Keeping your blood sugar levels balanced can make you feel less hangry and more satisfied.
Having balanced blood sugar levels is important in the context of diseases like diabetes. But it also matters on a day-to-day basis: If you feel "hangry" often or tend to crash after meals, those could be signs that your blood sugar is all over the place. By making sure your blood sugar isn't too high or too low, you can feel your best and keep up steady energy throughout the day. Ideally, when you eat you should feel steady energy for several hours and won't get hangry easily.
"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. "When your blood sugar is balanced you find you think less about food and more about all the things that you can do." Here's how to get there.
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 eat foods that contain sugar or 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.
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.
Besides feeling hangry, Shapiro says there are other signs that your blood sugar is low, 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.
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.
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 of blood glucose monitors require 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."