By Dr. Elizabeth Boomhower
For Capital Region Independent Media
The CDC cites that 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes and 1 in 5 are unaware that they do.
Specifically, Type II diabetes is characterized by three things: insulin resistance, deficiency in production of insulin from the pancreas, and high blood sugar. If the body is unable to keep blood sugar within its tightly regulated range, it can lead to damage to blood vessels and nerves in the body.
Type II diabetes is an acquired disease, which means we can do things each day to help support our body and prevent it, or in contrast, habits we may have could be adding fuel to the flames of blood sugar dysfunction in the body.
This past month, I embarked for the second time on a journey wearing a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM. Since blood glucose can be affected by many different things, such as perceived stress, physical activity, a woman’s menstrual cycle and more, I chose to use this tool to gain insight experimentally, and learn more about the ways blood sugar can be impacted.
Subjectively, I would consider my diet healthy. I am not overweight, and I have a very active job. Surprisingly, the data concluded that there was a lot I could do to support my body better when it comes to balancing blood sugar.
Wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) displays a graph of the sugar in the spaces between our cells over time. Unlike a finger prick, which shows a glucose reading in our blood at a single point in time, the CGM readings will offer a visual representation of our body’s response to eating over time.
By visualizing the graph, you can begin to correlate symptoms, like dizziness, being “hangry (hungry and angry),” lightheaded or “crashing,” with blood sugar and, far more importantly, in my opinion, you can see how certain foods impact your blood sugar. This chart should look like rolling hills, not peaks and valleys. Too often, our diet consists of easy carbs, too little protein, and lots of artificial sweeteners and sugar.
Ultimately, it’s not always about how much sugar we consume, but how well our body can handle it. If we eat sugar on an empty stomach, our blood sugar will spike and subsequently crash. If this becomes a habit over time, our body will become exhausted, the pancreas unable to maintain insulin output, or the body’s cells unable to recognize the insulin, leading to diabetes and increasing our risk for other diseases like Alzheimer’s or PCOS.
Studies using a CGM show that our blood sugar spike is lower if we eat sugar after eating protein in a meal, a concept considered “meal stacking.” This might look like eating your eggs first, before your toast, or your steak before your sweet potato or pasta.
Strategies such as eating a whole orange instead of orange juice allows for your body to get less concentrated sugar from the fruit since it’s paired with higher water content and fiber. Additionally, if we go for a short brisk walk after eating a meal, our body will also have a less drastic spike in blood sugar since it’s going directly into our muscles.
Eating balanced meals can also help, making sure there is a source of protein, balanced by fat and a carb. Here are some examples of balanced meals: Greek yogurt with three to four walnuts, a scoop of chia seeds and sliced banana. Three-egg omelet with ham, red onion, and slice of toast. Tuna salad with avocado and whole-wheat pita. Seasoned chicken breast with quinoa and peas. Ground beef chili with carrots, celery, beans and tomato, over rice, topped with sour cream. Sliced lean steak with sweet potato drizzled with olive oil.
Notably, if we’re in a state of stress or perceived stress, our body is more insulin resistant because of the stress hormone cortisol, and it will be more difficult for the body to clear sugar out of the blood. This is where managing stress becomes an important practice for improving many aspects of our health.
When we are stressed, the level of inflammation in our bodies increases. A bonus activity that helps reduce stress and decrease insulin spike after a meal is taking a brisk walk after a meal, or really, moving your body in any way.
By making wiser dietary choices and using exercise or movement to our advantage we can strive to maintain balanced blood sugar, which ultimately helps regulate hormones, energy levels, stress response and more.
For further exploration and reading, visit GlucoseGoddess.com or read Jessie Inchauspé’s book “Glucose Revolution: The Life-Changing Power of Balancing Your Blood Sugar.”