Have you ever finished eating your midday meal only to crash and feel sluggish an hour later?
Balancing your blood sugars is important for sustained energy, mood stability, and brain function. When blood sugars are not balanced, it can lead to increased sugar cravings, irritability, brain fog, fatigue, and, if chronically elevated, diabetes.
While balancing blood sugar is important for everyone, if you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, creating balanced meals and snacks becomes even more important.
What Does Balancing Blood Sugars Mean?
So, what does balancing blood sugars even mean? When you eat carbohydrates, they break down into glucose, or blood sugar, in the bloodstream. Glucose is the body’s primary fuel source; therefore, it is not inherently a bad thing. However, it is important to make sure that blood sugars are not often quickly elevated or do not become chronically elevated.
Each time you eat, your pancreas produces insulin, the hormone that is responsible for regulating the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. It determines how much glucose should remain in the bloodstream versus how much to store in your cells. If you eat a meal high in carbohydrates, it can be more than your body needs at that time. If you’re healthy, the body can regulate the excess glucose within a couple of hours. But if carbohydrates are consistently overconsumed, the body can become resistant to insulin. If the body becomes resistant to insulin, it can leave blood sugars chronically elevated, which can lead to diabetes.
Highly-processed carbohydrates that are primarily simple sugars raise blood sugar levels much faster than complex carbohydrates. For example, eating a slice of white bread will raise blood sugar faster than eating a slice of whole-grain bread. Additionally, eating carbohydrates alongside protein, fat, or fiber slows down how quickly your blood sugar will rise.
How to Balance Your Blood Sugar
When it comes to balancing your blood sugar, there are three helpful nutrients to consider: protein, fat, and fiber.
Consuming protein with carbohydrate sources helps to slow the secretion of insulin.1 This allows for a more gradual rise in blood sugar and keeps blood sugar stable. Additionally, protein helps keep you full and satisfied after a meal so that you’re not continuously left looking for another snack.
Consuming fat with carbohydrate sources also buffers the spike in blood sugar.2 Fat takes longer to digest; therefore, it also helps to keep you satiated for longer after a meal. When fat is consumed alongside carbohydrates, it helps to slow its digestion. In turn, this delays the absorption of glucose, keeping blood sugars stable.
Like protein and fat, fiber helps to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream.3 When carbohydrates are either consumed with fiber or when complex carbohydrates are consumed, there is a decrease in blood glucose because of the slowed absorption.
To keep your blood sugars balanced, you’ll need to create balanced meals and snacks. Simply changing out any refined carbohydrates for the whole-grain version can be a great place to start. For example, instead of white toast in the morning, swap it for whole-grain bread. Additionally, eating carbohydrates paired with protein and healthy fat can help stabilize your blood sugar.
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- Linn, T., Geyer, R., Prassek, S., & Laube, H. (1996). Effect of dietary protein intake on insulin secretion and glucose metabolism in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 81(11), 3938–3943. https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem.81.11.8923841
- Imamura F, Micha R, Wu JHY, de Oliveira Otto MC, Otite FO, Abioye AI, et al. (2016) Effects of Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate on GlucoseInsulin Homeostasis: A Systematic Review and Metaanalysis of Randomised Controlled Feeding Trials. PLoS Med 13(7): e1002087. doi:10.1371/journal. Pmed.1002087
- Lattimer, J. M., & Haub, M. D. (2010). Effects of dietary fiber and its components on metabolic health. Nutrients, 2(12), 1266–1289. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu2121266