Diabetes and blood sugar imbalances

Updated: Jun 21, 2019

While many of us may not be suffering from a serious blood sugar disease like diabetes, understanding that certain foods or methods of eating may have an effect on our blood sugar can form part of optimising appetite control, weight management, and energy.

Blood sugar is the concentration of glucose found in our blood, and we need a certain amount to maintain a balance. The brain also relies on a steady flow and the body uses it as an energy source.

Complex carbohydrates (from vegetables and optional whole grains) are the body’s preferred source of glucose, while refined carbohydrates from sugar and white flour are highly processed, not beneficial to our health and should be avoided.

Refined sugar is inflammatory to the body and its’ consumption is associated with an increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It can also cause acne and tooth decay. Sugar is high in empty calories, meaning it has no nutritional value.

The problem with eating refined sugar is that it spikes our blood sugar levels, resulting in insulin being released from the pancreas (to transport the glucose into the cells), and an associated drop in blood sugar levels. This drop can leave us feeling tired, hungry, and irritable.

Repeated high blood sugar spikes and dips can result in the body storing the excess glucose as fat; erratic hormones; and an imbalanced stress response. It can also result in poor food choices in order to get us out of the low blood sugar state.

Eating meals consisting of complex carbohydrates (from vegetables and whole grains), healthy fats and protein enables glucose from the meal to be released more slowly, and insulin is also secreted more slowly. This can stabilise our blood sugar levels, reduce sugar and carbohydrate cravings, and keep us feeling full for longer.

Maple syrup, honey and dates are more nutritious than refined sugar, but are still high in fructose (fruit sugar). Combining these healthier sweeteners with nuts and seeds results in a slower release of glucose into the blood and therefore, more stabilised blood sugar levels.

However, eating too much dried fruit or the more natural sweeteners does still have the same impact on our blood sugar levels. This is why we need to reduce the quantities, and ensure to combine them with healthy fats and protein. Don’t be afraid to adjust recipes to reduce your sugar consumption!

It is also important that fresh fruit should be consumed in moderation, especially tropical fruits like bananas, mango, and pineapple, as they are very high in fructose. Eating too much fruit or fructose puts us at risk of weight gain and eventual insulin resistance.

Lower fructose fruits include berries, apples, pears and plums. Combining fruit with a handful of nuts and seeds helps slow down the release of sugar into the blood stream. Cooked fruit like apples or berries are sometimes all that is needed to sweeten a pudding or dessert.

Fruit juice has a similar effect as dried fruit (high in fructose) and is best when used in very small quantities and mixed with vegetable juices such as cucumber, celery, fennel, ginger, etc. Fruit juices are best avoided.

Stevia is a natural sweetener that doesn’t add calories and doesn’t spike blood sugar levels, and is the sweetener of choice for diabetics. It is important to only consume the natural form and not the processed forms of this alternative sweetener.

Book an appointment today if you need help with weight loss, pre-diabetes, or diabetes management. Helen is a registered nutritionist and also runs regular nutritional therapy cooking classes, including low sugar desserts.

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