Updated: Jun 30, 2020
Do you get “hangry” when you haven’t eaten for awhile? Do you get strong cravings for sweets and caffeine? Do you feel jittery or shaky between meals?
These are clear signs of Blood Sugar Dysregulation. These are symptoms of Phase 2 out of 5 Stages of “Dysglycemia”. Phase 2 also includes headaches, memory issues, difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, ravenous hunger, sweating, blurred vision, and skin tingling (especially around the mouth). Phase 2 is called “Hyperinsulinemia & Reactive Hypoglycemia”.
But let’s back up a step and look at the first phase which is “Compromised Blood Sugar Regulation”. Phase 1 has less obvious signs so it is important to learn to identify them:
- Increased cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Increased hunger and reduced satisfaction from meals
- Difficulty burning fat for weight loss
- Weight gain
- Increased blood pressure
Phase 3 moves into “Insulin Resistance” with worsening signs and symptoms. Phase 4 turns into “Metabolic Syndrome” and Phase 5 becomes “Type 2 Diabetes”. (1)
Most of us know that Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity have skyrocketed in the United States as sugar consumption has dramatically increased over the past 200 years. The U.S. has witnessed an 800% increase in diabetes since 1960 (1). 10.5% of the American population now has Type 2 Diabetes = that equals 34.2 million people! (2) This is large part due to SAD: the Standard American Diet (that is indeed quite SAD) being high in sugar and low in nutrients.
Our ancestors ate very little sugar because it simply was not available, except for rare occasions when someone would find honey or during limited times of the year when fruit would ripen. Our ancestors evolved to have genes that would tell them to eat all they could when they came upon these simple and precious sweet commodities. Their bodies rushed to deal with the blood sugar surge immediately in order to store the caloric energy from the sugar for future times of deprivation. We modern humans still have this drive encoded within our genes, but now we can easily find sweetened processed foods with refined sugar and simple carbohydrates. These are the cheapest and most marketed foods on the market. When we eat a large amount of simple carbs they cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels and our bodies react quickly to try to store the sugar. But now the issue in modern times is that we are consuming sugar frequently, instead of rarely, which stresses our glands and organs in trying to deal with repeated sugar surges. Plus the repeated genetic drive (which is no longer a need) to store away the calories, which is why we also have an obesity epidemic!
Blood sugar regulation is a complex process, but here are the 3 main factors that create the rollercoaster:
1) The pancreas releases insulin to help bring down blood sugar levels. Insulin triggers the storing away of excess glucose into glycogen (in muscle) and triglycerides (in fat cells).
2) If blood sugar is too high or spikes too quickly, the surge of insulin can overcorrect, which can cause blood glucose levels to drop too low. This is called Reactive Hypoglycemia (remember Phase 2?) which the body also sees as an emergency.
3) The Central Nervous System then signals the adrenal glands to release epinephrine (which increases heart rate and blood pressure), followed by cortisol (the primary stress-hormone), which triggers cells to convert stored glycogen and amino acids back into glucose in order to bring blood sugar back up.
This third step creates our cravings for a sweet snack or a coffee break. Can you see how this starts the next rollercoaster surge? It is very easy to over-consume simple carbs, given our genetic programming and access to hyper-palatable processed foods. As these blood sugar surges continue throughout the day, they eventually progress into more serious phases of blood sugar dysregulation and ultimately Type 2 Diabetes… unless… we learn how to stop feeding and fueling these rollercoaster cycles.
This is a big topic and much could be written, but I’d like to jump into practical recommendations:
1) Let's start with the obvious: significantly decrease your consumption of refined sugars and processed foods. This is very challenging for many people because we have become accustomed to having convenience foods. Many experts believe that added sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup are key factors in today's Diabetes and Obesity epidemics (3). Get in the habit of reading labels and refuse to buy anything with HFCS in it. Also avoid Agave Syrup which is 100% fructose and is NOT a health food (straight fructose stresses the liver). Eat natural foods made by you from their whole form (not in a factory). If you're craving sugar, eat a piece of fruit (yes, it has fructose but it has many other vitamins, enzymes and fiber that balance its sugar absorption). Avoid drinking concentrated fruit juice...OJ for breakfast is a huge hit of sugar! Again, it's better to eat a whole piece of fruit. If you're baking, use coconut sugar, date sugar, or maple syrup and try cutting the recommended amount in half. You can add a touch of honey after if it's not sweet enough. Avoid baking with honey as it changes it's structure and you miss out on the healthy enzymes present when eaten raw. A little bit of honey goes a long way.
2) When you start to feel hungry or a craving, drink a full glass of water. Many people mistake thirst for hunger and most Americans are chronically dehydrated.
3) If you start your day with coffee or tea..Add 1 Tablespoon of MCT Coconut Oil and/or Butter/Ghee to get good fat fuel to the brain quickly which helps slow down sugar metabolism.
4) Eat a solid breakfast with protein and fat. Eating simple carbs like cereal and toast will put you directly into the front seat of the rollercoaster.
Here are some of my favorite protein & fat combo breakfast options:
- Over-easy eggs with avocado toast
- Chicken sausage or turkey bacon with sauteed spinach and olive oil
- Unsweetened yogurt with berries, 2 T Nut Butter, and 1 T MCT oil
- Chia seeds soaked in full-fat coconut milk. In the winter, I like to create a heated chia porridge with cinnamon and chopped nuts & berries. In the summer, I enjoy Chia seeds blended into a smoothie with 2 Tablespoons of Hydrolyzed collagen power, 1-2 raw pastured egg yolks, along with 1 T Cocoa powder, berries and nut butter.
- “Breakfast Soup”: 1 can pureed pumpkin or sweet potato, 1/2-1 can full fat coconut milk, 2 cups bone broth, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, some dashes of cloves, 2 T coconut aminos. I like to add chopped turkey bacon and pumpkin or sunflower seeds on top.
5) Add protein and fat to your snacks: nut butter on carrots/celery sticks, avocado with orange (tasty with a dash of salt), grass-fed jerky, nut butter balls, cheese (if you tolerate dairy), hummus with olive oil
6) Hand-based macronutrients to balance each meal:
- Protein = the size of the palm of your hand (3-5 ounces)
- Veggies = 2 fists (2 cups)
- Complex carbs = a cupped hand (1 cup)
- Fats = size of thumb (2-3 Tablespoons)
7) Avoid eating at least 2 hours before bed, especially sugary foods like ice cream!
8) Learn and practice stress-reduction techniques. Stress triggers the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Chronic stress contributes to adrenal gland fatigue, especially when these glands are over-worked from responding to blood sugar rollercoaster dips! Practice stretching, moderate exercise, deep breathing, meditation, keep a gratitude journal...
I know these recommendations are easier said than done during stressful times, but give yourself the basics of good self-care and you will reap big benefits: reduce your sugar intake, eat well-balanced meals with protein & fat, get enough sleep, and practice stress-reduction techniques every day. These will all help to reduce cravings and will stabilize your energy and your mood for a smoother ride!
1) Nutritional Therapy Association. Blood Sugar Module.
2) Diabetes Research Institute Foundation. “Diabetes Statistics”. https://www.diabetesresearch.org/diabetes-statistics
3) Mawer, R. (September 2019) "6 Reasons Why High-Fructose Corn Syrup Is Bad For You".