When it comes to blood sugar levels throughout the day, even undulations is the ideal pattern. Yet, for many people their blood sugar picture across the day resembles a rollercoaster. Not only can this have a significant impact on how we look and feel each day, but it can also have a flow on effect on our health, setting us up for metabolic disease and other chronic health conditions.
Troublingly, many people don’t realise they have issues with their blood sugar until they are diagnosed with impaired glucose tolerance, or as pre-diabetic (type 2), or with type 2 diabetes by their GP. Like anything, the sooner you catch something the easier it is to improve or correct. So, if you identify with any of the following tell-tale blood sugar issue signs, I can’t encourage you enough to take steps towards stabilising them for your health now and into the future.
1. There’s an urgency to your hunger
If you get shaky, lightheaded, dizzy or hangry in the lead up to mealtimes, it can be a sign that your blood sugar levels have crashed. You may experience this if you drink coffee on an empty (or relatively empty) stomach too.
2. You keep craving sugar
Can’t shake those sugar cravings? When our blood sugar crashes, our body looks for a quick source of energy to boost it back up. Our body has two sources of fuel – glucose (aka sugar) and fat and guess which is faster to act? Glucose. So if despite your best efforts you can’t help but reach for that muffin to get you through the afternoon, it can be a sign that your body is hunting down quick energy.
3. You experience anxious feelings or irritability, that eating relieves
Snapping at loved ones or feel as though your moods are as variable as the tides? Blood sugar levels have a significant impact on mood, including low mood and anxious feelings. While there are many other things behind mood challenges, if you identify with other points here, blood sugar issues may be contributing.
4. You have brain fog or concentration challenges
Your brain requires significant amounts of energy and it primarily uses glucose as its fuel. So when your blood sugar levels are out of whack, your brain’s ability to function optimally can become compromised and you may experience brain fog, memory loss and forgetfulness. You may also have trouble concentrating.
5. You experience cycle or menopausal challenges
When your blood sugar elevates, your body has to produce insulin to deal with the spike. In the right amount, this is healthy, in excess it can lead to insulin resistance (constantly elevated blood insulin levels). Insulin resistance disrupts the actions of other important hormones including your sex hormones, and compromising the delicate balance of these tiny substances can have a significant impact. This means that poorly regulated blood sugar and elevated insulin can be behind symptoms associated with your monthly cycle or menopause or make them worse.
6. You can’t shift body fat
There are nine factors that influence whether the body gets the message to burn body fat as a fuel or store it and insulin/blood sugar regulation is one of them. You may be noticing that your clothes are fitting differently or perhaps you’re trying to decrease body fat and it just won’t seem to budge.
7. Your energy crashes or you often wonder where it went
When your blood sugar levels peak and dip, your energy levels usually do the same. A typical crash time is mid-afternoon, yet after living this way consistently, it can lead to energy that flatlines all across the day. You may also experience a desperate need for caffeine to ‘wake up’ in the morning and/or to keep you going throughout the day.
8. You’re wired yet tired come bedtime
All that caffeine and sugar can impact on your body’s ability to sleep restoratively. Despite a bone-deep fatigue, you may feel too wired to fall asleep or might drift in and out of consciousness without properly dropping off. And you consistently wake up tired.
9. Your sleep is disturbed
There’s a corresponding relationship between sugar and your sleep – both affect each other. When you don’t get sufficient sleep, you tend to crave sugar (or carbohydrates) to boost your energy. Plus, hormones like ghrelin that help to regulate appetite, are disrupted with too little sleep. Blood sugar issues can also affect the quality of your sleep – and not just because you may be leaning on more caffeine. If your blood sugar levels are all over the place, you may find yourself waking up starving and not being able to get back to sleep. You may also wake up feeling exhausted, even if you have had a full night of sleep.
To address blood sugar issues, one of the first steps is to consider how you nourish yourself. Focus on eating mostly whole real foods, make water your main drink and minimise ultra-processed foods. While it can help to focus on eating regularly (e.g. three satiating meals per day), simply eating more regular meals isn’t going to address the underlying blood sugar issues if food choice quality is poor. That said, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, your energy needs will be much higher, and you will most likely need to eat more frequently. Either way, try eating protein with each meal and include a source of whole food fat such as avocado, coconut, nuts or oily fish as well. Obtain your carbohydrates from real food – root vegetables for example – rather than refined packaged ‘foods’, avoid eating carbohydrate-rich foods on their own, and keep caffeine intake to a minimum. See what makes a difference to your blood glucose patterns.