Balancing Blood Sugar: Guest Post

Thank you Amy for allowing me to guest post to your blog!  I am Dr. Laura Figoski, ND.

Dr. Laura Figoski

Dr. Laura Figoski

I am a primary care doctor with special training in a holistic approach using only natural therapies   to address medical concerns.  The focus of my practice is diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  I wanted  to you use this chance to share with you some of my knowledge on balancing your blood sugar, improving energy and preventing metabolic disease and diabetes

The Key Players:

  • Blood sugar: a measurement of the amount of sugar (specifically glucose) in your blood.  Blood sugar varies though out the day depending on what you eat and how active you are.  Normal fasting blood sugar is less than 100mg/dL. It is important for this value to not get      too high or too low, either extreme can cause symptoms.  Anything higher than 100 mg/dL      is considered “pre-diabetes.”  Anything lower than ~60mg is likely to produce hypoglycemic symptoms.  The body has many protective systems in place to protect you if your blood    sugar gets too low (cortisol, glycogen stores, gluconeogenesis etc…) But the body only has    two ways to decrease blood sugar if it gets too high.  One is exercise.  The other is insulin.
  • Insulin: Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas in response to increases in blood sugar.  Insulin signals the body’s cells to take sugar out of the blood stream.  Insulin is a signal to the body that energy is plentiful. Insulin tells the body to store this extra energy as fat and inhibits the break down fat stores.  Without insulin, we don’t gain weight.

So the key to balancing blood sugar, preventing metabolic disease and improving energy now becomes regulating blood sugar and insulin. Blood sugar response varies based on what sort of food is eaten.

If we consume sugars or carbohydrates, especially in a highly refined forms like white sugar or high fructose corn syrup, our blood sugar spikes quickly and drops quickly.  So not long after that sugary snack, we are left hungry, unsatisfied and craving more sugar.  Sugar is a fast energy source intended to hit the blood stream quick and be used up quickly.

Conversely, if we consume fats, the blood sugar response is quite slow to rise, has a much broader peak and ultimately takes longer time to return to baseline.  This means that it is taking the body more time to process the food and thus we stay satiated longer.  Fat is a long term energy source meant to be burned for sustained periods of time.  The response to proteins is somewhere between the two.

When blood sugars spike quickly, as they do with carbohydrates, the body then reacts by pumping out lots of insulin. This is what leads to a dramatic and quick drop in blood sugar. Often the quantity of insulin released overshoots the need, so blood sugar then falls to below than optimal levels.  This low blood sugar period can cause decreased energy, headaches and a myriad of other hypoglycemic symptoms.

The following strategies will help to keep your blood sugar more stable leading to strong energy throughout the day and will also prevent sugar cravings before they start:

  • Focus on eating healthy fats (avocado, coconut, organic butter, grass fed beef, salmon, olive oil etc…) to provide sustainable energy with out spiking blood sugar.
  • Additionally, incorporate protein and fiber with each meal or snack.
  • Don’t skip breakfast.  Make sure breakfast includes healthy fat, protein and fiber.
  • High sugar beverages including soda, juices and sports drinks are the worst at spiking blood sugar.  Avoid these at all costs.
  • Minimize starches, sugars and carbohydrates; especially highly refined forms like white flour, white sugar, white rice, and white potato.
  • Set yourself up for success by stocking your kitchen with vegetables, high quality fats and proteins and low sugar fruits (like dark skinned berries and green apples.)
  • Eat smaller more frequent meals throughout the day; making sure that each of them incorporates protein, fat and fiber.

By giving your body long burning healthy fats and fiber, instead of fast burning carbohydrates, your blood sugar will be more balanced throughout the day.  And you will be rewarded with sustained energy, fewer sugar cravings and prevention of metabolic disease.

Thank you to Dr. Figoski for being so darn awesome, articulate and for giving us some action items to start the process of improving our metabolic health and managing those blood sugar swings!



