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September 21, 2022 — 9:01 AM
When you’re feeling low in energy, you can snack yourself out of a slump. If you’re feeling anxious or upset, you might turn to your favorite meal for comfort. When you’re feeling celebratory, you may want to treat yourself to something sweet.
Food plays so many roles in our lives, but it’s important to remember the various types of foods you put into your body impact your blood sugar levels in different ways and, ultimately, affect your metabolism and overall body composition in the short- and long-term.
Blood glucose, aka blood sugar, is sugar that exists in the bloodstream.
This monosaccharide is provided to our bodies via macronutrients (carbohydrates, specifically) in food and drinks that are broken down by the body, and serves as the human body’s main source of energy. While macronutrients like protein and fat are not sources of sugar, they do impact the ways our body absorbs sugars in the gut.
Blood glucose that isn’t being used gets stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, or as lipid in fat tissue when consumed in excess amounts. Any macronutrient consumed in excess ultimately can be stored as adipose (fat). When your body and brain need an energy boost, a hormone in your pancreas called glucagon signals your body to dip into your glycogen storage, converting the compound back to the simple and versatile sugar glucose and dispersing it into the bloodstream for use in cells and tissues throughout the body.
Blood sugar balance is the stabilization of blood glucose levels after a meal—i.e., levels that don’t spike too high and come down at a reasonable rate. On the other hand, an unhealthy blood sugar response might look like a rapid increase in blood glucose followed by a low dip.
“Blood sugar (or glycemic) balance and control are also concepts that extend into your day and the longer term. So it’s a real-time, meal-to-meal concept as well as a long game,” explains Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg’s vice president of scientific affairs.
How blood sugar impacts metabolism & weight.
Blood sugar is most commonly associated with a person’s energy levels (physical and/or mental), but what you may not realize is that blood sugar plays a role in numerous bodily functions—such as fueling muscle during physical activity and keeping your immune system strong. Blood sugar also impacts your metabolism and overall body composition, in which both high and low blood sugar levels can lead to unwanted weight gain.
See, the human body keeps a reserve of glucose stored in the liver and muscles to ensure it has the nutrients it needs to function properly. But, similar to how your phone can only hold so much data, these organs can only hold so much glucose. When more glucose is consumed than utilized, the excess gets stored in fat tissue and converted into fat, which can result in weight gain over time.
So where does metabolism fit into all this? Well, metabolism is the complex process in which your body converts the food you eat and the beverages you drink (primarily carbohydrates) into glucose, which later gets converted into ATP (i.e., cellular energy).
When there’s excess glucose in the bloodstream, the body prioritizes dealing with it (i.e., laying down more glycogen stores, and ultimately, adipose aka body fat stores) instead of burning it for fuel, mindbodygreen’s vice president of scientific affairs, Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains. Since your body is prioritizing energy conservation over burning calories, your metabolism slows down.
“Your body values nutrients. It’s like if someone offered me a $100 dollar bill; I’m going to take it and tuck it away. And if someone offers me five $100 dollar bills the next day, I’m going to take those and tuck them away too, and now my money purse is fatter. Same with our body and nutrient inputs,” Ferira says.
How a healthy (and active) metabolism supports blood sugar balance.
According to performance dietitian and co-founder of FWDfuel Sports Nutrition, Kylene Bogden, M.S., RDN, CSSD, IFNCP, a person is considered metabolically healthy if they “consume a balanced diet that is minimal in added sugar, stay active, and their body is able to properly digest, absorb, and utilize the food they consume.”
Unfortunately, according to a 2019 survey, only 12.2% of American adults are metabolically healthy. It’s a dismal statistic, but the good news is that assessing your metabolic health isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
Nutrition specialist and New York Times best-seller, JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN previously told mbg that someone with a fast metabolism will “easily maintain a healthy weight, burn fat, and experience sharper mental focus and sustained energy throughout the day.” Someone with a slow metabolism, however, might have trouble losing weight, feel gassy or bloated, or notice their hair becoming thinner, or their skin drying out. A common link: Fluctuating blood sugar levels.
According to integrative physician and holistic healer Bhaswati Bhattacharya, M.D., Ph.D., the effects blood sugar levels have on a person’s weight and metabolism depend on a few factors (e.g., the integrity of the gut lining and the gut microbiome).
Alternatively, when blood sugar levels are controlled, Bogden says the body should run “like a well-oiled machine.” Healthy blood sugar levels are reflective of an active metabolism, but a healthy metabolism is also indicative of well-balanced blood sugar levels.
How to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Having a general idea of what healthy blood sugar levels look like and comparing them to your personal blood glucose status can help you better understand your body and what might be causing any fluctuations you experience.
Healthy blood sugar levels for the general public range from approximately 72 mg/dL to 108 mg/dL.
You can find out your body’s glycemic control by requesting your doctor perform a hemoglobin A1C lab test (HbA1C), which is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar level over the course of three months. From there, you can review where specific foods in your diet fall on the glycemic index and adjust your food choices accordingly.
That said, holistic nutritionist, wellness expert, and celebrity health coach, Kelly LeVeque tells mbg that what is considered a “healthy” blood sugar range is specific to each individual and determined by both the height and quantity of blood sugar spikes a person experiences over the course of a day.
