It’s the funniest thing.
Normally, the patients who come into my office are dealing with uncontrolled diabetes, or maybe their cholesterol is too high. Maybe their blood pressure is through the roof, and they begrudgingly march into my office because they fear a reprimand from their doctor more than they do the disease itself. I get my fair share of people who only want to lose weight. All of these things I’m pretty used to.
However, lately many patients who have come to see me are complaining of mysterious symptoms: anxiety, shakiness, sweating, and weak knees. One patient was in her 70’s and another was a 33 year-old athlete. Neither have diabetes. Both are otherwise fairly healthy. What do they have in common? Both are on the blood sugar rollercoaster. Can you imagine feeling panicked, hungry, weak – and just an hour or two after eating? Maybe you can, or maybe you don’t feel this extreme, but blood sugar swings happen to many of us, and sometimes without our understanding what is actually happening. We feel low energy after lunch in the afternoon, or we get a little shaky in the morning a few hours after we’ve eaten breakfast. You may even get short-tempered or cranky right before lunch, then go straight to the vending machine. The spikes and crashes we get from meals and snacks can make or break our day – once you’re on the rollercoaster, it can be tough to get off.
My nutrition prescription? Balanced eating with ‘slow burn’ carbohydrates. Sounds a little ho-hum, right? Actually, it’s pretty cool how we can change our energy, mood and metabolism with the right mix of protein, fat and carbohydrate. Not only is the mix important, but the quality is important too. So how do you get the right mix and avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster?
Protein, fat and carbohydrate are what we refer to as macronutrients. At every meal and snack, it is best to have a balanced mix of all three, giving you what your body needs and helping prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes. Carbohydrates should be around 40-50% of calories, fats 20-35% and protein 20-30%. Having all three slows digestion (thus giving a slow sugar release into the bloodstream) and eases cravings.
You can eat meals and snacks with roughly the right percentages, but still experience blood sugar imbalance if you ignore quality. Carbohydrates should be low glycemic or ‘slow burn’ and contain their natural plant fiber which slows digestion. A great example would be sprouted grain breads or steel-cut oats, or maybe a bowl of cooked quinoa. Some of the most common ‘fast burn’ carbohydrates are very processed (stripped of their fiber) including cane sugar, white flour and instant potatoes. These foods can spike blood sugar and then crash it soon after, leaving you sleepy, drained, and craving sugar. These continual spikes and crashes set us up for low energy and weight gain.
Healthy fats are also important to steady blood sugar. It is best to focus on monounsaturated fats naturally found in plant foods, such as avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil. These are anti-inflammatory, and luckily they taste awesome! I also emphasize high quality protein including protein from dairy, pastured meats and plant protein from beans and peas. One of my go-to suggestions is to add nut butters like almond or peanut butter to meals and snacks. Their high fat and protein content hits the sweet spot for satiety and, spread on whole grain toast or drizzled on oatmeal, gives sustained energy for hours.
When you have the right mix of protein, fat and carbohydrate and choose healthy food sources, you achieve complete nutrition. Your blood sugar rises and falls are small and slow, your moods improve, your energy increases, and your cravings diminish – meaning no more regrettable vending machine episodes!
Ideal Mix + Healthy Choices = Complete Nutrition
So what about my dear 70 year-old woman and my 33 year-old athlete? Both were eating in an unbalanced way, and were falling short on healthy fat, carbohydrate and protein, especially at breakfast and lunch. We worked on meal timing so both women were eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks spaced evenly throughout the day. And do you know what? It worked. By our second appointment together they happily reported sustained energy all morning and afternoon. Their symptoms of low blood sugar, which for both felt quite debilitating, were completely gone. Together we evened out their extreme highs and lows and turned their scary extreme coaster into a kiddie coaster.
These same principles about macronutrient balance and quality food choices are what compelled Zing’s founders to create a bar with complete nutrition… because it works!
Have you ever been on the blood sugar rollercoaster? What do you do to prevent it now?
Christine Weiss MS, RD is a dietitian and Bastyr University graduate who counsels people dealing with food allergies, diabetes and digestive issues. She loves working with Zing Bars to raise awareness about healthy living through online media. She can be found at Eating It Up online.