Did you know that balancing your blood sugar can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can help to prevent disease? When eating food, our body breaks it down, and depending on what type of food it is, it can result in elevated blood sugar levels. While our bodies can usually control blood sugar levels on its own, sometimes this may not be the case, and prolonged elevated blood sugar levels can negatively impact overall health. Here we will help you to learn about what affects blood sugar levels and how to balance them through a healthy diet and exercise to ensure that our bodies are able to perform optimally.
When we eat food, our body works to break down that food into different nutrients needed for energy, building blocks and other body functions. Specifically, the carbohydrates we get from starchy foods such as rice, pasta and bread, or fruits and vegetables, are broken down in the stomach into sugar (referred to as glucose) to be used in the body. Our bodies then take up this glucose into our blood, causing our blood sugar levels to rise. In response to this raised blood sugar level, our body signals the release of insulin, whose job it is to help cells throughout the body absorb glucose to use it for energy to move, exercise, heal and grow or to store as fat to use later (1). With the help of insulin, sugar is removed from the blood by cells and blood sugar levels can return to a healthy range.
However, if your body cannot efficiently use the insulin it produces, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of being used by cells (2). Over time, high blood sugar levels may be harmful to the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart. Due to this, it is important to know how to sufficiently manage your blood sugar levels through diet and other tips to help prevent disease.
The foods we eat can impact our blood sugar levels in different ways. Carbohydrates directly affect blood sugar levels, because they are broken down into the glucose that causes blood sugar levels to rise. However, the type and quality of carbohydrates that you eat also makes a difference.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple (fast) carbohydrates or complex (slow) carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are identified by how quickly they are broken down by the body and taken up by cells to use as energy. Simple carbohydrates, such as those found naturally in some fruits and vegetables, are broken down more quickly and send quick bursts of energy (as glucose) into the bloodstream (3). This can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, often followed by a rapid decrease which is often referred to as a “sugar crash”. Simple carbohydrates are mostly found in processed foods such as white bread, white rice, candy, and table sugar. These types of simple carbohydrates provide energy, but may lack the vitamins, minerals and fiber also needed to maintain a healthy diet. Complex carbohydrates are referred to as such because they are broken down slower in the body, supplying a slow and steady supply of energy (as glucose) into the bloodstream (3). This causes blood sugar levels to increase slowly, supplying the body with a longer period of energy so you don’t get that “sugar crash” feeling. Complex carbohydrates also provide essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber needed by the body. Good sources of complex carbohydrates to incorporate into your diet include whole grains such as oats, brown rice, barley, whole wheat breads and pastas, and starchy vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, and beans. The amount of carbohydrates and energy your body needs vary based on gender, age and activity level. When choosing carbohydrates for an overall healthy diet, choose complex carbohydrates and eat simple carbohydrates in moderation. Need some inspiration? Check out this Banana Oat recipe from Lifesum for a meal packed with complex carbs and essential nutrients.
Proteins and fats you get from food also play an important role in helping to balance blood sugar levels and are an overall part of a healthy diet. Proteins and fats keep you full, and have other benefits to the growth, repair and functioning of the body. Include lean protein sources such as chicken or turkey, fatty fish such as salmon, or plant-based proteins such as lentils, hummus and tofu. When choosing fats, it is important to incorporate foods that are rich in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats. Saturated fats can raise cholesterol and have been associated with increased risk for heart disease, while unsaturated fats can lower cholesterol levels (4). Foods such as nuts, seeds, fish, avocado and olive oil are good sources of unsaturated fats.
Following an overall healthy diet to maintain blood sugar levels, especially if your body can not use insulin efficiently, can have a big impact on managing your health. Little changes, whether it is balancing your plate, following an eating schedule, or moving more, can have positive effects. What small changes will you make to help balance your blood sugar?
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