Do you suffer from regular mood swings, feeling up one minute and down, irritable or peevish the next? Can you quickly fly off the handle?
Do you find your energy can dip and your appetite peaks, so you reach for a sweet treat or carby snacks like crisps, chips, pizza, or a hunk of white bread?
How do you get your energy going when you're feeling tired or flat? Do you tend to gulp down a caffeine-laden energy drink or coffee, or do you regularly consume sweet, fizzy drinks?
If this sounds anything like you, it could be that your blood sugar is unbalanced, which is contributing to your bad moods and energy slumps.
Why is this happening?
As it’s made up of so many neurons, your brain is your most energy-demanding organ. It’s the largest consumer of glucose (a form of sugar) in your entire body, continually drawing on your glucose stores as its primary energy source.
When your blood sugar rapidly dips, your brain can’t function or communicate properly. Consequently, you can feel moody, irritable, anxious, or low.
You may also have brain fog, where you feel less able to concentrate and coherently put thoughts and words together.
Your brain triggers your adrenals to release adrenalin contributing to the above symptoms, while making you feel less tolerant and more likely to lose your temper.
The increase in adrenalin can also make you feel hungry (or ‘hangry’) with your body and brain demanding food for energy – fast.
Carbohydrates are your body’s go-to source of energy. When your blood sugar has slumped to such a degree, the resulting sense of urgency makes you most likely to crave high-carb foods. You’ll find yourself hungering for ‘simple’ carbohydrates and sugary snacks such as white bread, rice or pasta, crisps, fries, pizza and chocolate.
Your energy will probably have also slumped, so along with these foods, you could be reaching for those caffeine-laden and sugary, fizzy drinks too.
The problem is that as you instinctively consume these quick energy food fixes, they cause your blood sugar to spike swiftly, followed by a rapid drop. So, your body and brain make you crave those sugary snacks again.
You then become trapped in a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating followed by sugar spikes and slumps, lack of energy, low spirits and mood swings.
Added to which, lowness and depression also make you desire carby, sugary foods as they stimulate and release feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin.
It’s important to understand that while your body might be crying out for them, these foods are just a quick fix. The rollercoaster of sugar spikes and slumps cause your poor depleted brain and body to scream for them at a time of dire need.
Over time, this causes more harm than good, leaving you addicted to sugar and more susceptible to weight gain and chronic illness, including diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
It's not just food that affects blood sugar levels
Stress can have an enormous impact on your blood sugar levels as it triggers your adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol.
During acute stress, to enable the fight or flight response to ‘danger’, cortisol floods your body with glucose from places where it is stored, such as the liver, so your muscles are energised, and you can fight or flee. Once the threat has gone, cortisol reduces and hormone balance is restored.
Sadly, many of us are chronically stressed, and our cortisol levels remain high, leading to consistently increased blood sugar levels, and an increased risk of diabetes.
Stress also affects your mood and energy, so finding ways to manage it are essential.
How to break the cycle
It is entirely possible to maintain balanced blood sugar levels while still providing your brain and body with all the glucose they need.
With a bit of effort, you can feel healthier, and keep your energy and moods on an even keel.
The good thing is that once you make a few small changes, your body will get what it needs. You will likely find that you start to crave less carb-heavy, sugary foods, and the good stuff a lot more.
The establishment of healthy habits around stress, sleep and exercise are also crucial when it comes to balancing your blood sugar levels and mood.
Below are eight eating and lifestyle tips to help you keep your blood sugar and moods balanced.
If you are hooked on sugar, making some of these changes may be hard. Stay focused but remember to be kind to yourself.
If it’s too overwhelming to make lots of changes, start with one or two – then make more when you’ve mastered those. If you stumble and have a relapse, don’t chastise yourself or give up. Just see it as a minor blip, and carry on.
1) Eat the right carbohydrates
There are two types of carbohydrates known as simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are quickly broken down by your body, rapidly releasing glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream for energy.
These are the ones you want to avoid, often coming in the form of highly processed foods like biscuits, sweets, cakes and breakfast cereals.
Complex carbohydrates are far healthier, being less processed, higher in nutrients, and fibre-rich, keeping you fuller for longer.
They have a slower sugar release, balancing your blood sugar to avoid energy spikes and slumps. So, switch your white rice, pasta and bread (simple carbs) for brown, whole grain versions (complex carbs).
Other great complex carbohydrate options include porridge oats instead of cereal, sweet potatoes instead of potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat, lentils and beans.
2) Eat protein with every meal
Proteins balance blood sugar by slowing the breaking down of carbohydrates. They also provide energy and keep you feeling sated, staving your appetite and curbing sugar cravings.
Ensure you’re eating healthy protein with every meal and snack. Good sources include fish, lean meat, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds.
3) Have a small, healthy snack between meals
If you’re struggling with energy slumps, mood swings and brain fog, eating healthy snacks a couple of times a day is a great way to keep your blood sugar stable.
You may also find that eating this way between meals makes you crave less of the sweet, processed carbs. As your symptoms improve, you could find that you no longer need to keep snacking as you’re doing just fine without them.
A healthy snack should be unprocessed, real food, consisting of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Try a small amount of houmous and crudites, celery or apple slices spread with nut butter, a small handful of nuts or seeds, a boiled egg, or a couple of oatcakes with some avocado.
4) Cut out sugar
So, there’s no denying that if you are hooked on sugar and love your simple carbs, this is a hard one. But you have to try and stick with it as much as you can.
If it’s too much to do it all in one go, gradually reduce it over a few weeks. As you steadily decrease your sugar intake and increase other more healthy foods, your palate will change, and you’ll start to crave less.
