What is blood sugar?
Blood glucose (aka blood sugar) is the amount of glucose that is in the blood at any given time. This concentration is constantly changing. Food and physical activity increase blood glucose concentration while energy expenditure causes a decrease in blood sugar. Food, sleep, exercise, stress, hormones, and cognition are just a few other factors that can impact its concentration. Glucose circulating within the bloodstream is an asset for fueling physical activities and aiding cognitive function. However, repeated and dramatic swings in blood sugar can be harmful to our metabolism and overall health.
What is metabolism?
Metabolism is the way in which your body converts foods and drinks into energy for bodily functions. It can store energy by promoting tissue growth and supporting new cells (processes that are collectively called anabolism). On the contrary, it can use energy by fueling movement or producing heat (these processes are called catabolism). Overall, the energy your metabolism provides fuels functions like breathing, circulating blood, digesting food, growing the repairing cells, managing hormone levels, and regulating body temperature.
Most people associate metabolism with a genetic predisposition and a weight-associated outcome, such as being lean or overweight. While these assumptions are not incorrect, they are a bit of an oversimplification that can lead to us thinking we are stuck with the metabolism passed down from our parents. We will tackle this misconception in two parts. Part one is genetics. While our genetics do play a role in our metabolic rate, our metabolic system is incredibly sophisticated. It regulates itself and can adapt to meet your body’s energy needs. So, by changing our body’s energy needs through physical activity or an increase in muscle mass, we can significantly increase our metabolism. Part two of our myth debunking is associated with weight. The phrase “fast metabolism” is often associated with the connotation that someone with a “fast metabolism” is lean. This is not necessarily the case. Someone with a “fast metabolism” has a higher basal metabolic rate and thus, requires more calories to power the basic, life-sustaining, metabolic functions (e.g. breathing, circulation, cell production, and nutrient processing). Overweight individuals can have higher basal metabolic rates, as can someone who is extremely fit with a large amount of muscle mass. Weight changes involve a lot of processes that encompass not only genetics but also hormones, food choices, physical activity, and sleep.
What is the link between blood sugar and metabolism?
In the short-term, blood sugar determines our energy levels, food cravings, and even irritability (if you’ve ever been “hangry” then you can thank low blood glucose). Glucose is a precursor for energy in the body and needs to be tightly regulated for metabolism to work effectively. Sudden and dramatic changes in blood sugar (like those seen after consuming a candy bar) can hamper our desire to eat well by making us feel suddenly starving. This leads to impulsive food choices and we are more likely to grab something quick and easy (like a donut) rather than taking the time to make or find a healthy alternative. When we make these quick choices, we head down a glucose rollercoaster that eventually results in added weight on the scale, postprandial energy slumps, and food cravings.
In the long run, variations in blood sugar can significantly impact our metabolic health. When glucose levels are chronically high, or we have extreme fluctuations throughout the day, it is harmful to our metabolic health. Chronically high levels of glucose can impair the function on insulin (a hormone that helps to keep our blood sugar in check). Insulin works to change the glucose we consume into usable energy. When we repeatedly consume too much glucose, our bodies become resistant to insulin (aka insulin resistance) meaning that we are not able to properly convert food into energy. This can cause us to gain weight and significantly increases our risk of type 2 diabetes.
Chronically high levels of glucose can also cause inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can lead to metabolic dysfunction and chronic diseases. With 88% of the American population displaying at least some level of metabolic dysfunction, effectively managing our metabolic health is a common struggle. By learning ways in which we can avoid unnecessary spikes in blood sugar, we can significantly improve our health.
How can we improve our metabolism by regulating our blood sugar?
We all understand that sometimes life gets in the way and we are not able to prioritize our health as much as we would like. However, this does not mean that we have to resign ourselves to a poor metabolism. By making food choices that stabilize our blood sugar, we can minimize large glucose swings and reduce our risk of metabolic dysfunction. In general, foods higher in protein and low in simple carbohydrates (e.g, not candy, starchy, or heavily processed foods) will help to avoid dramatic swings in blood sugar. If you are about to eat a meal higher in carbohydrates or are in an environment where you are not able to eat as healthy as you would like, drink 1/3 of a can of GOOD IDEA before your meal and finish it with your meal. This has been shown in multiple studies to reduce post-meal blood sugar by at least 20%.
Another way in which we can improve our blood sugar, and thus metabolism, is by being physically active. Taking small activity breaks throughout the day is a great place to start. Interrupting sitting time with short bouts of light or moderate intensity has been shown to improve postprandial glucose and insulin levels in overweight/obese adults. If you are able to time this activity so that it occurs shortly after eating, you can utilize some of the blood sugar consumed in food as fuel for exercise. Alternatively, if you are going to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal (e.g., pizza night with friends), performing a high-intensity workout prior to the meal will take advantage of insulin sensitivity. Improving insulin sensitivity allows your cells to use blood glucose and clear the bloodstream more effectively. This reduces your blood sugar and is great for your metabolic health. If you do not have time to fit in a workout, the chromium picolinate included in each GOOD IDEA drink is also an effective way to enhance insulin sensitivity.
Blood sugar has a clear link to our metabolism. Avoiding excessive simple carbohydrate intake, focusing on an active lifestyle, and using tools like GOOD IDEA when we indulge, are great first steps towards improving our metabolism.
Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick