Improving Your Metabolic Health: Optimizing Your Blood Sugar

Improving Your Metabolic Health: Optimizing Your Blood Sugar

Metabolism refers to the chemical processes that change food into energy and maintain good health. One of the key parts of healthy metabolism is a normal blood sugar (glucose) level. This applies to everyone, not only those with prediabetes or diabetes. You'll want to do what you can to optimize your blood sugar - to keep it at a healthy, stable level.

Measuring Metabolic Health

How does your doctor know whether or not you have healthy metabolism? They consider several factors, including your blood sugar, waist size, blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Blood sugar (glucose) level and hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c), the average blood glucose level over three months. Healthy values are:

*Note: Fasting refers to not eating or drinking during a certain period of time

Waist size (circumference)

Blood pressure (BP) - systolic BP, the upper number, and diastolic BP, the lower number. For example, in a BP reading of 120/80, 120 is the systolic BP, and 80 is the diastolic BP. Healthy values are:

*Note: BP can also be too low

HDL cholesterol often called “good cholesterol.” A healthy value is:

Triglycerides, one of the fats (lipids) in the blood. A healthy value is:

A combination of unhealthy values (which may be too high or too low) means you have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke, and heart disease.

Do you know your blood sugar level or your hemoglobin A1C? Knowing your numbers and what’s normal is one part of "good metabolic health." But, how can you achieve it overall?  How can you decrease your risk of metabolic syndrome? You can make consistent, well-informed decisions about your diet, gut (gastrointestinal) health, stress level, sleep, and exercise.

For now, we’ll focus on your blood sugar.

Your Blood Sugar: What Can You Do?

How does your diet impact your blood sugar? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my body digest and absorb nutrients from the food I eat without unhealthy “spikes" (a rapid rise and fall) in blood sugar?

  • Does my body release enough insulin when I have carbohydrates? 

  • Does my diet have a limited amount of unhealthy, inflammatory foods (e.g. refined carbohydrates, fried foods, sugary drinks, red and processed meats, and unhealthy fats)?

Here are some answers...

Timing of Food Intake

When you eat matters. Aim to eat earlier in the day, especially carbohydrates. Research shows that keeping blood sugar levels stable in the morning can provide higher energy levels throughout the day. See the following healthy breakfast choices.

Breakfast:

  • Ideas to include: Omelet with smoked salmon; Avocado with boiled eggs; Unsweetened plain Greek yogurt with unsweetened granola; Cottage cheese with berries and raw nuts; Berries, apples, kiwi, and oranges; Chia pudding (to make: combine 1 cup (240 mL) almond milk, 2 Tbsp (20 mL) chia seeds, and 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract. Top with berries or raw nuts and a dash of cinnamon); Tofu scramble (to make: sauté tofu with onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach. Season with herbs and spices); Smoothie (to make: blend unsweetened protein powder, nuts/nut butters, berries, leafy greens, etc.)

  • Items to avoid: Potatoes; Bread, bagels, and flour tortillas; Sweetened yogurt; Pancakes and waffles; Donuts and pastries; Sweetened cereal and granola; Juice; Instant oatmeal (Note: if you want oatmeal, choose steel-cut oats instead of instant. Pair it with almonds/walnuts, unsweetened nut butter, and chia or flax seeds).

Your body metabolizes food more efficiently during the day than at night. Eating food in the evening causes an exaggerated increase in both insulin and blood sugar. Not only does this impact your metabolic health, but also your sleep.

You can also talk with your coach about ways you can "time" your food intake. For example, you may want to discuss intermittent fasting (when you eat only during certain blocks of time and then fast during others). 

For example, a good starting point is the 16/8 model. You fast for 16 hours and then eat for 8 hours (during that day). You can decide on your eating window - it may be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or noon to 8 p.m. It’s best to leave at least a few hours from when you end your eating window and go to sleep. And, it doesn’t mean you can eat anything! You still have to choose healthy foods.

Added Sugars

A healthy diet includes staying away from added sugars. This includes most packaged snacks, frozen meals, cereals, soda or soft drinks, and condiments (e.g. ketchup, jelly, and jam).

The difference with naturally-occurring sugars (e.g. fresh fruit) is that those foods also have nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, and unprocessed fiber.

Fat, Protein, and Fiber

Certain foods can help you manage your blood sugar.

Having healthy fat, protein, and fiber with carbohydrates helps prevent blood sugar spikes. Beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetables are good choices to have with carbohydrates.

For example, you might have raw nuts or cottage cheese with a serving of fruit. Or unsweetened/no oil-added peanut butter with oatmeal and chia seeds. Or avocado and quinoa salad.

When you are in the mood for dessert, fresh whole fruit is the most nutritious option.  Even though the sugar is natural, it still can cause blood sugar spikes. So, have the fruit with some type of fat, protein, or fiber.

For example, have yogurt, cheese, raw nuts, unsweetened nut butters, chia seeds, flax seeds, olives, avocado, or unsweetened protein powder with your fruit. Watch out for high-sugar fruits like bananas, grapes, mangoes, and pineapple.

Here are some foods that are unlikely to cause blood sugar spikes:

  • Chia seeds, Chickpeas, Kidney beans, Lentils, White beans, Chicken, Eggs, Fish, Tofu

  • Avocado, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Garlic, Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, lettuce, collard greens, kale, Swiss chard), Mushrooms, Olives, Onion, Peppers, Zucchini, Blackberries, Blueberries

  • Apple cider vinegar

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Eat more prebiotic and probiotic foods. They help to control blood sugar levels. They also support “gut health,”  the health of your gastrointestinal tract.

  • Foods with prebiotics: Artichokes, Blueberries, Cabbage, Cocoa, Flaxseed, Garlic, Leeks, Onions

  • Foods with probiotics: Apple cider vinegar, Cottage cheese, Kefir (fermented milk), Kimchi (fermented vegetables), Kombucha (fermented tea - watch for added sugars), Miso (fermented soybeans), Pickles (made with salt, not vinegar), Sauerkraut, Tofu

A Word About Vinegar and Blood Sugar

There is some evidence that vinegar in the diet (white, apple cider, balsamic, rice, etc.) can help regulate blood sugar. It may also increase the feeling of fullness (satiety). You might add more vinegar to your diet. For example, start a meal with salad and a vinegar-based dressing or drizzle vinegar over steamed or roasted vegetables.

The Takeaways

A key to healthy eating is preparing simple meals with whole food ingredients (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, meat, fish, and whole grains). They are unlikely to cause blood sugar spikes or high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.  

What you include in your diet has a significant impact on a healthy metabolism. Keep in mind that metabolic health is based on long-term eating patterns. The body can adjust to occasional high-carbohydrate meals. However, a regular high-carbohydrate diet overwhelms the body and increases the risk of metabolic disease.