We have all been there: come mid-morning, our energy levels crash and we make a run to the nearest vending machine. Or maybe the crash hits in the middle of the afternoon. No matter when it hits, that I’m-going-to-fall-asleep-right-here feeling is mostly the result of plummeting blood sugar…which is usually preceded by sky-high blood sugar. That roller coaster ride isn’t fun—who wants to run out of energy when there’s so much to do?—and if you keep riding the coaster for long periods of time, you’ll increase your chances of winding up with diabetes, weight gain, inflammation (better known as “aches and pains”), hormonal imbalances, and even fertility issues. The good news? It’s easy to keep your blood sugar on an even keel: no big ups, no big downs. You’ll feel better and you’ll fend off future health problems.
The best way to prevent blood sugar levels from dipping is to prevent them from spiking in the first place. The best way to avoid spiking is to avoid the main culprit that causes blood sugar to rise: sugar. White sugar, highly refined grains, and even fruit juice and natural sweeteners are metabolized almost instantly by the body, which is to say the energy contained in those types of food is immediately converted to available blood sugar. So much sugar at once overwhelms our body’s mechanisms—instead of making use of that energy in a healthy way, we experience elevated insulin levels (which eventually leads to diabetes) and increased energy being stored as body fat (that’s where weight gain comes in) as our bodies struggle to deal with the onslaught.
The good news? Avoiding sugar and refined starches is easy! Here are some quick ways to get off that roller coaster ride.
- Swap out refined grains for whole grains. That means ditch white rice in favor of brown, black, red, or purple rice. Opt for 100% whole-wheat products—read the list of ingredients to make sure that “enriched” wheat is not listed, and if it is, put that product back on the shelf. (By law, “enriched” means that most of the nutrients in the wheat have been stripped away.) Better yet look for sprouted, sourdough and naturally leavened breads. Look for products made with heirloom wheat varieties like kamut, spelt, and farro since those are less likely to be refined. Einkorn is also a great alternative grain that many people can tolerate well. And when you’re looking for corn tortillas or cornmeal, look for “stone-ground” on the label—that’s more likely to be whole-grain.
- Choose non-sugary snacks: nut butter instead of fruit roll-ups, good-quality meats and cheeses instead of puffed rice cakes or chips. Ingredients that are protein- and fat-forward don’t spike blood sugar the way carb-forward ingredients do.
- Opt for whole-milk dairy products—low-fat and no-fat dairy products contain much higher levels of sugar than their whole-milk counterparts. Case in point: a cup of low-fat strawberry yogurt contains 33 grams of sugar, while a cup of whole-milk plain Greek yogurt contains 9 grams (and much higher amounts of protein and calcium). Just stir in fresh fruit of your choice to make fruity yogurt. Then you’ll also get loads of fiber from the fresh fruit.
- Eat a non-sugary breakfast. The standard American breakfast is based on sugary elements like orange juice, white toast, jam, and/or cereal that is often 40% sugar by weight. Donuts are not a good breakfast option! Switch to a European-style breakfast and enjoy eggs, meats, hearty multi-grain breads, and whole-milk yogurt with fresh fruit and unsweetened homemade granola.
- Skip sugary drinks! Soda, fruit juice, vitamin waters, and sports drinks contain very high amounts of sugar. Opt for sparkling or still water—with a slice of lemon if you like—or unsweetened tea. Try adding a splash of vanilla or hazelnut extract to your beverages to create your own flavors! Sparkling water + an orange wedge + vanilla extract = homemade orange soda.
- Use whole-grain flours when baking desserts, and try sweetening desserts with fresh fruit and/or natural sweeteners like maple syrup and raw honey. As you consume less sugar, your taste buds will change, and you’ll be able to reduce the sweetness level of your desserts and enjoy them even more.
- Remember – not skipping meals and eating healthy fats and proteins with every meal or snack is a must to keep your blood sugar stable!