It has been a busy day at work. You’ve been in-and-out of meetings, busily ticking off the to-do list, and working on getting that email count to zero (is that even a thing?). With no time for lunch you chug back a coffee and muffin - but come 3pm you find you hit a wall and your energy sags. You’re on a one-way ticket aboard a blood sugar rollercoaster!
The foods we eat play a huge role in influencing how we feel and perform at work and home. Our bodies are like cars - if we don’t provide them with the fuel they’re not going to run properly.
Skipping meals and exercise can cause our blood sugar levels to decline, with our internal physiology prompting our appetite to then increase. However, managing blood sugar levels also swings in the other direction - the quality and quantity of some foods can cause our blood sugars to spike and drop, with our energy levels mimicking being on a rollercoaster.
Today we chat all things blood sugars and how to find that right ‘balance’!
What are blood sugar levels?
Blood sugar levels are the concentration of glucose/sugars in our blood at any given time. While there is a relatively narrow range this sits within, it’ll constantly fluctuate and buffer depending on what we’re eating and how much energy we’re expending.
Some foods will affect our blood sugars more than others, causing a rapid spike in the amount of glucose enters our bloodstream. However, our body can only handle so much glucose in the bloodstream at any given time before it has to be removed by a nifty hormone called insulin - and what goes up must come down. This can led to a ‘crash’ in energy levels, contributing to feelings of fatigue, hunger, crankiness and sugary food cravings.
Therefore, an underestimated key to health is managing and limiting these peaks and troughs, leading to improved moods, concentration and energy levels.
Tips for managing blood sugars with food
Make the time to fuel your body correctly, and this will give you the energy to last an entire day! Here are our tips:
1. Take into consideration the glycaemic index (GI) of your foods
Out of the three macrontueiats (carbs, protein and fat), carbohydrate foods directly affect our blood sugar levels. When we eat carbohydrates they’re broken down and release glucose/sugars into our bloodstream. The measure of how quickly they release this is known as the glycaemic index.
Carbohydrate foods deemed high glycaemic release glucose very quickly into the blood stream, giving us a quick burst of energy– much like petrol on a flame. These are known as simple sugars and include foods such as processed sweets, watermelon and white bread.
Foods that are known as low glycaemic release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, giving us a sustained release of energy – much like slow-burning logs on a fire. These are known as complex sugars and include foods like grainy bread or oats, or as a rule of thumb, many foods high in fibre. Low GI foods are slow to be digested and so are great for weight management and keeping us full between meals.
It is important to keep in mind that GI is not a sole measure of the health of a food - you can get both healthy and unhealthy high and low GI foods, packed full of nutrient (e.g. watermelon is a fab and nutritious high GI food!). However, it can be good to keep in mind balance and portion size - aiming to eat low GI foods at main meals, in portion with other foods, will help will supplying us a slow steady source of energy, from one meal to another.
To summarise, when in doubt - go for a fibre-rich food! Fibre will slow down the digestion of carbs and absorption of sugar - leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels.
2. Always include a protein source with each meal.
Protein (and fat for that matter) doesn’t have an effect on our blood sugar levels in the way that carbohydrates do. They can actually soften the effect of GI as they take longest to be digested, and so slow the other foods they’re paired with as they move through our gut. Given this, protein makes for a very satiating nutrient in food, helping to keep us full for longer between meals.
To put this into practice - aim to include protein-rich foods at each meal. At lunch this could be shredded chicken, tinned fish or chickpeas; or for snacks, cheese, nuts or yoghurt.
3. Don’t skip meals
When we skip meals, we’re skipping fuel and energy - this can caused a dip in our blood sugar. Here we’ll struggle to be on our game mentally and physically, and we’re also more likely to make poor food choices and crave sugary treats to pick our energy back up! To help keep your blood sugar levels relatively stable make sure to eat regularly throughout the day, and include a mid-morning or afternoon snack if this works well for you.
This blog was prepared especially for our friends at Westpac NZ, who we’re excited to be assisting with their workplace wellbeing this year. It’s thrilling to see a company go the extra mile for their staff!