Let’s be honest: we all know that sugar isn’t great for us. But where does your mind go when you think of the negative effects of overconsuming it?

You probably thought of cavities, weight gain, or acne breakouts. But the one that you should really be considering is how your blood sugar influences a TON of other super-important systems in your body.

Got hormone issues? Digestive distress? Fatigue? Brain Fog? All of these can be a result of dysregulated blood sugar.

Blood sugar is an important marker of health. When it becomes dysregulated, your body will give you signs (think anxiety, hanger, fatigue, cold hands and feet, slow wound healing, dizziness, headaches, PCOS, and PMS) but most of us don’t realize that dysregulated blood sugar is to blame. 

The solution to balancing blood sugar levels lies in how and what you eat.  Today, I’m covering the basics you need to know. Let’s get to it!

Why is regulating your blood sugar SO important? 

I often see patients who struggle with anxiety, hormone issues, and gut health problems who are stumped about why they’re experiencing those symptoms. 

Spoiler alert: It’s often because their blood sugar levels are dysregulated.

This is why I focus on blood sugar right from the start along with other ways to improve their symptoms. 

Here are some common short and long-term effects of high and erratic blood sugar. 

Short-term effects:

  • It causes the liver to store excess sugar (glucose) as fat.
  • It releases stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine) which causes anxiety and restlessness.
  • It can mess with your reproductive hormones and cause mood swings, skin problems, PMS and even infertility. 
  • It can make symptoms of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) worse, such as irregular periods and imbalanced hormones.

Long-term effects:

  • One of the most notable long-term effects is type 2 diabetes. This happens when you have chronic high blood sugar levels. 
  • A second notable effect is insulin resistance. This is when your cells stop responding properly to insulin, which causes your blood sugar to be continuously high.
  • Lastly, it can cause Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). This is when excess fat accumulates in the liver. If left untreated, it can cause long-term damage. 

What is blood sugar?

Blood sugar is simply how much sugar (glucose) is in your blood. It naturally rises every time you eat food. 

When this happens, your body releases a hormone called insulin which helps move the sugar into your cells for energy. It’s a well-designed system that allows you to get energy from the foods you eat.

What is ‘high’’ blood sugar?

Western medicine would say that a fasting glucose above 99 is starting to near high blood sugar territory. In Functional Medicine, we aim for 75-85 range. We want your body to process sugar optimally and address it with diet and supplements when it starts to venture outside that tighter range instead of waiting until you’re in a pre-diabetic stage to treat it. 

So how do you end up with higher blood sugar? One of the ways is when you consistently eat foods that cause your blood sugar to spike too high. What goes up must come down, and that includes your blood sugar levels. 

The higher they rise, the lower they plummet and the body has to work extra hard to bring them back up to a normal level. Glucagon is released from the liver and stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine are released from the adrenal glands to balance things out again.

Blood Sugar Balance

When we are constantly pumping out cortisol and epinephrine due to stress and blood sugar spikes, it keeps us in fight-or-flight mode. When we are chronically in fight-or-flight, our body becomes inflamed and its natural healing capabilities are put on hold while our body stays in that hyperaware state. 

If this becomes the norm it can trigger a slew of different health problems, like diabetes, PCOS, inflammation, fatty liver, hormone issues, and more. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to what you eat. Certain foods will trigger this massive spike in your blood sugar. 

Let’s take a look at some of the main perpetrators, shall we?

What foods cause high blood sugar?

Now, let’s learn how the foods you eat affect your blood sugar. This is the #1 way to avoid these intense blood sugar spikes and resulting crashes that can negatively impact your health.

Enter the glycemic index. It’s a helpful tool that tells us how much a specific food will raise our blood sugar once we eat it. Some common blood-spikin’ culprits are: 

  • Sugar (yes, even fruit)
  • Processed carbs (bread, muffins, tortillas)
  • Processed cereals and grains
  • White rice, white potatoes
  • Pretzels, chips, crackers

These foods are quickly broken down in the body and raise your blood sugars quickly.

