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How to balance your blood sugar

If you have ever devoured a slice of cake and wondered why you feel great one moment and devoid of energy the next, it’s not guilt playing a role there – it’s biology.

When we eat high carbohydrate foods (those which convert to sugar in the body), such as cakes, pastries, white bread and pasta, our body’s blood sugar levels rise and fall, also known as a ‘sugar spike’.

On the surface, this might take the form of headaches, fatigue and irritability. In the body, however, the outcomes can be far more long-term.

Read on to find out what normal blood sugar levels are and what to do when your levels start to shift.

What are normal blood sugar levels? And what do dangerous blood sugar levels look like?

Blood sugar levels are measured in millimoles per litre (mmol/L), on a scale of 1 to 9+.

Your levels will naturally change throughout the day, depending on how active you are, as well as what you eat and when. However, normal blood sugar levels vary from 4.0 to 5.9 /L and can rise to as high as 7.8 mmol/L up to two hours after eating. Skipping meals, choosing unhealthy snacks, and carbo-loading all contribute to driving blood sugar levels skyward.

Blood sugar levels will be higher for those with diabetes, both type 1 and 2. These diabetic levels can vary from 4.0 to 7 mmol/L, rising as high as 8.5 mmol/L for type 2 diabetes or 9.00 mmol/L for type 1 diabetes. 

If you choose to, you can check in on your blood sugar levels at home with a glucose monitor to get a specific measurement. 

If your blood sugar levels are too low, you may experience symptoms like:

  • Hunger pangs
  • Dizzy spells
  • Tingling lips
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Excessive sweating
  • Turning pale
  • Loss of energy
  • Irritable, tearful, or anxious moods
  • Heart palpitations

If you experience any symptoms of low blood sugar levels, try having a small piece of fruit or a portion of slow-release carbohydrates, such as a wholegrain cereal bar, nuts or full-fat dairy, such as cow’s milk.

On the other hand, if your blood sugar levels are high, you might find yourself feeling symptoms such as:

  • Frequently needing to urinate
  • Feelings of extreme thirst
  • Blurry vision
  • Consistent fatigue
  • Feeling weak
  • Unexpected weight loss

To feel your best, reduce high carb/high sugar foods and choose ones which are high in protein, fibre, and wholegrains to balance high blood sugar levels.

If you experience any of these symptoms and are concerned about your blood sugar levels, it’s a good idea to reassess your current diet, potentially reducing your consumption of high carbohydrate foods. You could also check in with a GP, who may provide advice on how to tweak your eating habits accordingly.

How does imbalanced blood sugar affect my body?

When we put our bodies through this rigorous dance of spiking and crashing, a vicious cycle begins. We choose high carbohydrate foods, which send our blood sugar spiralling, making us more likely to reach for something high sugar or high carb after the crash. And so on.

If eating this way becomes a habit, high blood sugar levels can lead to obesity and some metabolic issues, as well as diabetes.

The answer, thankfully, is not to abstain from all sweet temptations (although moderation does make things easier). Rather, it is to understand how to balance your blood sugar so that your body can go into each eating experience with a relaxed, ready-for-maximum-nutrition state. 

Best foods to reduce blood sugar levels

Where refined carbohydrates quickly convert to sugar in the body, other food groups such as protein, fibre, and healthy fats help to do the opposite, settling your blood sugar into a serene state of calm.

Still not sure on what a slow-release carbohydrate looks like? These cupboard essentials can l help to balance your blood sugar.

  • Wholegrains - Brown bread, brown rice, and wholegrain cereal are just some examples of high-fibre slow-release carbs.

  • Legumes – Chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils come packed with protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron and magnesium.

  • Lean meats and fish – Chicken, tuna, and turkey gradually release energy into the body, keeping your stomach full for longer.

  • Leafy greens – Broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts; all of these are nutrient powerhouses, including magnesium and vitamin A which help to lower blood sugar.

  • Nuts and seeds – Almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds are abundant in healthy fats and protein which help to balance blood sugar.

  • Full-fat dairy – Cheese, yogurt, and milk are filling, full of protein, and packed with healthy fats. Low-fat varieties are often high in nasties, like sugar, whiteners, and thickeners.

  • Low-sugar fruits – Darker-skinned fruits, such as cherries and blueberries, have less fructose (the natural sugar in fruits) in them than others, such as strawberries, mangoes, and apples.

It’s important to also keep a keen eye on your fluid intake. Liquids enter the bloodstream much faster than solids, so opt for water over sugary, high caffeine or alcoholic drinks when hydrating between meals.

Easy everyday swaps to balance your blood sugar

Being mindful of the foods and drinks you are consuming is a first step in balancing blood sugar. But putting that into practice is often easier said than done.

Take a look at these top 7 everyday swaps you can make today to better balance your blood sugar.

  • Swap: Granola and other refined cereals
    For: Porridge oats and muesli

  • Swap: Fruit yogurts
    For: Plain yogurt

  • Swap: Cappuccino
    For: Decaf, herbal tea, or water

  • Swap: Strawberries and apples
    For: Cherries and blueberries

  • Swap: White bread
    For: Brown, wholemeal, and seeded bread

  • Swap: Low-fat cheese
    For: Full-fat cheese

  • Swap: White pasta
    For: Wholemeal pasta

  • Swap: Milk chocolate
    For: Dark chocolate (<80% cocoa)

How does insulin regulate blood sugar?

Insulin is the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar and keeping it within the desired range.

Eating food that is sugary, refined or high in carbohydrates causes a surge in blood sugar and the body releases insulin to lower it again. Too much insulin can lead to sugar being stored as fat and an over-correction of blood sugar levels, which makes you feel hungry again. This can become a vicious cycle, potentially leading to central obesity and associated metabolic disorders like diabetes.

Get help with Benenden Health

Our affordable private healthcare includes:

  • 24/7 GP and mental health helplines
  • Free wellbeing and fitness classes
  • Private medical diagnostics

Many of these services are included from day one of your membership, though some may require your membership to be active for at least six months. Visit our healthcare page for full breakdown of what’s included, as well as how our alternative healthcare works.

For more help and nutrition advice with balancing blood sugars, you can also check out our healthy nutrition articles along with useful tips on making changes to your lifestyle.