Do you slump in the midafternoon without your coffee or pass out in the evening shortly after eating sweet or starchy comfort food?
Chances are, you ARE listening to your body, and your body is telling you that you need caffeine or sugar to fight fatigue.
You may find this post helpful in getting started using your snacks to help balance your energy levels and achieving a more graceful flow to your day.
I’ve been there, maybe you’ve been there, lots of us have been there: Wake up — dragging. Coffee. Skip Breakfast. Maybe lunch. It is rushed. Maybe gassy, maybe under stress with poor digestion. Mid-afternoon. Suddenly tired and nauseously hungry. Grab more coffee, sugar, starch, or all three. Get irritable right about the time getting out of work. Get home. Need to make dinner. Eat more carbs while making dinner. Finally eat dinner. Feel full, but still craving carbs a few hours later. Eat snack. Sleep– well or unwell — and maybe wake up at 4 am having to pee, thirsty. Go back to sleep. Wake up — dragging.
As many people know, unstable blood sugar can be both an inconvenience — and, if it persists long enough, may lead to chronic disease. Today we will deal with replacing the sweet foods you eat with alternatives less likely to make matters worse. Next week — stay tuned! — we will talk about how to schedule your eating throughout a day to improve your blood sugar and energy control.
The closer to straight sugar a food is, the higher it spikes our blood sugar when we eat or drink that food. The first step to balancing your blood sugar, and subsequently, reducing the peaks and valleys of energy throughout the day, is not to spike your blood sugar very high to begin with. The strategies for doing this are the same as a person with diabetes or pre-diabetes would use.
Here are the first food steps to taking control of your blood sugar:
1. Avoid sugar in liquid. Liquid speeds the absorption of sugar. Stay hydrated.
Sugar in liquid raises your blood sugar higher and faster than any other food. Soda pop, fruit juice, sports drinks, sweet tea, sorbet, sweetened coffee drinks, and blended fruit powder drinks are in this category. Replace these with kombucha, kvass, or other lower-sugar fermented beverages, water or soda water infused with a few berries or citrus, floral and herbal teas that lend a hint of sweetness (such as hibiscus, chamomile, or mint), or good ‘ol filtered water. Caffeine is tricky because it raises your cortisol, a stress hormone that raises blood sugar, so having a lot of caffeine will cause spikes in blood sugar. This not only drives some weight gain around your midsection, but it also creates cravings for sugar, starch, and more coffee. For some, though, the dopamine-boosting effect helps reduce consumption of higher-sugar liquids and foods, so reduce caffeine after reducing sugar. (For instance, don’t use sugar in your coffee, and avoid the macchiato.)
2. Consume sugar with Fiber. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar.
Fiber is found in plant foods — fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans and peas). Many people point to oatmeal as the perfect slow-release-starch. Think about it how sticky oatmeal is — that gooey, glue-like fiber is called soluble fiber, and it helps bind your stool together and digests slowly, so your blood sugar rises less intensely over a longer period of time, giving you more stable energy with less crash later. Other foods high in soluble fiber that release sugar slowly include brown rice, apples, bananas, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and beets. Some foods are lower in sugar and still high in soluble fiber, including brussel sprouts and avocadoes. There is also roughage fiber, or insoluble fiber. This type of fiber makes us slow down and chew more and helps eliminate stool. Like soluble fiber, it is not able to be burned for calories, so it fills up the stomach with food that we don’t gain weight from, displacing the calories from sugar and fat in our diets while making it easier to be satisfied. This article discusses both types of fiber and their roles as we understand it so far in preventing diabetes, the ultimate blood sugar challenge.
Swap out your juice for fruit, your fruit juice for a fruit smoothie, swap out the cookies for nuts and seeds or at least add oatmeal and nuts to your cookies. Replace fruit snacks with raisins. When you do choose milled flour products, choose whole grain options. To take it to the next level, start to replace noodles, pastas, crackers, and biscuits with vegetables — cabbage, leafy greens, sliced carrots/radishes/cucumbers, and roasted root vegetables, for example. But start simple and you may very well amaze yourself
3. Eat Protein with Every Meal or Snack.
For those who are more lower-bowel-sensitive, consume fruit alone to avoid gas and bloating.
For the rest of us, follow this rule at all times.
Protein can raise your insulin (increasing muscle building) without increasing your blood sugar (less high blood sugar spikes → less low blood sugar pits that cause fatigue and cravings) and, unlike carbohydrate, it can be used to build the muscles and maintain the body if it is not used for energy. The individual building blocks of protein, amino acids, can turn into either sugar or fat as needed to provide balanced energy to your body. Imagine if you could break down your car door to power your car — protein is powerful stuff!
For snacks, try pairing fruits or vegetables with nuts, seeds, nut butters, yogurt, granola, cheese, canned fish and shellfish, goat cheese, or sipping a homemade smoothie blended with nuts, seeds, nut butters, dairy, or protein powders. A balanced snack MUST contain protein, ideally contains some fiber, and may contain varying amount of carbohydrate.
You also make every neurotransmitter — chemicals that communicate in your body and brain like serotonin and dopamine — from protein. High carbohydrate intake without sufficient protein makes it very difficult, after a long time, for your body to wake you up and cheer you up in response to the snacks and the coffee. You’ll therefore eat and drink more, leading to more of the same problems. Bolster yourself against anxiety and fatigue with regular protein intake.
To summarize, swap our your processed snacks for some produce and protein and feel the difference in your daytime stability. Reduce your caffeine intake as you start to feel less like you need the boost — and see how you feel! This is a great start — there is a lot more you can do from here — but without these fundamentals, sugar can take control of your life.
I hope you found this health update simple and useful. Timing and spacing of what you eat is the next important consideration. Stay tuned for next week!
What changes have you made to stabilize energy and cravings?