How many carbs should I be eating and what about protein? These are common questions that I see come up again and again. Of course if we were to look to Canada’s Food Guide, we could find some pretty interesting recommendations, but in my opinion this is not ideal. Today’s post is all about foods to lower blood sugar and how to structure your plate with protein, good fats, veggies and carbs. Although simple in nature, there are definitely foods that can lower your blood sugar and ones that cause it to spike.
Much of the reason that I structure my plate in this way is that it works to keep our blood sugar levels balanced.
But why is blood sugar balancing so important?
If you regularly experience any of the following symptoms (I used to) then this could be an indication that your blood sugar is imbalanced.
- Hanger: not eating by a certain time, or extreme hunger combined with anger if you go without food for even just a couple of hours.
- Irritability: anxious and irritable if your schedule gets thrown off and you aren’t able to eat. Anxious that you wont be able to have a snack on hand to get through the afternoon.
- Food cravings: constant food cravings for items that leave you fixated on getting that food, especially sweets.
- Shakiness: if you feel shaky or get light headed if you haven’t eaten regularly.
- Fat storage: especially around the abdomen area
- Drowsiness during the day: feeling like you are going to pass out after your lunch.
- Difficulty losing weight: especially around the abdomen area
If left untreated, this can cause serious issues related to your brain health, heart health, inflammation and even lead to becoming a diabetic.
We want to live long and healthy lives, right? If so, then it is imperative (yes, imperative!!!) to get a hold on your blood sugar levels and balance them out.
How does blood sugar work?
Whenever you eat sugars and simple carbohydrates (refined carbs), these foods release glucose into your bloodstream very quickly, which spikes your blood sugar. Refined sugar and flour, as well as other foods with a high glycemic index, rev up the levels of insulin, which is a hormone that is released by our pancreas. The Glycemic index is a scale, that rates the speed at which a food increases blood sugar. Once released, insulin tries to facilitate the movement of sugar into cells for energy. However, when high glycemic index foods are consumed there is a hyper-insulin response and the cells become resistant to accepting any more sugar.
This excess sugar keeps blood sugar levels unnaturally high and insulin ends up storing this as fat, which leads to that abdominal fat, weight gain and issues with your cholesterol.
So you can see by this picture, it is essential for our health to keep our blood sugar as balanced as possible. This can be obtained through several diet and lifestyle factors which I will get into. Keep in mind that by following this way of eating, you can largely avoid those unpleasant symptoms I discussed above.
10 Tips to Balance Your Blood Sugar:
- Eat Three Well-Balanced Meals Per Day: It is very important to not skip meals nor to eat lots of snacks throughout the day as this will cause your blood sugar to go up and down. If you do need to snack in between your three meals, go for something that is higher in good fats and lower in carbs. When I refer to well-balanced meals, I mean this: ensure that most of your plate is filled with veggies (we want fibre from non-starchy carbs!), this should take up at least half the plate, if not more. Then choose a protein source (vegetarian or not) and that is about 1/2 of the rest of your plate. Then choose a healthy fat for the remaining 1/4 followed by some sort of carbohydrate.
– Fibre: greens- leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus, etc…
– Protein: organic chicken, wild caught fish, grass fed lamb/beef, organic eggs, turkey, tempeh, chickpeas, lentils or protein powder
– Good fats: avocado, coconut, extra virgin olive oil, nuts/seeds, ghee or grass fed butter
– Carbohydrates: sweet potato, regular potato, beets, carrots.
Try and limit your grains as your sole carbohydrate source to see how this makes you feel. Include whole grains (such as quinoa, amaranth, rice, etc) to a few times a week. By focusing on eating three nutrient dense meals a day rather than small meals throughout the day, this also helps to regulate our hunger hormones as well.
- Understand what the glycemic index is: Use this resource as a way to see what foods are considered higher glycemic and make adjustments as necessary.
- Avoid refined carbs and sugars: Refined sugars include things like: white sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose and dextrose. Refined carbs include: white pasta/bread, cereal, cookies, bagels, sweets and chips as these will spike your blood sugar. When you make an effort to avoid these things more, you will avoid the up and down roller coaster effect that this has on you, causing you to crave more and more sugar.
- Eat Fat with Every Meal: I mentioned in point 1 the importance of building your plate, but I want to emphasize the addition of having good fat with every meal. This will help satiate you so you aren’t constantly hungry and eating between meals, causing the up and down blood sugar roller coaster. You don’t need a ton, just ensure you have a source of fat with your meal. For example, include half an avocado, 1-2 tbsp. coconut oil (in your smoothie), a good handful of nuts/seeds or a good drizzle of ghee or extra virgin olive oil on your veggies.
