According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American consumes about 17 teaspoons (68 grams) of added sugars daily. (1)
This is more than double the recommended limit of no more than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugars per day for women and no more than nine teaspoons (36 grams) for men, as advised by the American Heart Association. (2) These are just the sugars added to food and drinks during processing, cooking, or at the table and do not include the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables. When considering natural sugars, that number jumps to a whopping 126 grams–over half a cup! The resulting increase in blood glucose levels leads to detrimental health outcomes for a large portion of the population.
The Rise Of Insulin Resistance
Elevated blood sugar levels have many harmful effects on our health and predispose us to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, pancreatic cancer, and type 2 diabetes. In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than 88 million adults have prediabetes or diabetes. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the prevalence of insulin resistance among adults in the United States was approximately 35%.(3)
When blood glucose levels rise, insulin is released by the pancreas to signal cells to take up glucose and use it for energy. Metabolic flexibility allows cells to use glucose efficiently during times of high blood sugar. However, if blood glucose levels remain high for prolonged periods, the body can become resistant to the effects of insulin, leading to a condition known as insulin resistance.
Flexibility is Key
Insulin resistance can lead to a host of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. One way to prevent or manage insulin resistance is to promote metabolic flexibility. Metabolic flexibility refers to the ability of the body to switch between different fuel sources to meet its energy demands. This is an important process that allows the body to adapt to changes in the availability of nutrients, such as during fasting or exercise.
One of the main fuel sources for the body is glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates in the diet. However, when glucose levels are low, the body can also use ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver. In fact, during periods of fasting or low carbohydrate intake, the body will shift towards using ketones as its primary fuel source.
Having metabolic flexibility is important for several reasons. Firstly, it allows the body to maintain stable blood sugar levels by switching to ketones when glucose is scarce. This is particularly important for individuals with insulin resistance, as it reduces the demand on the pancreas to produce insulin, and can improve insulin sensitivity over time.
In addition, metabolic flexibility is important for weight management. When the body is able to switch to using ketones for energy, it can tap into stored body fat, which can help with weight loss. Research suggests that those with greater metabolic flexibility are less likely to develop obesity and related metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes. (4) The great news is that there are several ways to promote metabolic flexibility, insulin sensitivity, and regulate blood sugar. The first step is to find out where you stand.
Learn Your Levels–Blood Glucose Monitoring
While blood glucose monitoring is an essential tool for those who have been diagnosed with diabetes, it can also be beneficial for individuals before they are diagnosed with the disease. Why wait until you have a serious issue to know how your body is responding to circulating glucose?
There are several methods for monitoring blood glucose levels, including self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG), continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), and HbA1C testing. SMBG involves using a glucose meter to check blood glucose levels several times per day, typically before and after meals. CGM involves wearing a device that continuously monitors glucose levels throughout the day. HbA1C testing measures the average blood glucose levels over the past two to three months.
HbA1C, also known as glycated hemoglobin, is a type of hemoglobin protein found in red blood cells that is used to monitor blood sugar levels. The HbA1C test is a valuable tool for monitoring long-term blood sugar control and is used to help manage and diagnose diabetes. When blood sugar levels are high, glucose molecules can attach themselves to the hemoglobin protein, forming HbA1C. The amount of HbA1C in the blood reflects the average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months, which is the lifespan of red blood cells.
The HbA1C test is a simple blood test that measures the percentage of HbA1C in the blood. The test is usually done in a doctor’s office or laboratory and requires no special preparation. The results of the test are typically reported as a percentage, with a higher percentage indicating higher average blood sugar levels. The HbA1C test is useful because it provides a more accurate picture of blood sugar control than other tests, such as fasting blood sugar or random blood sugar tests, which only measure blood sugar levels at a single point in time. While the HbA1C test is primarily used to monitor blood sugar control in people with diabetes, it can also provide valuable information for people without the disease. In fact, the HbA1C test is often used as a screening tool to identify people at risk of developing diabetes.
In people without diabetes, a normal HbA1C level is typically between 4% and 5.6%. However, some studies have suggested that even modestly elevated HbA1C levels within the normal range can be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems. One study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology in 2014 found that people with HbA1C levels at the upper end of the normal range (between 5.5% and 5.9%) had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease than those with lower levels. (5)
While the exact mechanisms behind these associations are not fully understood, it is thought that even small fluctuations in blood sugar levels can contribute to chronic inflammation and other processes that can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems.
Self-Monitoring Blood Glucose
SMBG, or self-monitoring of blood glucose, is a process that is primarily used by people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels. However, there are some situations where people without diabetes may benefit from monitoring their blood glucose levels. SMBG involves using a glucose meter to measure the concentration of glucose in a drop of blood obtained through a fingerstick or other testing site.
