When you think about serious problems with blood sugar (blood glucose), diabetes is probably what comes to mind first. If you’re not diabetic, blood glucose levels may not be a primary concern of yours. But they should be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three American adults is considered pre-diabetic. This means their blood glucose levels are chronically elevated, but not quite high enough to qualify for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, the statistics tell us that a) 90% of those people don’t even know they’re pre-diabetic and b) 15-30% of these people will reach the point of full diagnosis within five years. Now those are some numbers worth being concerned about!
So what’s going on here? Most simply, processed sources of carbohydrates are to blame. Almost everything that is sweetened falls into this category, from cookies to sodas to your afternoon frappe. Other common foods like chips, crackers, breads, pastas and pastries also provide an overabundance of carbs. Once in the body, these foods are quickly converted into glucose, the body’s main source of energy. For most of human history, too much glucose has never been a big problem. Too little glucose has been a more enduring issue, and we have multiple mechanisms for coping with lack of carbohydrates. Because the saturation of processed carbs in our diet is so new, our bodies typically don’t do very well with the overabundance.
After a carb heavy meal, glucose enters the bloodstream and the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin is the hormone that shuttles glucose to where it is needed, such as to muscle or nerve cells. Problems arise when glucose is introduced to the body system faster than it can be used up. The cells end up over-stuffed with glucose and they eventually tell the insulin to “go away!” The glucose stays in the blood until it can be transported and stored elsewhere. This is the point where blood glucose levels can become dangerously high. Some people experience this emergency state after every meal of every day.
When diabetes is diagnosed, proper care is essential to avoid devastating side effects such as blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, or the loss of extremities. Diabetic care should include vast dietary changes, but medication is often relied on. Diabetes is the extreme end-point of blood glucose dysregulation. There are many check points along the way to indicate problems before medical intervention may be needed. Look out for these signs:
- Afternoon sleepiness requiring a sugar or coffee pick-me-up. While a slight drop in afternoon energy is normal, you shouldn’t be feeling your eyelids getting irresistibly heavy on a predictable basis.
- Waking in the middle of the night and feeling wide awake. If your evening meal isn’t able to supply your body with enough energy to sleep through the night, that’s a real problem.
- Getting “hangry”. No, getting super irritable and shaky between meals isn’t normal, nor should it be considered a personality quirk. It’s a sign that insulin levels were pushed so high in an attempt to lower blood glucose levels that a glucose crash quickly followed.
- Frequent snacking through the day to maintain energy levels. We should all be able to go 4-6 hours between meals while maintaining consistent energy, mood, and productivity.
If you feel a few of these signs of blood glucose dysregulation daily or weekly, the time to act is now. It is never too late to improve your health, your quality of life, and your risk of disease and dysfunction. The following steps can help you get off the blood glucose roller coaster, reduce your risks without medication or even decrease the medications you may already be taking.
- Talk to you doctor about getting a fasting blood glucose test. Your fasted blood glucose levels should be below 90 mg/dL and your hbA1c should be under 5.3%.
- Alternatively, you can pick up a blood glucose monitoring kit at any drug store and test yourself throughout the day. Sticking your finger several times per day is an unpleasant experience, but provides you with valuable – and potentially lifesaving – information. If your blood glucose levels are regularly close to or above 140 mg/dL two hours after eating, it’s time for some immediate problem solving.
- Eliminate processed carbs and sugars. Replace them with lots of non-starchy vegetables, wholesome animal products, nuts, seeds and unrefined fats. It is even a good idea to reduce or eliminate fruits until your signs of blood glucose dysregulation are relieved. This can be done on your own, but there are programs to help. The 21-Day Sugar Detox is a coached program I offer that provides nutrition education, meal plans and recipes, along with accountability and motivation for a successful transition to a whole-foods based diet.
- Ensure you are getting enough chromium. Chromium is an essential micromineral that enhances the effects of insulin in the body. Once found in topsoil, American soils have mostly been depleted of their chromium content, leading to deficiencies in foods. Brewer’s yeast is the best source, with beef, liver and whole wheat coming up next.
- Supplement with B vitamins and vitamin C. Processed foods provide carbohydrates, but not the B vitamins and vitamin C required to turn the carbs to energy. These foods end up depleting the body of those vitamins, leading to deficiencies. Reducing processed foods and increasing vitamin-rich whole foods is the best method for correcting these deficiencies.
To ensure your health for life, it is essential that your blood sugar levels stay at, or even somewhat below, normal ranges. Even slightly elevated numbers can indicate risk for future problems.
Kresser, C. (2010.) When Your Normal Blood Sugar Isn’t Normal Part 2. https://chriskresser.com/when-your-“normal”-blood-sugar-isn’t-normal-part-2/
Weatherby, D. (2004.) Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Bear Mountain Publishing, Jacksonville.
Haas, E. M. (2006.) Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Celestial Arts, Berkeley.