Ronan Keating (of bring back the 90’s) sang ‘Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it’. Yes absolutely, but one rollercoaster us mums shouldn’t be riding is the dreaded blood sugar rollercoaster. We’ve all been there, right? When you feel like your tank is empty and you’re frazzled in the midst of the mother/life/career juggle, it’s easy to reach for quick fixes like caffeine, sugar and chocolate to help you through the day and deal with life’s never-ending demands. Sometimes it feels like everything is needed yesterday. But a quick sugar high is quickly followed by a sugar crash that can leave us feeling erratic, tired and anxious.
And once you’re on the rollercoaster it can be tricky to get off. When our blood sugar dips too low, our body tricks us into craving highly processed, convenient carbohydrates (doughnut anyone?). The sugars released from refined carbohydrates have a high glycaemic index, meaning that they are quickly absorbed by the body and as a result push our blood sugar levels off the chart. High blood sugar levels can be damaging to the body so large levels of insulin are quickly released to remove the excess sugar. In a way insulin can be seen as the key that opens the door to our cells. It pushes the sugar from the blood into the cells to either use for immediate energy needs or stores it (in the form of fat) for later. Following the emergency release of insulin, there is a sudden drop in blood sugar alongside a release of adrenalin which in turn leaves us feeling anxious, irritable and craving more sugary carbs. See the vicious circle?
Symptoms of a blood sugar imbalance can include
- Low energy & fatigue
- Cravings, particularly for sweet food
- Feeling ‘tired & wired’
- Light headedness
- Brain fog
- Yawning – lots
- Anxiety & depression
- Mood swings & irritability
- Poor concentration & memory
In the long term, imbalances in our blood sugar levels can also be extremely damaging to our overall health and wellbeing. Excessively or consistently high blood sugar causes an ever-increasing release of insulin to cope with the sugar. However, excessive amounts of the hormone can cause our cells to become less responsive to its effects. Think of it as the insulin key suffering extreme wear and tear, causing the cell door to become more and more tricky to open. Long term effects of this insulin resistance can be insulin resistant type 2 diabetes, pancreatic insufficiency due to a tired and overworked pancreas, heart disease or stroke.
So how we can avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster? The good news is that our blood sugar level is absolutely something that we can control through our diet and lifestyle. Yay!
Choose whole foods with a low glycaemic index (GI)
In the context of blood sugar balance, carbohydrates often get a bad rep. It’s important to remember that while pastries, cookies and other refined carbohydrates (so-called simple carbohydrates) have a high glycaemic index and should be avoided, vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains are classed as complex carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index. This means that the sugars in these foods are absorbed slowly, causing a steady rise and fall in blood sugar levels. Whole, low GI foods are important for our digestive and overall health and should be included as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Other low GI foods include seafood, meat and eggs.
Set yourself up for the day with an energy-boosting breakfast
Breakfast is the meal we should be paying particular attention to. Set yourself up for the day by choosing healthy food options that give you a slow energy release and avoid sudden spikes and troughs in blood sugar. Think porridge with flax and/or chia seeds, smoothies with seeds and nut butters as well as frozen vegetables such as cauliflower, or eggs in any shape or form.
Apple cider vinegar taken before or after a meal (add ½-1 tablespoon into some water) can also help to curb blood sugar spikes.
Increase your fibre intake
Fibre helps to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates and with it the speed at which sugar is being absorbed by our body, resulting in a more gradual rise in blood sugar. Include vegetables, legumes, fruits and wholegrains.
Keep up your fluids
Water doesn’t only keep you hydrated, it also helps your kidneys flush out any excess blood sugar. Aim to drink 1.5 litres of regular filtered water every day, ideally in between meals to avoid diluting digestive juices.
Regular exercise can reduce blood sugar levels. Some great options for busy, exhausted Mums are; Yoga, Pilates, swimming, kitchen workouts and walking. In addition, exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels, further helping to balance blood sugar. Walking after a meal is one of the best ways to reduce postprandial glucose levels. Take a short walk around the block, you don’t have to walk to vigorously or try going up and down the stairs a couple of time if you can’t get out.
Get enough sleep
Good quality sleep helps to control hormone levels, in turn regulating blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. I’ll be talking about good quality sleep and how to get it soon so watch this space!
Check vitamin D levels
Vitamin D affects blood sugar regulation as it can help improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Sometimes GP’s will test this. You can also get this done with Medichecks or Thriva.