health condition, your wellness goals, your lifestyle and circumstances!
Give up the diet forever
And it brings blood sugar balance instead! To get started, start shifting your focus from short-term restrictive eating patterns to a more holistic approach, one that prioritizes your altogether health and wellness. That means incorporating more whole, nutrient-dense foods into your diet, listening to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, and finding joy in movement and physical activity. It also involves adopting self-care practices that support your mental and emotional health (for example, mindfulness, stress management, and positive self-talk). By adopting these habits, you can create a long-term, sustainable approach to nourishing your body.
Eat to balance blood sugar
No matter what specific eating style you gravitate towards, choosing foods that keep blood sugar levels stable is crucial for optimal health. This way, you can avoid the spikes and crashes that cause fatigue, mood swings, and sluggish body composition. Additionally, keeping blood sugar levels stable can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and health conditions, such as diabetes and PCOS. In other words, while there are many different ways to fuel your body, try to keep blood sugar balance at the forefront (your body and mind will thank you!).
What is blood sugar?
Let’s go back. Without knowing exactly what that means, you’ve probably heard of the term. Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood at any given time. Where does glucose come from? The starchy and sweet foods you eat. And it’s your body primary energy source. Blood sugar levels are affected by a variety of factors, including the types and amounts of food you consume, how active you are, and how well your body makes and uses insulin.
Why is it important to balance blood sugar?
Blood sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day. In fact, you may already be familiar with blood sugar spikes and dips. Hello, craving for sugar and hook! We expect a steady rise in glucose after waking up, while exercising, and after eating. However, we want to minimize very high peaks and very low dips. These are known as unhealthy blood sugar responses. Over time, these can lead to unwanted health conditions. That said, a healthy glycemic response is one where we have glucose balance after eating.
Optimal blood sugar ranges
To help prevent a variety of chronic health conditions, the goal is to keep your blood sugar stable as often as possible. What does this mean? For someone who has consumed nothing but water (also known as a fasted state), the normal blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dL. Anything above 100 mg/dL is considered borderline high, and a fasting blood glucose of 126 mg/dL (or higher) is often indicative of diabetes. During the day, the ideal blood glucose should be between 70 and 110 mg/dL and should fall below 140 mg/dL two hours after eating a meal. You can know your specific blood sugar response by wearing a continuous glucose monitor. Otherwise, your doctor can test your A1C via a blood draw.
How do I know if my blood sugar is too high?
A big telltale sign: A blood sugar crash 1-2 hours after eating (typically, a high-carb meal without adequate protein and healthy fats). This happens when blood sugar rises too high and too fast and insulin overcompensates. You may feel sweaty, shaky, lightheaded, or experience brain fog. Another sign is a craving for carbohydrates, especially in the afternoon or evening. It’s a sign that you haven’t adequately fueled your body with protein, fiber, and fat throughout the day, especially at breakfast.
How to balance blood sugar
In addition to eating foods that lower blood sugar, below are three steps to help you achieve stable blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, and minimize hormonal imbalances!
1. Eat all three macros
For maximum satiety and stable blood sugar, include all three macronutrients in your meals and snacks: complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Prioritize protein, slow-digesting carbohydrates like beans, legumes, sweet potatoes, and squash, and load up on omega-3 fats (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds). At each meal, add as many non-starchy carbohydrates as possible (leafy greens, broccoli, eggplant, summer squash, mushrooms, peppers, etc.). Here’s the meal inspo to get you started!
2. Manage your stress
Stress elevates cortisolone of our body’s major stress hormones. This can raise blood sugar and insulin levels. Cortisol also increases the secretion of leptin, a hormone that plays a role in appetite control. Leptin secretion can reduce satiety and make you feel hungrier. Find ways to reduce daily stress through meditation and setting proper boundaries.
3. Move your body
All exercise is beneficial for overall health and blood sugar management. However, moderately vigorous effort such as brisk walking, running, cycling or strength training for at least 30-40 minutes (3-5 times a week) can significantly benefit insulin regulation and sugar levels in the blood. Don’t underestimate the power of moderate walking after meals!
What are the foods that keep blood sugar stable?
Overall, the foods that keep blood sugar stable are typically those that are low in added sugar and refined carbohydrates. Plus, they’re foods high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. These include leafy greens, nuts and seeds, lean proteins like chicken and fish, and low-GI fruits, like berries and grapefruit. Also, pair carbohydrates with protein and fat. When you do, glucose is released more slowly into your bloodstream. In other words, eat protein and fat with Your carbs (e.g. avocado pesto toast) can make a difference in your glycemic response!
80 foods that don’t raise blood sugar
Without further ado, below is a universal list of foods that don’t raise your blood sugar. That said, there is no one size fits all for a metabolically healthy diet. (Note: Wearing a continuous glucose monitor can give you this information.)
- dried ham
- Sausage (no sugar added)
- Collagen peptides
- Bone broth
- Greek yogurt (no sugar added)
- Cottage cheese
- Hemp seeds
Basically, all non-starchy vegetables are great for blood sugar balance:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brussels sprouts
- Chinese cabbage
- Hearts of palm
- Summer squash
- Split peas
Beans and legumes
- Black beans
- Red beans
- Cannellini beans
- Soya beans
- Pinto beans
- Avocado (avocado oil)
- Coconut (coconut butter and coconut oil)
- Macadamia nuts
- Whole dairy products
- Ghee (butter)
- Olives (olive oil)
- Chia seeds
- Flax seed
- Pumpkin seeds
- pine nuts
- Sesame seeds
What about breads, tortillas and baked goods?
Like all other ingredients, each metabolizes packaged foods differently. However, since bread is mostly carbohydrates, it raises your blood sugar. That said, seed or nut based breads can make all the difference! Whenever possible, opt for sprouted, 100% whole grains, sourdough breads, or gluten-free tortillas made from almond or coconut flour. Do you like baking? Instead of refined flours and traditional sugars, use blood sugar-friendly ingredients like almond flour, coconut flour, monk fruit, allulose, and stevia-sweetened chocolate chips.