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Blood Sugar 101: How food affects your blood sugar

Learn the difference between fluctuations and potentially harmful spikes. Plus, how different foods spike and regulate your blood sugar.

Did you know sugar has strong addictive properties? Our bodies and brains naturally get a dopamine high from sugar, so it’s no surprise that we keep coming back for more.[1,2,3]

‍But that’s also where sugar’s true potential for damage is hidden. Sugar is hidden in many of the foods we eat every day under more than 250 different names.[1,4,5] Your body’s blood sugar can spike from the foods you eat or the beverages you drink. Chronic exposure to too much sugar can have adverse effects on your health.

Ups & downs: what affects your blood sugar

Blood glucose represents sugar that is circulating in your vessels that’s not currently being utilized for fuel. Some bodies are better than others at shuttling that glucose from the blood into the cells, which is the ideal goal.[10] Insulin resistant people don’t use blood glucose well and have trouble putting it into their cells, which results in higher levels.[11] Insulin sensitive people use glucose very efficiently and garner energy from it quite readily by sending it into their cells. 

Your blood glucose is dynamic and constantly changing, which is completely natural. But like any other measurement in the body, such as heart rate or blood pressure, there’s an ideal range for blood sugar (glucose) levels that support optimal health. A general range of 70–100 mg/dL is what most healthy individuals should look for.[6,7]

Internal factors, including your personal basal metabolic rate, body composition, genetics and activity level can all affect your blood sugar, ideally causing fluctuations within that range. Your lifestyle and environment—including the time of day, whether you’ve eaten, how much you’ve slept, and whether you’ve exercised—can all affect your glucose levels as well.[8,9]

You should strive for relatively steady levels, without large fluctuations or spikes (when your glucose jumps 30 mg/dl or higher).

A few common culprits of blood sugar spikes:

Carbohydrates. Specifically, refined carbohydrates with low fiber. Refined carbohydrates get broken down into glucose very quickly since they do not have much fiber, causing spikes.

Fruits. Fresh fruits are generally healthy, but even they contain a type of sugar called fructose that raises blood sugar, so moderation is key. Fresh fruits are always a better choice than juices, jellies, or jams, where the glucose hits the blood faster.

Fatty foods. Low-quality fats, in particular, are damaging to your health. These may include highly processed oils and fried foods.

Juice, soda, electrolyte drinks, and sugary drinks—including those hidden in coffee. Anything with added sugar will affect your blood glucose even more, so check those nutrition labels.

Alcohol. Blood sugar can go up after having a drink, especially so if you mix your alcohol with juice or soda.

Inactivity. Sitting still and being sedentary can hinder the way your body regulates blood sugar. However, daily physical activity and exercise are some of the best ways to help keep your body insulin sensitive, helping to regulate glucose levels.

Some good news: The starting point to stable blood sugar is to eat as much real food as possible—and by that, we mean food in its most natural form or as close as you can get.[1] When food is in its original form (or close to it), the body gets to digest it and break it down in the way that it was intended. Processed foods dramatically change this process, often resulting in modified food products that are damaging to your health.[1] 

Psst: Here’s some more info on how to keep your blood sugar stable through food.

Benefits of keeping your blood sugar stable

Studies show many health benefits to keeping your blood sugar stable.[7,10,12] These include:

  • Less susceptibility to weight gain and obesity[12]
  • Better energy and focus; improved cognitive performance[13,14]
  • Reduced risk of pre-diabetes and diabetes.[15,11,16]

Want to know where your glucose levels stand? Ready to learn how to improve your blood sugar? Curious about how your diet affects your metabolic health? Meet Veri—a continuous glucose monitoring system that lets you discover how YOUR body processes food and responds to daily life.  

References:

1. Fuhrman J. The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;12(5):375-381. doi:10.1177/1559827618766483

2. Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG. Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32(1):20-39. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019

3. Vos MB, Kaar JL, Welsh JA, et al. Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017;135(19). doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000439

4. Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1680. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394

5. Lustig RH, Schmidt LA, Brindis CD. The toxic truth about sugar. Nature. 2012;482(7383):27-29. doi:10.1038/482027a

6. Mazze RS, Strock E, Wesley D, et al. Characterizing Glucose Exposure for Individuals with Normal Glucose Tolerance Using Continuous Glucose Monitoring and Ambulatory Glucose Profile Analysis. Diabetes Technol Ther. 2008;10(3):149-159. doi:10.1089/dia.2007.0293

7. Brynes AE, Adamson J, Dornhorst A, Frost GS. The beneficial effect of a diet with low glycaemic index on 24 h glucose profiles in healthy young people as assessed by continuous glucose monitoring. Br J Nutr. 2005;93(2):179-182. doi:10.1079/BJN20041318

8. Derouich M, Boutayeb A. The effect of physical exercise on the dynamics of glucose and insulin. J Biomech. 2002;35(7):911-917. doi:10.1016/S0021-9290(02)00055-6

9. Takahashi M, Ozaki M, Kang M-I, et al. Effects of Meal Timing on Postprandial Glucose Metabolism and Blood Metabolites in Healthy Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1763. doi:10.3390/nu10111763

10. Hall H, Perelman D, Breschi A, et al. Glucotypes reveal new patterns of glucose dysregulation. PLOS Biol. 2018;16(7):e2005143. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2005143

11. DeFronzo RA, Tripathy D. Skeletal Muscle Insulin Resistance Is the Primary Defect in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(Suppl 2):S157-S163. doi:10.2337/dc09-S302

12. Barzegar N, Ramezankhani A, Tohidi M, Azizi F, Hadaegh F. Long-Term Glucose Variability and Incident Cardiovascular Diseases and All-Cause Mortality Events in Subjects with and without Diabetes: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2021;0(0). doi:10.1016/j.diabres.2021.108942

13. Liu X, Li X, Xia B, et al. High-fiber diet mitigates maternal obesity-induced cognitive and social dysfunction in the offspring via gut-brain axis. Cell Metab. 2021;33(5):923-938.e6. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2021.02.002

14. Zhang S, Lachance BB, Mattson MP, Jia X. Glucose metabolic crosstalk and regulation in brain function and diseases. Prog Neurobiol. Published online June 10, 2021:102089. doi:10.1016/j.pneurobio.2021.102089

15. CDC. Obesity is a Common, Serious, and Costly Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 29, 2020. Accessed August 26, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

16. Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH. The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. PLOS ONE. 2013;8(2):e57873. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057873

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