What Should You Eat? Go With Your Gut!
Toss in some salmon or beans...even heat it up if your digestion is on the fritz (like mine can be)

Toss in some salmon or beans…even heat it up if your digestion is on the fritz (like mine can be)

We get used to feeling crappy, being tired when we shouldn’t feel justifiably tired, and not digesting our food well. We get used to eating too much, and eating foods that are devoid of nutrients, which cause us to overeat because our bodies desperately want what it knows it needs: whole foods! We get used to indigestion, irregularity and health conditions – managing diabetes, heart disease and obesity isn’t the end all be all. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” –Michael Pollan. Eat food that you can grow out of the ground, pick off a tree, pull from a hive or culture from a plant or an animal.

Recently a client asked what the difference, nutritionally, was between an apple and Frosted Flakes. Some of you might think, gosh, what a silly question. On the contrary, it’s a very good question. In this day in age, we aren’t told clearly what the difference is. Especially when we aren’t educated around what food actually IS and what it is NOT. Food is so many weird things these days; it’s frozen, fried, manufactured, chemically processed, fortified, derived from, juiced, pureed, over-heated. All this is sort of ok, in moderation. The problem is it dominates our food landscape, and it is sold to us in ways that makes us think it is better than the stuff that naturally has fiber, protein, healthy fats, trace  mineral, phytonutrients, vitamins and main minerals that we need. When I asked my client the question back, they mentioned they thought they knew that an apple was better for them than Frosted Flakes but they didn’t know why. And I replied, without getting into nutritional science and chemistry (and without needing to), “Go with your gut! What do you think?” Why are you craving sugar? Because certain foods are created to do just that; hook us, hold us and, in the end, hurt us, when eaten in large quantities. I like to call it the Wheat Thin Factor: you can never have just one wheat thin. The sweat-salty flavor hooks our brain and triggers this pleasure point, much like addictive drugs. Some studies show that this dependence on sugar can be stronger than cocaine. And many of of us don’t realize that even the sugar free stuff isn’t…free. That taste is what gets you, not just the content.

Decadent, but whole foods based: cocoa powder, almond meal, hemp seeds, maple syrup (about 2 tablespoons), banana, egg yolks with goat butter cream frosting (only one tablespoon of coconut sugar in the frosting, plus almond extract)

Decadent, but whole foods based: cocoa powder, almond meal, hemp seeds, maple syrup (about 2 tablespoons), banana, egg yolks with goat butter cream frosting (only one tablespoon of coconut sugar in the frosting, plus almond extract)

Here are my top tips for living more healthfully and balancing the amount of carbs we eat:

  • Eat your largest meal early!  If you are going to eat oatmeal for breakfast, ensure you have some nuts, butter and/or an egg on the side. Or cut that muffin in half and pair with a healthy fat/protein. Better yet – have dinner for breakfast! That leftover chicken or lentil dish? Reheat it and eat it first thing!
  • Always match carbs eaten with a protein and a healthy fat (for example, an apple with nut butter or a few bites of chicken, oatmeal with some nuts and an egg on the side, salad with a healthy protein and half an avocado)
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes 5 times per week (and that 30 minutes can be made up of walking to the printer a bunch of times – just get your body moving!)
  • Drink water. It’s free, you can flavor it naturally (fresh fruit slices, cucumber or mint), and 8-10 glasses, if taking sips throughout the day, won’t make you feel like a camel who has to use the restroom every 10 minutes.
A nice turmeric coconut banan smoothie, beet smoothie or kombucha (home-brewed, less sugar than store bought)

A nice turmeric coconut banan smoothie, beet smoothie or kombucha (home-brewed, less sugar than store bought)

Go with your gut and believe me (and believe what history and every scientist and doctor out there are saying): the foods you see in the farmers’ markets, on the periphery of the grocery store aisles and the foods that are not splashed with brightly colored cartoonish claims of “fortified with” this and “enriched with” that are the foods that heal, nourish and sustain us and our health. At the end of the day, you have the choice, you have the power. And if you need a nudge or support to get started on that journey towards health? I am your girl.

Embrace your health.

A friends' kale salad with lots of yummy seeds, dried berries and bacon - a great flavor agent.

A friends’ kale salad with yummy seeds, cabbage, dried berries and bacon – a great flavor agent.