How are you doing with eating less (or no) sugar? Especially after a holiday weekend!
I’ve personally made homemade ice cream a couple times and had a tiny serving, but a whole batch of it contains about 1/3 c. of maple syrup, so I’m okay with it. I haven’t baked anything sweet, though, so my sugar has been minimal. I’ve lost about 4 lbs. in the last two weeks, without really trying. No sugar is good!
One reason that many give for reducing your sugar intake is to balance your blood sugar. It’s true that sugar (and refined starch like white flour) does spike your blood sugar and lead to crashes, which is not healthy for you. But sugar isn’t the only thing that affects your blood sugar. Let’s look at this a little more closely.
What is Blood Sugar?
Your blood sugar is a measure of the amount of glucose, or energy, in your bloodstream. If your blood sugar is high, then your pancreas pumps out insulin to lower it. If your blood sugar is low, then you feel hungry and tired — eating will raise your blood sugar. This is why we eat on a regular basis — in an attempt to have a fairly constant source of energy.
Blood sugar that is very low may cause:
- Clammy skin
- Fast or pounding heart
The final symptoms occur if the person is unable or unwilling to eat and the situation becomes serious.
Blood sugar that is very high may cause:
- Dry mouth
- Frequent urination
- Blurry vision
- Dry, itchy skin
- Loss of consciousness
Sometimes, high blood sugar can be a sign of diabetes. Sometimes it is a sign that you consumed way more sugar than you usually do in a short period of time, and your body, unaccustomed, is struggling to regulate. Either way, it is not good.
Frequently fluctuating blood sugar (spikes and crashes) can lead to problems with mood, weight, and metabolic syndrome, which is a pre-diabetic condition. Many cases of type II diabetes are preventable by avoiding these blood sugar issues in the first place.
What Affects Blood Sugar?
There is a mistaken thought that only sugar, or refined flour, affect blood sugar. I first discovered this when my mother-in-law was on a grain-free diet for a long time, and was having even greater blood sugar spikes and crashes when she ate plenty of protein and few carbs than when she ate grains or sugars! And then I remembered that when I eat a protein-heavy, low-fat breakfast (like homemade jerky) that I don’t feel well, either…much like if I ate a sugar-filled breakfast.
This inspired me to research further.
As it turns out, when a person does not consume enough carbs, they go into “metabolic starvation.” Carbs are the major source of glucose, which provide energy. Grain-free or low-carb diets don’t provide enough energy. When this happens, proteins are then broken down into glucose to provide energy instead. Protein, therefore, can have a significant effect on blood sugar, especially in the absence of sufficient carbs or fat. Overeating protein (beyond what your body requires each day, which varies from person to person) will also cause protein to spike your blood sugar and be stored as fat.
Fat doesn’t break down into glucose, although one part of fat can. Fat, for this reason, doesn’t affect blood sugar the same way that protein and carbs can. Fat should make up a significant portion of your diet — up to 60%, in some cases.
Ultimately what all this means is…it’s not just sugar that affects your blood sugar. Protein can too, and even fat can, in limited ways. Eating a diet that is properly balanced for you will help prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes and help you maintain steady energy and a healthy weight.
How to Balance Blood Sugar
Babies who eat only breastmilk have about this ratio:
- 30% carbs
- 50% fat
- 20% protein
For most adults, ratios similar to this will be appropriate. Some adults might do better with fewer carbs, more protein, more or less fat, etc. More protein is required for building muscle — so, for those who exercise frequently. More fat provides additional energy and can help to balance the blood sugar. Play with these ratios to find the right balance for you, but this is a good starting place.
When choosing carbs (they are not the enemy and should not be avoided), choose unrefined carbs, like whole grain flours. Beans are a great source of both carbs and protein. Consume meals that are, if at all possible, balanced in terms of ratio. (Don’t eat all your protein at once, or all your fat — try to some of everything for a balanced meal or snack. For example, jerky alone doesn’t make a good snack because it lacks fat and carbs, but a piece of jerky with a slice of cheese and an apple or slice of sourdough bread could be a great snack.)
And of course…lay off the sugar! 🙂 If you do want dessert, try to choose something with plenty of fat and protein and not too much sugar. Homemade ice cream or custard, baked goods made with almond flour, or fresh fruit with real whipped cream are all good choices. Very dark chocolate with nuts is good too. These are sweet treats, but they won’t spike your blood sugar so much.
You may notice after awhile that if you don’t eat much sugar, and then you have a lot of sugar at once, that you experience dizziness, headache, stomachache, and a generally “strange” and weak feeling. It’s a sign you’ve had too much sugar! If this happens, drink lots of water and consume some fat and protein quickly. It won’t completely solve the problem, but it will help you feel better.