Given that our diets (even those of us who eat "healthy" diets) are generally heavy on carbs (including sugar) it should come as no shock that many of us suffer from hypoglycemia, yet don't necessarily associate symptoms with our diet. Below is a long list of symptoms common to low blood sugar:
fatigue, waking up tired, erratic mood swings, general fatigue, inability to focus attention, anxiety, weight gain, blurred vision, mental confusion, bizarre behavior, irritability, incoherent speech, hypersensitivity, negativity, anti-social, compulsive eating, cravings for sugar, dizziness, weakness in legs, sense of gloom, loss of sex drive, impotence, muscle pains, cramps, rapid heartbeat, fast pulse, sweating, insomnia, crying spells, low blood pressure, mental disturbances, loss of appetite, manic depressive, temper tantrums, headache, constant hunger, cool, wet or pale skin, trembling, dry or burning mouth, fluttering in chest
And believe it or not, there are more. Lets take a quick look at what is happening in our bodies when our blood sugar drops, and how. First and foremost, we need to understand how our bodies digest carbohydrates. Carbs include whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit (in their real form, and then there of of course refined carbs and sugars which we'll get to in a moment). Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth with salivary amylase which begins the process of breaking down the sugars in carbs to monosaccharides. Depending on the type of sugar being digested, they either are carried directly to the bloodstream (as is the case with glucose), or processed first by the liver (as is the case with fructose/fruit sugar). Once delivered to the bloodstream, our blood sugar (glucose) rises, and excess is stored as glycogen by the liver, to be used as extra stores to raise our blood sugar when we are not getting enough glucose.
When our blood glucose rises after eating, our pancreas produces insulin. This is the only hormone the body can make to lower blood sugar. Insulin is like a messenger/host...it escorts glucose to the cells so that it can be used for energy. Once the glucose is absorbed by the cells, our blood glucose levels decrease. If it falls too low, our pancreas secretes glucagon, which signals the liver to break down glycogen in a process called glycogenesis. This will ideally cause the blood sugar to normalize. Additionally, when our blood sugar falls too low, the body goes into a sort of state of emergency, signaling the adrenal glands to produce epinephrine (adrenaline), and cortisol. This is why we get shaky, sweaty, etc, and persistent low blood sugar is taxing on our adrenals (see previous post on adrenal health). When there are problems with this entire, complex process, we can end up with dysglycemia, or unregulated blood sugar (high/hyper or low/hypo, but because hypoglycemia is so common today, that is what I am focusing on).
Nutritionist Laura Knoff also suggests that both high and low blood sugar all boils down to nutrient disregulation, meaning we either are not getting enough nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients) in our diet, do not have adequate stores of these nutrients in our bodies, or cannot properly digest/assimilate the nutrients we are ingesting. The digestion factor could be stemming from a whole myriad of things, for example low stomach acid (HCL), leaky gut, food sensitivities/allergies, candida, and the list goes on. This, however, will have to wait for another blog. Now, I'd like to take a look at how eating refined foods reek havoc on our blood sugar, and which foods to focus on to stabilize it.
When we eat, the nutrients available in that food are not available to us immediately. And, digesting food requires essential vitamins and minerals, so when we eat we are borrowing nutrients from our bodies' stores. If the food we have eaten is of high quality (whole, nutrient dense), then those nutrient stores are paid back. However, if it is of poor quality (refined, processed), then there are no real nutrients to speak of, and we are just depleting our nutrient stores (if we have any to begin with) in order to digest that food. So, if we are eating refined carbohydrates (think: anything with white flour, sugar, non-whole grain breads, pasta, sweets, white rice, etc), the nutrients and fiber that is lacking will cause our blood glucose to spike rapidly (no fiber to slow them down). This consequentially requires our bodies to produce excess insulin (remember, the hormone that tries to lower blood sugar), the liver then tries to clear the excess, and what cannot be used for energy is stored as fat in our cells and the liver itself. This is where fatty liver comes from, as well as the frighteningly high levels of obesity in our country. Keep in mind, whole grains are much better as they are more slowly digested and assimilated by the body, but this same process still occurs, which is why we want a diet with a carbohydrate focus much more on vegetables rather than solely on whole grains and fruit (think moderation!)
Ok...are you overwhelmed and annoyed with too much information? Sorry! But as always, I want to educate you about why it is so important to eat a whole foods diet so you are more motivated to do so. So lets look at a diet that will support normal/healthy blood sugar levels. And remember, if you have had disregulated blood sugar for a long time, be patient...it may take your body awhile to readjust. Also it may be necessary to work with a holistic nutritionist to decide on a supplementation protocol.
What TO eat:
· Leafy Greens cooked and/or raw-unlimited
· Small Ocean Fish 3 oz serving 2/wk
· Organic Poultry 3 oz serving 2-3/wk
· Organic Beef/Lamb 3 oz serving 2-3/wk
· Fibrous Vegetables unlimited
· Starchy Vegetables limit to ½ cup cooked, 1 cup raw
· Sea Vegetables unlimited, at least 1 tsp/day
· Beans and Peas two ½ cup servings
· Nuts/Seeds 2 Tbsp (esp. ground flax seeds)
· Whole Grains Limit to ½ cup/serving
Fruit Limit to 1 medium piece or 1/2 Cup/serving
Please remember the importance of an organic diet as much as possible, especially when eating meat, which commercially is LOADED with scary toxins and hormones. Also, it is key understand meal planning/timing when eating for hypoglycemia. You want to balance blood sugar all day, which does not mean having a cup of coffee for breakfast and not eating until 1:00. I assure you your blood sugar will crash and you will eat crap. Breakfast is THE most important meal for this, it is essential to include at least 20 grams of quality protein+good fat+limited complex carbs. For example, try a scramble with 2 eggs, leafy green and cruciferous veggies, and 3 oz. of chicken or fish. Yum. Then have a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack that includes the same, protein, fat, limited complex carb, and lunch should be the same. If you are going to drink coffee, make sure its with food. AND...don't forget that exercise helps with glucose regulation too, so be as active as possible!!
As always, feel free to contact me with further questions. Hypoglycemia is sooooo common, and affects us in ways we do not even realize. But the good news is that it can be corrected with diet and lifestyle changes, and we can feel (naturally) good again. And thats always the goal!