Updated: Jul 9, 2022
Dana Eshelman, MS, RDN
What is blood sugar (aka glucose)? How does it affect our bodies? And, why does it matter?
Blood sugar, or glucose, rises and falls throughout the day in response to eating (increase) and being hungry (decrease). Insulin is a hormone secreted by an organ called the pancreas in response to a blood sugar increase. It helps the body turn blood sugar into energy for the body as well as store sugars in the form of glycogen into your muscles and liver for use when your body needs it. But, what happens when our cells stop responding to the increase of insulin in the body? This is called insulin resistance.
There are several factors that can contribute to insulin resistance, thus causing elevated blood sugar. Genetics, weight, age, physical activity, hormone issues, and health conditions are a few primary causes that can put someone at a higher risk of becoming insulin resistant. I bet you’re wondering what this means for your health. How does elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance affect you?
Uncontrolled blood sugar can cause high amounts of stress on the body and vital organs like our liver, kidneys, nerves, and heart. As a result, a person who has diabetes or uncontrolled blood sugar becomes more susceptible to developing issues like cardiovascular disease, kidney and nerve damage, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
It is so important that we learn how to manage our blood sugar levels and take control of our health, but how do we do that? For starters, we know we do not have control over our genetics, but we do have complete control over our lifestyle and nutrition choices. The good news is that lifestyle and nutrition play a huge role in blood sugar control. When we address how we are fueling our bodies, managing blood sugar becomes much easier, yay!
When we eat processed, high sugar and/or refined foods, sugar pours into the bloodstream at a much higher rate than when you have a complex carbohydrate or a meal with healthy fats and lean protein. This is especially important for an individual with diabetes to pay attention to, but applies to us all! Eating balanced meals that include protein, fat, fiber and complex carbohydrates will help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep our energy up. Adequate sleep, stress management and physical activity are additional key lifestyle components that are essential to address when it comes to managing blood sugar levels.
FUN FACT: your body is able to store ~2000 calories of glycogen in the muscle and liver cells. For my endurance athlete community- when these stores run out this is when you start to “hit the wall” or “bonk.”
With balanced blood sugar we are better equipped to make more nutritious food choices, we have better energy throughout the day, and improved recovery and performance! Blood sugar can be difficult to navigate and control. We all go through ups and downs. No one should ever feel deprived of food or feel guilty for having a delicious donut from time to time, but knowing how to incorporate our favorite foods creates balance. You’ve got this!