“Optimal health comes when we can eat specific foods to feel satisfied and get what we need. That causes a gradual increase in blood sugar and sustains us between meals,” explains LeVeque. “The easiest and most effective way to support blood sugar balance and consume these nutrients is to eat meals that provide a mix of macronutrients—like protein, fat, and fiber—and to enjoy these foods in their whole-food form.”
Here are five other ways you can maintain healthy blood sugar levels naturally.
1. Maintain a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet.
You know the saying “You are what you eat?” Well, the same goes for your metabolism. If you want to keep your blood sugar balanced and optimize your metabolism, being mindful of foods that lower and raise blood sugar is key.
LeVeque recommends first focusing on incorporating foods from what she refers to as “The ab Four” into your diet: protein, fat, fiber, and greens/vegetables deep in color. “These foods provide essential amino acids from protein, essential fatty acids from fat and fiber, and non-starchy produce that has little to no effect on blood sugar.”
Next, it’s important to educate yourself on which foods could cause a spike in blood sugar. These include simple carbohydrates, sugary treats, and starches. (And the more processed they are, the faster and higher the blood glucose spike).
“When you look at sugar and starches that have been removed from their fiber cell and are considered acellular carbohydrates (aka processed carbohydrates), they have an exaggerated effect on blood sugar,” LeVeque notes. “Think things like orange juice, sugary condiments, and baked goods.”.
However, this isn’t to say you can’t enjoy these types of foods in moderation—or modify a recipe to make it blood-sugar-friendly. To be on the safe side, LeVeque advises enjoying fruit in whole form, using condiments without any added sugar, and enjoying homemade baked goods so you can use higher-fiber flour and lower amounts of unrefined sugar.
There are also different ways of eating that lower and/or maintain an individual’s blood sugar levels. These include low-carb, high-protein ketogenic patterns, as well as vegetarian, vegan, and Mediterranean diets that are rich in plant-based proteins and natural fiber sources. (See an example of what a metabolic scientist eats in a day here, for reference.)
2. Take a cardiometabolic-health-focused supplement.
Certain vitamins and minerals promote a healthy metabolism, so you might want to consider taking a metabolism-supporting supplement, like mbg’s metabolism+.*
This new mindbodygreen supplement is packed with ingredients that help promote balanced blood sugar, which also helps promote healthy weight and body composition with regular use.*
Promotes blood sugar balance*
For example: The inclusion of veld grape extract derived from the stems and leaves of the Cissus quadrangularis succulent found in India can combat oxidative stress, encourage healthy appetite hormone levels, and help balance a person’s fasting blood sugar levels.*
The formula also contains cayenne pepper fruit extract, aka capsaicin, which supports feelings of satiety and aids in avoiding overeating.*
Other highlighted ingredients of mbg’s metabolism+ include grains of paradise (a botanical in the ginger family that fires up the metabolism) and antioxidant-rich green tea leaf extract that works to promote a healthy metabolism and feelings of fullness, and prevent excess glucose from being converted into fat.*
3. Practice stress management.
As it turns out, both our mental and physical health could benefit from stressing less.
“As [the stress hormones] adrenaline and cortisol are released, our liver mobilizes stored glycogen, breaking it down to glucose and providing our bloodstream with energy if we need it,” LeVeque explains. “This means our blood sugar can rise and subsequently fall thanks to not ingesting food during stressful events at work or at home, the overuse of caffeine (in some individuals), and high-intensity training.”
Some ways LeVeque recommends her clients manage stress include limiting caffeine intake, creating a sleep schedule, and utilizing tools that calm both the body and mind—like meditation, breathwork, and yoga.
Sticking to a workout routine is beneficial to your cardiovascular health—and, in turn, your metabolism. Per the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the average adult should exercise for approximately 150 minutes per week (which averages out to roughly 20 minutes per day).
According to a recent study published in the journal Nutrients, a 30-minute walk after a meal can help improve the body’s glycemic response.
That said, any movement is better than no movement at all. Find what kinds of exercises you genuinely enjoy doing, and create a routine that works for you.
Like good nutrition, a healthy sleep cycle is critical to achieving a healthy metabolism.
According to licensed naturopathic physician and certified nutrition specialist Bethany Tennant, N.D., CNS, it’s important to prioritize a good night’s sleep because quality sleep encourages healthy blood sugar regulation and a good night’s rest strengthens the body’s ability to tolerate glucose.
To improve the quality of your sleep, stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule, switch to decaf in the early afternoon, and create a sleep environment that makes you feel calm. Be mindful of what you snack on before bed as well—those sweet treats you crave before turning in can cause a blood sugar spike, making it difficult to stay or fall asleep.
Balancing your blood sugar levels is a key component to living a healthy lifestyle, as it directly affects your metabolism, overall body composition, and more.
There are multiple ways you can approach stabilizing your blood sugar levels, including taking a metabolism-supporting supplement like mbg’s metabolism+ that’s formulated with natural, plant-based ingredients that promote a healthy appetite and help sustain balanced blood sugar levels throughout the day.*
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Promotes blood sugar balance*
Promotes blood sugar balance*