- Reset your taste buds: It truly amazes me how much my own taste buds have changed since changing my diet years ago. I no longer want the piece of cake/doughnut/cookie or candy because I find it too sweet. Of course, I will still indulge here and there, but often times, I just don’t crave it or want it. I also make sure to make my own healthier desserts made with raw honey, real maple syrup or coconut sugar. Things like sweet potato, fruits and some other veggies (carrots and beets) are naturally sweet and I can get my sugar craving fixed with these if I need.
- Drink More Water: Sometimes when we think we are hungry and reach for another snack (resulting in an increase in our blood sugar) we are actually thirsty. By ensuring that you are drinking enough water and staying hydrated you may be surprised to see how full you can feel and you will be reaching less for snacks that spike your blood sugar.
- Use spices and bitters: I love to incorporate spices into my meals as often as I can and when I see fit. Spices such as cinnamon are naturally sweet and can help our sweet tooth into thinking it is having something sweet. Bitter foods can also help to balance your blood sugar and help offset that sweet tooth addiction. Bitters such as leafy greens , dandelion and arugula are great additions to your plate. Often times, this is the missing flavour in our meals (salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami).
- Get enough sleep: Sleep deprivation affects so many things, one of them is your blood sugar. When you don’t get enough sleep, this reduces your glucose tolerance, meaning your cells have a harder time taking up glucose which leads to higher blood sugar. And for anyone that has gotten less sleep than the ideal, you have probably experienced the serious hunger that goes along with that as your body is literally crying out for energy. Usually, you go for carb heavy and sugary meals as well, as sleep also affects your decision making skills.
- Move your body: Exercise actually reduces blood sugar by improving glucose metabolism. It helps the body usher sugar out of the bloodstream and into the tissues and muscles to be used as fuel. Plus by moving your body in some way daily, you will reap so many other benefits along the way.
- Track your blood sugar with a monitor: A glucose meter will actually tell you your glucose level and if you are interested in using this method, I recommend reading through this article by Chris Kesser to understand more.
There you have it, those are my top 10 tips to help you balance your blood sugar including what foods to eat to lower your blood sugar, so you don’t feel hangry throughout the day. Plus by balancing your blood sugar, you will see dramatic improvements in your health beyond just the shakes and hanger. This truly is a way to live and although I am not perfect nor is every single meal I make perfect, this is a great way to try and structure your plate on a regular basis.
Because I think that breakfast really is one of the most important meals of the day, I want you to start the day off right with a smoothie that will help balance your blood sugar. By starting our your day with this, you are setting yourself up for success. I have been drinking this in the mornings and they really do fill me up until lunch, whereas in the past, smoothies never had this effect on me. So check out my video and post all about creating the perfect smoothie.
Lunch time, I like to keep it really simple because I am either on-the-go and need something quick or I don’t have a lot of time to prepare something. This lunch option is great because it contains, protein (fish and hummus), veggies/fibre (kale) and fat (avocado + the dressing and pine nuts) and the greens (kale). As you can see with this option, the majority of my plate is filled with greens and fibre which I think is usually the most overlooked part of our plates.
For dinners, I either go all out and create something that takes some effort (usually weekends) or it is super simple (usually 30-45 minute meals). This is an example of a 30-45 minute meal, perfect for during the week and most of the cooking time is just the oven making the sweet potato fries. For the chicken breasts, this is what I do: coat the chicken breasts in your fave spices, I use an organic spice blend from Costco (it has a lot of herbs and spices) and then add sea salt. I get a pan nice and hot (over medium) add a drizzle of avocado oil and cook the chicken breasts about 5 minutes per side, then I remove and cut them in thicker slices to ensure they are cooked and cook if needed for a minute or two more. For the sweet potato fries, here is what I do: cut them in wedges, get the oven hot (preheat to 400), get a sheet and line with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Throw the wedges in a ziploc bag and coat with arrowroot or organic cornstarch powder (about 1/2 tbsp) then add in my favourite spices, I used oregano, cayenne and chili powder. Shake it up and ensure the potatoes are coated, add some sea salt and line them up on your pan with a drizzle of avocado oil. Make sure that they are spaced out enough so they aren’t touching, this will ensure they get crispy rather than soggy. Bake them for about 15 minutes, then flip and bake for 13-15 minutes more. I like to broil them for 2 minutes or so to get them brown. Sauté some greens, I used spinach and sautéed it in ghee and added a bit of lemon juice. That is it, dinner is served and I made sure to get some greens/fibre, protein and healthy fat (the dip for my fries). You can use the avocado-hemp dip for these fries if you want, it is really good!
Try out this method of eating and structuring your plate and let me know how this makes you feel. When I do follow this way of eating, I am not starving between meals or snacking constantly throughout the day, I am completely satisfied.