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Blood sugar 101: How sweet is your life, right now this second?

We’re talking about your blood sugar. Because that’s part of your feeling of daily wellbeing too.

Do you know what your blood sugar level is at this very moment? Probably not, but we figure that’s why you’re here, you’re curious to know. Here’s something else you might not know: sugar has strong addictive properties that make it hard for you to turn down. We are all facing the same challenge. Our bodies and brains naturally get a dopamine high from sugar that, so it’s no surprise that we keep coming back for more. (1,2,3)

But that’s also where sugar’s true potential for damage is hidden –and how it can actually make life not so sweet after all. Sugar is hidden in many of the foods we eat every day under more than 250 different names that you may not even notice on the ingredients list. (1,4,5) Your body’s blood sugar can spike from the foods you eat or the beverages you drink. Chronic exposure to too much sugar can have a real adverse affect on your health.

Spikes? Ouch. No thanks.

Your blood sugar levels are dynamic and constantly changing, which is completely natural. But like any other measurement in the body, such as heart rate or blood pressure, there’s an ideal range for blood glucose levels that support optimal health. A general range of 70–100 mg/dL is what most healthy individuals should look for. (6,7)

Your personal basal metabolic rate, body composition, genetics and activity level can all create a slightly higher or lower variation in your optimal range. Similarly, the time of day, whether you’ve eaten, how much you’ve slept, and whether you’ve exercised can all affect your glucose levels as well. (8,9) With all these variables in play, the name of the game is trying to keep your glucose levels nice and steady, without large fluctuations or spikes.

There are a few common culprits of blood sugar spikes:

Carbohydrates. Specifically, refined carbohydrates with low fiber are the big one. Refined carbohydrates get broken down into glucose very quickly since they do not have much fiber, which makes levels in the blood jump.


Fruits. Of course fresh fruits are healthy, but even they contain a type of sugar called fructose that raises blood sugar, so moderation is key. Fresh fruits are always a better choice than juices, jellies, or jams, where the glucose hits the blood faster.


Fatty foods. Low quality fats in particular are damaging to your health. These may include highly processed oils and friend foods. Fats can sometimes combine with carbs to give your blood sugar a double whammy. The carbs lift it straight away, and the fats then affect your sugar levels again a few hours later.


Juice, soda, electrolyte drinks, and sugary drinks –including those hidden in coffee. Anything with added sugar will of course affect your blood glucose even more, so check those nutrition labels.


Alcohol. Blood sugar can go up after having a drink, and especially so if you mix your alcohol with juice or soda.


Inactivity. Sitting still and being sedentary can make your blood sugar remain higher, it’s as simple as that. However, daily physical activity and exercise are some of the best ways to help keep your body insulin sensitive, which is a surefire strategy to maintaining steady glucose levels..


To avoid huge swings in blood glucose levels inside your body, keeping an eye on the foods and drinks you consume can really help keep things steady.


Keep it real to keep it ideal.

The starting point to stable blood sugar is to eat as much real food as possible –and by that, we mean food in its most natural form or as close as you can get. (1) When food is in its original form (or close to it), the body gets to digest it and break it down in the way that it was intended. Processed foods dramatically change this process, often resulting in modified food products that are damaging to your health. (1)


Blood glucose represents sugar that is circulating in your vessels that’s not currently being utilized for fuel. Some bodies are better than others at shuttling that glucose from the blood into the cells, which is the ideal goal. (10) Insulin resistant people don’t use blood glucose well and have trouble putting it into their cells, which results in higher levels. (11) Insulin sensitive people use glucose very efficiently and garner energy from it quite readily by sending it into their cells. Keeping a stable blood sugar confers multiple additional benefits too; scientific studies currently demonstrate several. (7,10,12)

Many sweet improvements? Now you’re talking.

With better glucose control, you may be less susceptible to weight gain and obesity since you’ll be eating healthier foods. (12) Your energy and focus may be better –when there are fewer fluctuations (rapid increases and decreases) in your glucose levels, your mood and energy will be more stable. As the brain uses more glucose in challenging tasks, steadier glucose levels can lead to improved brain function, learning and memory performance. (13,14) And last, but by no means least, stable blood glucose levels help massively with the prevention of pre-diabetes and diabetes. (15,11,16)

We’ll explore the relationship between elevated blood sugar and damage to metabolic health in more depth in our next blog post. But for now, we hope you feel it’s pretty sweet that keeping an eye on your glucose levels can make you feel like a better human all around. Surely an ideal worth aiming for.

References:

1. Fuhrman J. The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;12(5):375-381. doi:10.1177/1559827618766483

2. Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32(1):20-39. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019

3. Vos MB, Kaar JL, Welsh JA, et al. Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017;135(19). doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000439

4. Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1680. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394

5. Lustig RH, Schmidt LA, Brindis CD. The toxic truth about sugar. Nature. 2012;482(7383):27-29. doi:10.1038/482027a

6. Mazze RS, Strock E, Wesley D, et al. Characterizing Glucose Exposure for Individuals with Normal Glucose Tolerance Using Continuous Glucose Monitoring and Ambulatory Glucose Profile Analysis. Diabetes Technol Ther. 2008;10(3):149-159. doi:10.1089/dia.2007.0293

7. Brynes AE, Adamson J, Dornhorst A, Frost GS. The beneficial effect of a diet with low glycaemic index on 24 h glucose profiles in healthy young people as assessed by continuous glucose monitoring. Br J Nutr. 2005;93(2):179-182. doi:10.1079/BJN20041318

8. Derouich M, Boutayeb A. The effect of physical exercise on the dynamics of glucose and insulin. J Biomech. 2002;35(7):911-917. doi:10.1016/S0021-9290(02)00055-6

9. Takahashi M, Ozaki M, Kang M-I, et al. Effects of Meal Timing on Postprandial Glucose Metabolism and Blood Metabolites in Healthy Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1763. doi:10.3390/nu10111763

10. Hall H, Perelman D, Breschi A, et al. Glucotypes reveal new patterns of glucose dysregulation. PLOS Biol. 2018;16(7):e2005143. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2005143

11. DeFronzo RA, Tripathy D. Skeletal Muscle Insulin Resistance Is the Primary Defect in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(Suppl 2):S157-S163. doi:10.2337/dc09-S302

12. Barzegar N, Ramezankhani A, Tohidi M, Azizi F, Hadaegh F. Long-Term Glucose Variability and Incident Cardiovascular Diseases and All-Cause Mortality Events in Subjects with and without Diabetes: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2021;0(0). doi:10.1016/j.diabres.2021.108942

13. Liu X, Li X, Xia B, et al. High-fiber diet mitigates maternal obesity-induced cognitive and social dysfunction in the offspring via gut-brain axis. Cell Metab. 2021;33(5):923-938.e6. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2021.02.002

14. Zhang S, Lachance BB, Mattson MP, Jia X. Glucose metabolic crosstalk and regulation in brain function and diseases. Prog Neurobiol. Published online June 10, 2021:102089. doi:10.1016/j.pneurobio.2021.102089

15. CDC. Obesity is a Common, Serious, and Costly Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 29, 2020. Accessed August 26, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

16. Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH. The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. PLOS ONE. 2013;8(2):e57873. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057873

Further reading