When possible, try to swap these foods out for choices that have a lower glycemic index, like:

  • Meat and seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits like berries

Check out this full list of foods based on their glycemic index.

Eating to manage blood sugar

Just because a food is high on the glycemic index (GI) doesn’t mean you have to swear it off from your diet for good.

A basic rule of thumb is to GO PALEO.

This means eating whole foods found in nature. Eating ingredients instead of foods WITH ingredients.

These foods are going to be more nutrient-dense and balanced so they are less likely to spike blood sugar vs. processed foods. When you remove the fibre from foods (smoothies/juices, grain flours to make breads, cookies and crackers) it makes it more prone to that blood sugar rollercoaster.

Here are a few simple tips and easy swaps of common food faves to avoid those high high’s and low low’s. 

Improve your smoothies

Theoretically smoothies can be a great way to get a lot of nutrients in… BUT they’re usually jam-packed with fruit, which makes them a total sugar bomb. Plus, by blending fruits, you strip away the fibre which helps to slow down how quickly the sugar is absorbed. This is one of the many reasons why I’m not a huge smoothie fan. 

If you’re a die-hard smoothie slurper, here are some tips to make them better:

  • Instead of making fruit the main character, use it sparingly as a natural sweetener.
  • Incorporate healthy fats like avocado, coconut, yogurt or nut butter to slow down sugar absorption.
  • Have your smoothie as part of a meal rather than a meal or snack replacement. Eating it with a meal that contains fat, fibre and protein helps balance the sugar intake and results in a more stable blood sugar response.

Swap your carbs + grains.

We’ve been told that “whole grains” are a healthy choice for the past few decades and while they may be “lower” on the glycemic index (because they contain the outer fibrous shell of the grain), they present other issues like being heavily sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup weed killer), containing gluten — which can be inflammatory in many people, and just aren’t that nutrient-dense in general.

This is especially true in regards to highly processed flours that are used to make conventional breads, muffins, tortillas, and pastas. The way that the flour is manufactured breaks it down so it is absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream, resulting in a blood sugar rollercoaster.

While white potatoes and rice are healthier options in my opinion, they are higher on the glycemic index and can raise blood sugar in sensitive individuals, especially if eaten alone (without fat or protein).  Instead, opt for choices that are more nutrient-dense and have a lower glycemic index like sweet potatoes, squash, or quinoa.

If you are going to have grains, I recommend not eating them on their own. Add some healthy fats and protein to your meal to help slow down absorption.

Focus on fiber.

Found in low-GI foods including whole vegetables and fruits, fibre gives food its structure and can help keep your blood sugar in check because the body can’t fully break it down. This means it slows down absorption AND helps you stay fuller longer. 

Like I mentioned above, blending and juicing removes a lot of the fibre so eating the whole fruit and vegetable is better. Plus, digestion starts in your mouth with chewing. With smoothies and juices, you bypass the chewing process where amylase and other enzymes/digestive signals are initiated which can result in poor digestion. If you get bloating or indigestion frequently, I recommend you swap out smoothies/juicing for the real deal — whole fruit, and CHEW YOUR FOOD. Just like yo momma always said. Give these simple tips and swaps a try and I bet you will feel fuller and more energized than ever! 

Need help with your diet swaps?

By now, you’ve got the DL on what blood sugar is, why it matters, and how your diet affects it. Eating a nutrient-rich diet that includes more low-glycemic foods will leave you feeling like a supercharged version of yourself.

But sometimes, incorporating basic lifestyle tips isn’t quite enough. This is where a functional medicine practitioner (like me!) comes in.

  • Want to find out exactly where your blood sugar levels are at?
  • Are you curious about which foods you should be eating and how to make long-term, sustainable diet swaps?
  • Does the thought of getting real, objective data about your current health pump you up?

If you said “heck yes”… let’s work together! I offer Functional Medicine consultations where we’ll do all of that and more.

Click here to book your virtual Initial Consult! 

Together, we’ll help you clean up your diet, regulate your blood sugar levels, and feel your absolute best.