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Glucose, Insulin & the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster

27 Feb 2023


Riding the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster

It’s 10.30am on a typical work day and you’re already struggling to focus, grabbing coffee and a snack is normal for you.

It’s 12noon and you are already STARVING…you grab a meal deal and then settle in to a post-lunch slump.

It’s 3pm and you flagging at your desk. Why does the afternoon go so slooowly? Definitely in need a mid-afternoon pick-me up. Maybe a chocolate bar, or one of those neon doughnuts your co-worker kindly brought in?

If you struggle with energy slumps in the morning and/or afternoon, if going more than 2 to 3 hours without food makes you ‘hangry’ (hungry + angry!), or leaves you feeling weak / shaky/ tired then there is every chance that you are taking a ride on the blood sugar rollercoaster (BSR).

You might have heard the term ’blood sugar balance’ and wondered what it even means, possibly assuming that blood sugar issues relate only to those with diabetes. So if we’re not diabetic, why would balancing blood sugar be important for us?


Glucose, Blood Sugar and Insulin

At any one time there is approximately 1 teaspoon of sugar (glucose) healthily circulating in our bloodstream. This level rises in response to the foods we eat. Specifically the amount of sugar and starchy carbohydrates we consume. Sugar laden foods include sweets, chocolate cakes, fizzy drinks and also some tropical fruits such as banana and mango. Starchy carbohydrates (carbs) are quickly digested and breakdown into sugar (glucose) in the body. These starchy foods include bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereals and anything containing flour.  

Following a meal or snack high in sugar and/or starchy foods our blood sugar spikes and in response our pancreas quickly releases the hormone insulin. The prime focus of insulin is to act fast to bring blood sugar back down to a safe, healthy level. This is critical because lots of sugar circulating in the blood over time ‘gums up the works’ and stops processes and organs in the body working correctly (ever spilt a can of fizzy pop over your computer keyboard?…yep, gunky!)

The steep rise in blood sugar after eating high sugar / starch food, followed by the fast drop of blood sugar in response to a hit of insulin is what creates the BSR. And once you’re on it, it’s hard to get off, you end up riding that roller-coaster all day long, with every sugar high followed by a crash which is directly reflected in your up and down energy levels. Those mid-afternoon slumps? Yep they’re a sign you’re riding the BSR.


Symptoms of the BSR

Why does this matter? Well, if you’re riding the BSR you’re likely go through periods every day when you feel like cr*p. You might be aware of this negatively affecting your concentration and performance at work. Maybe you have to fight the need to snooze in the afternoon, grabbing coffee and sugar to prop you up. You’ll also likely be more hungry, more likely to snack, crave high sugar/ starch snacks and overeat at meals. Maybe it’s affecting your healthy weight goals or side-tracking your fitness goals because you’re too tired to do a workout. It could also be negatively affecting your sleep at night. Maybe you feel less sociable because, well, you’re just so tired all the time, or have nothing to wear because the waistbands on all your jeans are too tight.


Change - How to get off the BSR

The first step to getting off the BSR is acknowledging that you’re on it! The second step is to change your breakfast!

Now, here’s where lots of people say to me ‘I don’t eat breakfast’ – newsflash – you do, we all do. If you eat, then you eat breakfast. Breakfast means to break your fast i.e. it is the first food of your day. Now that might be 6am or 12noon but regardless of when that first food is consumed - that’s your breakfast.


Protein at Breakfast

Having a source of protein at breakfast along with a small amount of healthy fat is going to balance your blood sugar. This is because protein and healthy fat together have a minimal effect of blood sugar and cause only a moderate insulin response from the pancreas.

The more gentle the rise in blood sugar the more gentle the fall – no more spikes and crashes, so instead of experiencing the Nemesis ride at Alton Towers you’re relaxing on the Caterpillar ride at Lightwater Valley!

Aiming for about a palm-sized portion of protein at breakfast is a good place to start for most people.

Good protein-containing foods to consider are a combination of eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds and protein powders.

Options that can be made the night before are great for time saving when you want to hit the snooze button for some extra valuable minutes in bed, or squeeze in an early workout.

A great place to start is with a simple bowl of Greek yoghurt topped with chopped fruit, raw nuts and seeds, or my chia coconut pudding topped with a small handful of berries. Boost the protein in your bowl with a scoop of protein powder.

Protein smoothies made with your choice of protein powder are a quick option if you’re short of time. I particularly like Purition powders in either whey or plant options.

Try these quick and tasty breakfast egg muffins, or delicious Blueberry Apple Mug Muffins, both can be made in batches and frozen until needed.

When you have a little more time, try the classic combo of eggs and smoked salmon, or a frittata.

As an added bonus, whole unprocessed foods such as eggs, salmon, dairy, nuts and seeds all also contain healthy fats (nature has done this clever bit for us) which, along with the protein, helps to fill you up for longer.


Quick Summary

You feel like cra*p with energy slumps and excess hunger though the day because you’re riding the BSR!

Balance blood sugar by starting the day with a breakfast featuring a palm-sized amount of protein + some healthy fat. This stabilises your energy, reduces tiredness, and helps control your hunger and cravings.

Prioritise whole, natural foods where possible. Protein powders are the only exception to this.

If you’re short of time in the mornings then get organised and prep food the night before.


Want to Chat?

If you're fed up with feeling like cr*p and want support and coaching to help you feel back to your best, my personalised nutrition programmes can help. Take the first step and contact me to book in for a free 30-minute online health review.

Rollercoaster Photo by Stephen Hateley on Unsplash

Protein at Breakfast

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