Blood Sugar Balance
It’s natural that our energy levels should fluctuate during the day – we want to feel awake in the morning and it makes sense to feel sleepy before we go to bed at night. But how do you manage what happens in between, particularly if you feel that you spend all day on a rollercoaster alternating between highs and lows that affect your concentration, your productivity and your sense of wellbeing? It’s important to understand how our body manages our food intake to deliver fuel for life, and to understand how what seem like harmless habits can be exacerbating energy problems. In this article we’ll discuss the page of metabolism – the processes in our bodies that turn food into energy – and introduce three small changes that can help you power through your day.
You often hear people talking about having a fast or slow metabolism, and it is true that the rate at which we convert food into energy and use it varies from person to person – we are all individual after all. The one thing we have in common though is that we all use similar metabolic processes. As soon as we put food in our mouths we start the process of digestion, which ultimately results (and this is cutting a long biochemical story very short) in sugars entering our blood stream. When our body senses that our blood sugar levels are rising it produces a hormone called insulin. The role of insulin is to get sugar into our cells where it can be transformed into energy and used to fuel our daily lives. Insulin also stimulates our bodies to produce fat cells – the sugar in our blood that doesn’t get used to meet our energy requirements needs to be stored because if it remains in our blood it can cause damage. That all sounds pretty straight forward – but how does it affect energy levels?
When our blood sugar levels are elevated we feel more energetic – if you eat a bag of sugary sweets you can feel a real lift. But the more rapidly and aggressively our blood sugar levels rise (and we digest and absorb the sugars in a bag of sweets pretty quickly) the more rapidly and aggressively our bodies produce insulin. As we described above the effect of insulin is to reduce our blood sugar levels by moving the sugar into cells. And if we produce a lot of insulin quickly our blood sugar levels fall rapidly, sometimes so much so that we actually end up with our blood sugar levels being less than desirable – and that leaves us feeling tired. Our bodies respond by stimulating cravings for more high sugar snacks and thus we end up on a treadmill alternating between peaks and troughs of energy. But if we eat food that has a high protein content and contain some complex carbohydrates and some fat, we tend to have slower, and less extreme, rises and falls in blood sugar levels. Examples of these foods are snack bars containing nuts and seeds, and fruit and nut mixes. There are a number of reasons this happens. One is that all of those types of molecules are quite big, and it takes a number of different physical and chemical processes to break them down and use them in our bodies. Another reason is that when our bodies sense the presence of protein and fat, our stomach empties a bit slower. And yet another reason is that because complex carbohydrates often have dietary fibre content, they can make us feel quite full quite quickly so we don’t feel hungry any more and eat less.
So where do healthy snacks fit in? Well it makes sense that if you eat snacks that contain a reasonable amount of protein relative to carbohydrate, and are made with complex carbohydrates and/or contain dietary fibre (at least 1g) then you’re going to satisfy your hunger, and probably keep it satisfied for longer.
At the start of this article we promised you three small changes that can help keep you going all day. Here they are!
Keep your blood sugar levels stable to help keep your energy levels stable – that means don’t go for 8 hours without eating and end up feeling so ravenous you’ll eat whatever crosses your path first. Not only can this result in you eating more, you tend to make food choices that will perpetuate peaks and troughs in your energy levels. Have a snack like fruit and nuts, a snack bar or biscuits like oatcakes or Biscru with some houmous or nut butter every 3-4 hours even if you don’t have time for a meal
Include protein with every meal and snack – nuts, fish, meat, pulses, nut butters, seeds, cheese, yoghurt – it doesn’t matter what it is just have some to help balance out that elevation of blood sugar levels that can make you feel great in the short term but can send you crashing within hours
Eat at least one more portion of fruit or vegetables per day until you are including at least five per day. This could be some carrot sticks or an apple for a mid morning snack (with a source of protein of course) or adding some more salad or vegetables to a lunch box to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Not only will these help fill you up without a lot of calories, you’ll get lots of fabulous vitamins and minerals that will help your energy levels too