Your blood sugar levels.
And specifically, keeping them balanced.
It’s common to think that managing your blood sugar is only relevant if you’re a diabetic.
What’s actually true: if you’re a human being - let alone one struggling with weight gain / loss, brain fog, acne, mood swings, energy dips, poor sleep, sluggish thyroid / adrenal / liver / gut, infertility, achy joints, any hormone disruption or chronic disease - blood sugar more than matters, it’s likely a root cause of your “pain points”. 😬
From the vantage point of your female endocrine system - which produces + uses hormones to communicate / function, its primary desire is to do everything in its power to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
That’s *actually* the most important thing it does - safeguard the transport of glucose to your brain, heart + muscle tissue (it’s not just about periods or pregnancy).
And if you mess with that - by eating foods that spike your blood sugar (versus balance it), you’re creating hormone dysfunction (communicated by your body via the symptoms above).
Before we dive into how to balance your blood sugar (some guidelines + hacks I teach my clients), first, let's talk about what blood sugar is, and specifically the hormone that matters when it comes to managing your blood sugar (aka insulin).
In your body, you have two "queen" hormones - cortisol (your main stress hormone) and insulin (your blood sugar hormone). They are the queens because they're your life + death / survival hormones. And when it comes down to it, your biology always prioritizes survival over all other functions.
Insulin is released by the pancreas each time you eat or drink, and its job is to deliver glucose (the energy from carbohydrates) or fructose (sugar from fruit or sweet things) into cells. How much insulin is needed depends on the food you’ve eaten (whether it's super starchy, loaded with sugar, processed or a whole food, fibrous or a protein).
The higher blood sugar spike you incur (based on the food you're eating), the higher your body's insulin response will be. Consistently high outputs of insulin over time builds insulin resistance (a precursor to + indicator of diabetes).
And FYI, when insulin goes up, so does cortisol; and when they’re both consistently up, inflammation rises too.
When you wake up in the morning, your fasting glucose is ideally between 70-80 iU/mL. At 100 iU/mL fasting, you're considered pre-diabetic and diabetic at 130 iU/mL. When you eat, ideally your blood sugar rises no higher than max 30 iU/mL, but ideally stay within 20-25 (so, for example, if you're fasting is 70 iU/mL, than your meals raises your blood sugar no higher than 100 iU/mL).
When too much glucose (or fructose) floods the body, you experience a blood sugar spike. Consistent glucose spikes are detrimental to both your short- and long-term health.
Here's one main way: when you have a glucose spike (by having say cereal + milk for breakfast), your mitochondria (the powerhouse responsible for turning glucose into energy), produce free radicals that increase oxidative stress (aka a driver of cognitive decline, most chronic diseases, hormone dysfunction and aging).
In addition, spikes can also either speed up or slow down glycation - the natural process of molecules deteriorating in the body (which is why we age + eventually die). Once a molecule is glycated, it’s damaged forever. So while glycation is natural, your blood sugar levels + insulin response will determine whether or not you're accelerating the deterioration and aging of your body.
Free radicals, oxidative stress + glycation = a state of increased inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is the root of all chronic + autoimmune diseases, and also a driver + indicator of hormone dysfunction and overall whole-being health. So the goal for achieving whole-being health is always to keep inflammation down (in all ways within our control, of which there are many!), while reducing stress and blood sugar levels.
Unfortunately, since most of us didn't grow up with an understanding of blood sugar, or even what it feels like to have balanced blood sugar, we usually have no idea whether we are currently experiencing consistent blood sugar spikes or not.
But the truth is, you likely are! Did you know that 9/10 (yes 90%) of all Americans have metabolic dysfunction? And do you wanna know one of the main indicators of metabolic dysfunction? Dysregulated blood sugar / insulin resistance.
So why does this even matter, really? Like why would you want to balance your blood sugar (if you're still not convinced). Well, consistently mismanaged blood sugar has some serious short- and long-term impacts, including:
Short-term: constant hunger, cravings, chronic fatigue, poor sleep, colds + coronavirus complications, gestational + type 1 diabetes is harder to manage, hot flashes + night sweats, migraines, mood swings (including increased anxiety) along with memory + cognitive function issues.
Long-term: accelerated aging, arthritis, alzheimer's + dementia, cancer risk, depressive episodes, gut issues, heart disease, infertility + PCOS (but endometriosis and fibroids too), insulin resistance + type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, along with wrinkles + cataracts.
If you're concerned, know that I've been there too. And it's actually one of the simplest things to turn around, if you have the right tools (see tips below)!
One big drivers of higher blood sugar + insulin levels is poor sleep. I went through nearly three years of disrupted sleep with Felix and when I wore a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to measure my daily blood sugar levels, I was astonished (Did you know that even one night of poor sleep can increase your next day glucose levels by 25%? And continued sleep disruption can have increases as high as 40%!). In other words - prioritizing sleep is another important factor for keeping your blood sugar balanced - but more on that topic another day!
So how do you balance your blood sugar?
First, adjust your meal composition to look like this:
50-60% fiber (aka vegetables, primarily cruciferous + greens)
1-2 Tbsp. healthy fats
15-25% starches (“carbohydrates” + root vegetables // you need less during the Spring + Summer of your menstrual cycle and more during Fall + Winter)
Second, utilize these amazing blood sugar hacks I learned from Jessie Inchauspe and be sure to check out her book Glucose Revolution:
Eat your food in this order: fiber first (this includes a green starter, along with vegetables), then protein, last starches (rice, oats, pasta, potatoes, root vegetables, etc.) + sugars (including fruit +/or dessert).
Drink 1 Tbsp. of vinegar in water (with a straw) before a meal, or put it in greens + starches.
Get active after a meal: a 10 min walk within 60 min of eating will do, or try the 4 Minute Workout!
Eat a savory versus sweet breakfast (this is one of the most important things you can do) and yes, you definitely *need* to eat breakfast within an hour of waking for women in their reproductive years and perimenopause!
Balancing your blood sugar is the number one, most important thing we need to prioritize if you're seeking to feel your best, create vibrant health + balanced hormones. And remember, since hormones are responsible for all major systems in the body - including metabolism, immunity, gut health, fertility, cognitive function and your stress response - it's 100% worth understanding and taking action on what makes your hormones happy!
Which hacks are you going to try first (tell me in the comments)?
I personally love the eating order one best and build all our meals off of the meal composition guideline, and have been sharing that with my kids too (because PSA: what's good for you, in this case, is also good for / crucial for your kiddos too)!
Note: if you're interested in tracking your personal blood sugar, I recommend trying out a continuous glucose monitor! They're such a great tool to figure out what foods impact your period glucose levels the most, while also being able to make small tweaks to the meals you're eating to make them more balanced. If you get one, be sure to set the parameters to the ideal setting - between 70-80 iU/mL for fasting and no higher than 110 iU/mL for meals.