If you tend to get irritable as your stomach starts to growl, or if you feel energized after a meal but then crash quickly within a few hours, yourcould be out of balance. Though people often think of blood sugar solely in the context of diabetes or pregnancy, it's important for everyone to pay attention to. Avoiding high blood sugar and low blood sugar can help you feel your best and keep up steady energy throughout the day.
"Balancing your blood sugar helps to keep your energy even, keeps you more focused, balances out your hormones, prevents excessive hunger, helps with weight loss and overall maintains optimal health and wellbeing," says Amy Shapiro, a registered dietician and founder of Real Nutrition NYC.
Your blood sugar could be all over the place if you feel hungry all the time, even if you are eating frequently. Ideally, when you eat you feel steady energy for several hours and don't get "hangry" easily. "When your blood sugar is balanced you find you think less about food and more about all the things that you can do," says Shapiro.
The basics of balancing blood sugar
The goal with blood sugar is to keep your levels as steady as possible throughout the day. If you eat something that is made up of carbohydrates or sugar, then your blood sugar will rise.
"Our blood sugar rises when we eator foods that break down into sugar, basically anything that contains carbohydrates (bread, grains, fruit, veggies, dairy, etc.)," says Shapiro. Raising your blood sugar isn't bad in itself, but you want to avoid spiking your sugar too high, as it can make you feel bad and lead to a "crash" later on.
"Once our blood sugar rises the hormone insulin is released to help our cells take up the sugar from our blood into the cells themselves to use/store for energy," Shapiro explains. Insulin is one way your body keeps sugar in check, but other activities affect your blood sugar too, including exercise and how much you move or walk around.
Key nutrients for blood sugar balance: Protein, fat, fiber
Just because carbohydrates and sugar spike your blood sugar doesn't mean you have to avoid them all the time. The best way to balance out your blood sugar is to pair your higher-carb foods and sugar with protein, healthy fats and ideally fiber. When you pair carbohydrates with protein or fat, the rate that the sugar or carbs are absorbed is slowed, making it easier on your blood sugar, according to Shapiro. When you look at your plate, the goal is to balance the ratio of carbs with healthy protein and fat so you know that your blood sugar won't spike too high, which can result in a crash or dramatic dip later.
Signs that your blood sugar is not stable
Besides feeling hangry, Shapiro says there are other signs that your, often as a result of spiking it too high previously. "If you eat a large load of sugar or carbs solo (soda, candy, bagel), you may feel energized for a bit but in an hour or so you might find yourself sweating, tired, shaky, confused. These are signs of low blood sugar, a quick drop in energy that leaves your body weak," explains Shapiro.
People may joke about "hanger," but the feeling is very real, according to Shapiro. When your blood sugar is low, "You may also find you feel agitated, and hungry, which makes you feel angry or grumpy too."
At the end of the day, you shouldn't feel extremes in either direction. If you're eating balanced meals, you should feel good most of the time and when you get hungry, it should happen slowly rather than being a dramatic feeling all at once, according to Shapiro.
Can certain foods lower blood sugar?
When it comes to lowering blood sugar that's already high, eating more food won't lower it, but here are a few tips to keep in mind. "Foods can't lower blood sugar once it is high, but you can exercise to help lower blood sugar," says Shapiro. This is why you might have heard it's a good idea to take a walk after meals, since walking is one way to help lower your blood sugar.
How to check blood sugar at home
If you aren't sure whether your blood sugar is high or in the normal range, one thing you can do is test your sugar. This is especially helpful if you're concerned about diabetes or prediabetes, but anyone can benefit from monitoring their sugar.
"There are easy ways to do this, and that will show you what your blood sugar responds to and how much of certain foods you can eat without disrupting your blood sugar. It is a great self-research experiment," says Shapiro. Some types ofrequire a prescription, but many are OTC and anyone can purchase one.
If you're not quite ready for a monitor, you can still check in with yourself and take notes throughout the day of how certain foods and activities make you feel. "Otherwise you can monitor how you feel, your energy, how often you get hungry," says Shapiro. "These are great measures of blood sugar levels."
More for your health
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.