One example is for people who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These individuals may have higher than normal blood glucose levels, a condition known as prediabetes, which puts them at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. Another example is for people who are following a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. These diets involve restricting carbohydrate intake to promote ketosis, a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for fuel instead of glucose. Monitoring blood glucose levels can help these individuals determine if their diet is effectively promoting ketosis and preventing spikes in blood glucose levels.
Continuous Glucose Monitoring
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology allows you to track your blood glucose levels in real time. CGMs have become an increasingly popular tool because they provide valuable information about fluctuating blood sugar levels throughout the day and how your body responds to various inputs from certain foods, activities, fasting, etc. CGMs use a small sensor inserted into the skin and continuously measure glucose levels in the interstitial fluid (the fluid surrounding the cells in the body). The sensor is usually attached to a small transmitter that sends the data wirelessly to a receiver or a smartphone app, where the user can see their glucose levels in real-time.
I recently used a CGM on myself for one month to learn more about how my body responds to different foods, activities, and stressors and the impact on my blood sugar levels. As I am always searching for ways to understand the body better and gain valuable insight into areas to optimize health, I found it to be a very informative experience that I highly recommend, and look forward to trying again in the future. It was really quite fun to test different variables and see my body’s response. There are several different factors you can try, but here are a few things I tested this time around:
- Eating only protein: I noticed that my blood sugar levels remained relatively stable when I ate only protein, with only a slight increase in levels after the meal.
- Eating only fat: Similar to when I ate only protein, my blood sugar levels remained stable, with only a slight increase after the meal.
- Eating only carbs: This was the most challenging test, as my blood sugar levels spiked significantly after the meal, even with complex carbs.
- Ordering macros on my plate with fibre first: I found that when I prioritized fibre-rich foods like vegetables, my blood sugar levels remained stable after the meal.
- Sauna: Surprisingly, my blood sugar levels actually increased slightly after a sauna session, which may have been due to slight dehydration from excess sweating, causing a temporary decrease in blood volume, which in turn increases blood glucose levels. Heat stress can also cause an increase in adrenaline and cortisol which stimulates the liver to produce more glucose.
- Cold shower: I didn’t notice any significant changes in my blood sugar levels after a cold shower.
- Exercise – strength training vs. HIIT vs. zone 2: I found that strength training and zone 2 cardio had minimal impact on my blood sugar levels.
- Black coffee alone: I didn’t notice any significant changes in my blood sugar levels after drinking black coffee.
- Coffee with MCT oil: When I added MCT oil to my coffee, my blood sugar levels remained stable.
- Intermittent fasting: I noticed that my blood sugar levels remained relatively stable during a 16-hour fast but would spike if I broke the fast with a high-carb meal.
- Stressful events: I found that my blood sugar levels slightly significantly during stressful events, which may be due to the release of norepinephrine and stress hormones like cortisol.
- Meditation session: Interestingly, my blood sugar levels decreased slightly during a meditation session, which may be due to the relaxation response reducing stress hormones.
- Breathwork session: Similar to meditation, my blood sugar levels decreased slightly during a breathwork session.
- Nocturnal drop in blood sugar: I experienced a slight drop in my blood sugar levels during the night, which is a normal physiological response.
- Alcohol: I noticed that alcohol caused a moderate spike in my blood sugar levels, likely due to the sugar content.
- Berberine before alcohol: When I took Berberine, a supplement that helps regulate blood sugar, before drinking alcohol, I noticed a smaller spike in my blood sugar levels.
- Berberine before a high-carb meal: Similarly, taking berberine before a high-carb meal helped prevent a significant spike in my blood sugar levels.
Please note that these were MY personal results and that a wide range of factors can contribute to variances in blood sugar levels from person to person. I plan to do another month-long monitoring, as there are other variables I would like to experiment with–testing different food combinations, low-intensity vs high-intensity exercise, exercise duration and the effects of cold plunges. I strongly advise preparing a list of things you want to test ahead of time so you are organized and keeping a log to track your numbers so you have all your data organized in one place.
Overall, using the monitor was a fascinating experience that helped me understand how my body responds to different foods, activities, and stressors, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to optimize their health.
While there is an out-of-pocket expense to CGM monitoring (in the $300 range), I genuinely believe they are a solid investment in your health and can give great insight and feedback to help prevent potentially serious health issues associated with blood sugar imbalances from occurring down the road. After all, knowledge is power–especially where our health is concerned.
Blood Sugar Balancing Tips
Increase Fibre Intake: Consuming fibre-rich foods can help regulate blood sugar levels, slow down glucose absorption, and support detoxification. Aim to eat at least 30 grams of fibre per day from non-starchy vegetables, avocados, berries, nuts, and seeds, especially chia seeds and flaxseeds.
Chromium-Rich Foods: Chromium is a nutrient that plays a role in normal carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Foods that are high in chromium can help improve the glucose tolerance factor in the body and naturally balance out blood glucose levels. Chromium also plays a role in insulin pathways, helping bring glucose into our cells to be used for energy. Broccoli is the highest source of chromium, but you can also find it in raw cheese, green beans, and grass-fed beef.