Aside from eliminating the obvious foods like cakes, biscuits and pastries, you also need to be aware of the hidden sugars found in many of the foods you buy. That’s why it’s best to prepare your own meals and cook from scratch as much as possible. That way, you always know what you’re eating.
Avoid condiments like mustard, ketchup, brown sauce, relish and mayonnaise and ditch granola bars, breakfast cereals, fruit juice, flavoured yogurt, bought pasta sauces and energy drinks.
There are a scary amount of alternative names for sugar, so get informed and find out what they are. Look at the sugar content in any packaged foods you buy, including salads, which often have sugar in the dressing and avoid artificial sweeteners of any kind.
5) Take a berberine supplement
Berberine is a natural, yellow alkaloid found in several healing plants such as Oregan Grape, Tree Turmeric, Goldenseal, Barberry, Cork-Tree, and Chinese Goldthread.
There are an increasing amount of studies looking into the health benefits of berberine, of which there are many.
Berberine may help to balance blood sugar, and some research shows it to be as effective as pharmaceutical drugs for treating Type 2 diabetes.
Several studies also support the use of berberine alongside diet and lifestyle changes for reducing fasting blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
When blood glucose is high, the pancreas secretes insulin which encourages liver, muscle and fat cells to absorb glucose, storing it as fuel. Insulin resistance occurs when these cells become desensitised to insulin, and they find it harder to respond.
The pancreas reacts by producing more insulin to try and encourage the cells to take up the glucose. This continues for as long as possible to keep blood glucose in a healthy range.
Unfortunately, over time, the hard-working, insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas grow tired and become unable to release the insulin needed to keep things on an even keel. Your blood sugar rises, and you become more susceptible to type 2 diabetes.
Researchers think that berberine improves insulin resistance and promotes insulin secretion, which helps to keep blood sugar levels in check.
It can also reduce glucose production in the liver, help tissue cells to break down glucose and release it for energy, and decrease glucose absorption in the gut.
Our Planet Source Berberine provides a hefty dose of 1200mg per serving. A vegan-friendly supplement, it is free from artificial ingredients, corn, sugar, salt, wheat, soy and gluten. Each container provides a one month supply.
6) Learn to manage stress
Anxiety, stress and emotional strain can increase cortisol and raise blood sugar, so it’s essential to find ways to manage it.
While addressing diet is one way to tackle the adverse effects of stress, there are also several habits and practices you can use. What works for one person may not work for another, so experiment and find ways that fit for you.
Many people find daily journaling very helpful. For some, it’s very cathartic to get worrying thoughts out of their head and onto paper. For others, writing a daily gratitude journal can be very useful for creating a more positive mindset.
No matter how small, list moments and things from the day you’ve enjoyed and felt grateful for.
Other popular ways to relieve stress include yoga, meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, being in nature, starting a hobby, spending quality time with loved ones, interacting with pets and animals, and exercising.
Learning to say no, delegating, and becoming more selective about what you take on are also valuable skills when it comes to reducing feelings of overwhelm, tension and anxiety.
And don’t forget to have a good old laugh every single day.
7) Get enough sleep
Whether stress is interfering with your sleep, you’re staying up to watch an extra episode of your favourite show, you work late, or regularly burn the candle at both ends, lack of sleep is proven to play havoc with your glucose metabolism.
Most of us know what it’s like to have a rubbish night’s sleep and how irritable, tetchy and ‘not with it’ you can feel the following day.
On top of this, it transpires that lack of sleep, even if it’s just for a few nights, can impair your ability to break down glucose by as much as 40%.
Consequently, your blood sugar rises, and with it a propensity for brain fog, mood swings and high carb food cravings. Over time, reduced insulin sensitivity and low glucose tolerance can lead to weight gain and diabetes.
If you are stressed out, anxious or depressed, it can disrupt your sleep – another reason why managing stress is so important.
Establishing some healthy lifestyle habits is essential if you’re not getting enough sleep.
Think about limiting your caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake, turn off all electrical appliances at least an hour before bedtime and consider daily relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or mindfulness.
Don’t feel tempted to watch an extra episode of that show you’re really into, and save it for the following evening. Also, make sure you’re getting enough exercise but don’t do it too close to bedtime as this could keep you awake.
8) Prioritise regular exercise
There are several reasons why exercise is good for balancing blood sugar and calming mood.
Firstly, it is proven that the release of endorphins in the brain when you exercise can help to calm feelings of anxiety and depression and relieve stress. So it’s a great stress management tool which will have a knock-on effect on blood sugar.
Secondly, physical activity and exercise aids sleep, which also positively affects blood glucose.
Thirdly, exercise increases insulin sensitivity. Any form of exercise is good, but a combination of aerobic activities such as walking, cycling, running or swimming, combined with resistance training or weights is the ultimate combination.
Lastly, regular exercise helps to reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which contribute to high blood sugar.
So, you can see how regular exercise is a win-win when it comes to regulating your blood glucose and also your mood.
All exercise is great, but even smaller activities like regularly getting up and moving around, walking an extra bus stop and taking the stairs, all make a difference.
What you eat can positively impact your blood glucose levels and make a significant difference to the way you feel. Following the dietary advice in this article is a good start.
But it’s not just food that affects blood sugar balance – other factors come into it too. Stress is a common trigger, so you must acknowledge when you are stressed out, anxious or tense and find coping mechanisms for it.
Sleep and exercise play a role too. They directly affect the way you metabolise glucose and improve insulin sensitivity, while also impacting brain function and how you feel emotionally.
So if you want to decrease your risk of metabolic disease and diabetes, and improve your mood and energy levels, ensure you get regular exercise and ample sleep.
This article is written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
Regular exercise helps to reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which contribute to high blood sugar. #health #wellness #fitness