Lessen Glycemic Load: The glycemic index of a food indicates its potential to raise blood glucose levels. High-glycemic foods are converted into sugar more quickly than low-glycemic foods. Aim to consume low glycemic foods such as non-starchy vegetables, berries, nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, organic meat, and eggs.
Magnesium-Rich Foods: Magnesium can help regulate blood sugar levels by playing a role in glucose metabolism. Magnesium deficiency is commonly associated with diabetes. Consuming magnesium-rich foods such as spinach, pumpkin seeds, almonds, yogurt, chard, and black beans can improve insulin sensitivity.
Clean Protein: Consuming protein has minimal effects on blood glucose levels and can slow down sugar absorption. Wild-caught fish, which contains omega-3 fats that reduce inflammation, grass-fed beef, organic chicken, lentils, eggs, and bone broth are some of the best clean protein sources.
Healthy Fats: Medium-chain fatty acids can help balance blood sugar levels and serve as the preferred fuel source for the body instead of sugar. Including coconut milk, ghee, wild-caught fish, MCT oil and grass-fed butter in your meals can also help balance blood sugar levels.
While it’s important to focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle habits for blood sugar regulation, there are also some supplements that may be helpful in supporting balanced blood sugar levels. Here are a few to consider:
Berberine: Berberine is a plant compound that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. In recent years, it has gained attention for its potential to help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Studies have suggested that berberine may be as effective as some prescription medications for controlling blood sugar levels. (6) In addition to its blood sugar-lowering effects, berberine is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties.
Chromium GTF: Chromium is a trace mineral that is essential for human health, and it is involved in several important bodily functions. One of its most well-known roles is its involvement in insulin regulation and glucose metabolism. In other words, chromium helps the body to use insulin more efficiently, which can improve insulin sensitivity and keep blood sugar levels in check. Research has suggested that chromium supplementation may be particularly beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance. (7) Choose chromium GTF (glucose tolerance factor) as this formulation is thought to be a more biologically active form than chromium picolinate.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid: Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a potent antioxidant that can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It is also believed to have several health benefits, including the potential to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation, both of which can contribute to balanced blood sugar levels. Some research has suggested that ALA supplementation may be particularly helpful for people with diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that can occur in people with diabetes. (8)
Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral that is involved in a wide range of bodily functions, including the regulation of blood sugar levels and the maintenance of healthy bones and muscles. When it comes to blood sugar regulation, magnesium is particularly important because it helps the body to use insulin more effectively. Research has shown that magnesium supplementation may be beneficial for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition. (9)
Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a spice that is commonly used in cooking, and it also has a long history of use in traditional medicine. Recent research has suggested that cinnamon may have several health benefits, including the potential to improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels. Cinnamon contains compounds that can mimic the action of insulin in the body, which may help to improve the body’s ability to use glucose for energy. Studies have also suggested that cinnamon may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which could be beneficial for overall health.
As someone who understands the importance of taking control of my health, I encourage you to take action with your blood glucose regulation before any negative health issues arise. Remember, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and taking steps today can pave the way for a healthier and happier tomorrow. Monitoring your blood glucose levels can be a simple yet effective step toward preventing or managing insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and other related health conditions.
So, don’t wait for a wake-up call to implement changes. Start now, and watch yourself thrive!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Consumption of added sugars among U.S. adults, 2005-2010. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db122.pdf
- American Heart Association. (2021). Added sugars. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars
- Ford, E. S., Giles, W. H., & Dietz, W. H. (2002). Prevalence of the metabolic syndrome among US adults: Findings from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287(3), 356-359.
- Kelley, D. E., Goodpaster, B. H., & Storlien, L. (2002). Muscle triglyceride and insulin resistance. Annual Review of Nutrition, 22, 325-346.
- Parr, E. B., Guthrie, J., Robertson, T., & Heilbronn, L. K. (2014). The association between HbA1c and cardiovascular disease and potential effects of glycemic interventions: Clinical considerations. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 2(10), 799-809.
- Zhang, Y., Li, X., Zou, D., Liu, W., Yang, J., Zhu, N., & Huo, L. (2010). Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96(10), 2882-2890.
- Wang H, Kruszewski A, Brautigan DL. Cellular chromium enhances activation of insulin receptor kinase. Biochemistry. 2005 Jul 5;44(26):9365-75. doi: 10.1021/bi047524c. PMID: 15966723.
- Ziegler, D., Ametov, A., Barinov, A., Dyck, P. J., Gurieva, I., Low, P. A., … & Samigullin, R. (2006). Oral treatment with alpha-lipoic acid improves symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy: The SYDNEY 2 trial. Diabetes Care, 29(11), 2365-2370.
- Verma, H., Garg, R. (2020). Magnesium and diabetes: A review. Current Nutrition Reports, 9(3), 202-210.