Gut health & your blood sugar

It all starts in the gut. Our gut's balance of bacteria is connected to the health of just about every function in our body—our brain, skin, digestion, mood, brainpower, immune system, bone strength, all of it. Did you know that gut health is also linked to blood sugar too? That’s right, even blood sugar is connected to the microbiome.

Every time you eat, your body reacts. Let’s say you eat a high-protein meal, your body will be loaded with energy. On the other hand, in many circumstances when you feed your body food that contains high amounts of simple sugars and very little fiber, these foods are broken down very quickly and sugar enters the bloodstream causing a fast spike in blood sugar.

A quick spike in blood sugar isn’t always a bad thing, it just depends on what your body needs, the state it is in, and the amount of activity it currently is or is going to endure. Foods with simple sugars and very little fiber tend to break down fastest which can be beneficial for blood sugar lows and athletes engaging in exercise.

However, for someone with unbalanced blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, or diabetic concerns, quick spikes can be extremely harmful to their health.

The Connection Between Blood Sugar & Gut Health

Just like what we eat impacts our blood sugar, it also impacts our gut health. Whatever food we put into our body is broken down and digested in the gut. Every time we eat, the carbohydrates, fiber, energy, healthy and unhealthy fats, sugar, chemicals, and additives that are in that food are all affecting us in some way.

Maybe the food is packed with protein and is giving us a boost of energy. Or it might be full of processed sugars and chemicals that will cause a sudden spike in blood sugar, which can negatively impact our gut by promoting the growth of harmful bacteria.

There has been research in the past two years on the effect an unhealthy gut can have on blood sugar levels. This research has shown that disordered gut health leads to impaired glucose tolerance and can increase the risk for insulin resistance. So, if you have any sort of gut imbalance, you’re more susceptible to blood sugar imbalances. Symptoms of blood sugar imbalances you may notice include:

  • Sugar Cravings

  • Difficulty Losing Weight

  • Insatiable Hunger

  • Increased thirst

  • Fatigue

  • Shakiness

  • Sweating

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

On the other hand, a healthy gut microbiome can help prevent and control these blood sugar disorders through influencing how the liver and pancreas release hormones and metabolize food.

Another surprising way that your gut plays an important role in controlling blood sugar is by regulating your hunger. When your gut is healthy, there is a specific type of beneficial bacteria whose job it is to produce hormones that signal your brain that you’re full. An unbalanced gut microbiome disrupts this process, which can make you want to eat more to satisfy your hunger, and lead to unwanted high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

As you can see, taking care of your gut health is necessary for taking care of your blood sugar levels.

What Foods Cause A Spike In Blood Sugar

Now that we know the connection between the health of our gut and the sugar in our blood, let’s talk about what foods to watch out for that could inhibit proper balance.

Processed, simple sugars (carbohydrates) and foods with added sugars can cause a quick spike in blood sugar when eaten alone, without any other fat, protein, or fiber. These foods can come in the form of honey, gummy candies, beverages sweetened with sugar, and other high carbohydrate foods void of fiber like rice and bread.

A big influencer of the spike these types of food can cause comes from their fiber to sugar ratio.

How To Keep Your Microbiome & Blood Sugar Balanced

For someone with an unbalanced gut, out of whack blood sugar levels, or both, it is very possible to repair these issues.

It all comes down to what you eat, how hydrated you’re keeping your body, the amount of exercise you’re getting consistently, sleep, of course, and how well you manage your stress levels.

Here are 5 tips for keeping your microbiome healthy and your blood sugar balanced:

1. Stay Active

Staying active helps your body balance blood sugar levels on a cellular level. The ability of exercise to open up receptors for glucose is one that I have many of my patients take advantage of to lower their overall blood sugar.

So get active! Go on a daily walk during your lunch break. Hit the gym before work to wake yourself up and get a great, active start to each day. Call up a friend and go on a colorful fall hike over the weekend. There are plenty of options for every season to keep yourself active, just find what you enjoy and make it a habit.

2. Pay Attention To Ratios

Everything is OK in moderation, right? The same goes for food, so pay attention to what you’re putting in your body and be aware of proportions.

Foods with too high of sugar and not enough fiber will cause a quick spike in blood sugar. Stick to a 10:1 ratio. For every 10 grams of carbohydrates a food has, it should have at least 1 gram of fiber. Keep in mind that the fiber we’re looking for here should come from soluble sources like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains.

3. Eat Fewer Processed Foods

Reducing processed foods in our diet is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Because of the processed food world we live in, it can be easy to fall in the trap of unhealthy sugars, processed meals, and snacks loaded with artificial flavors and bad-for-your-gut chemicals. These types of foods are certainly a cause of blood sugar issues and can lead to or worsen diabetes.

I don’t want to scare anyone from eating foods that they enjoy, but rather remind them to be aware that their food choices have consequences. People should be aware of how the foods they consume affect their blood sugar levels and gut health. There are ways though to create a balance that supports gut health and keeps blood sugars within normal ranges, while still enjoying pasta and chocolate chip cookies :)

Try to eat whole foods whenever possible to help balance out blood sugar and gut bacteria—foods that are made with ingredients that are purely their own one ingredient, free of any preservatives, additives, sugars, or extra ingredients. For example, bananas, cucumbers and hummus, and unsweetened dark chocolate are all delicious whole foods.

4. Avoid Added Sugar

Added sugar is a gutbuster and a blood sugar disrupter. We all like sweets, but we have to be aware of where that sweet taste is coming from in some of our favorite foods.

Make sure to read the labels of your food choices so you know exactly what type of added sugars you’re putting into your body. You’ll often find the three most common types of sugars on processed food labels: sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Steer clear of foods with high amounts of sucrose. When we eat sucrose, it immediately begins to break down into fructose and glucose, sugars that go their separate ways inside our bodies. When this happens, it causes a rise in blood sugar very quickly. Instead, choose foods that have slow-digesting carbohydrates like glucose or fructooligosaccharide (FOS).

5. Get Proper Rest

Sleep is so, so, so crucial for our wellbeing. Without proper sleep, our body gets out of whack, causing many different problems. Some of these include poor gut health, brain fog, inflammation, greater stress, depression, irritability, skin issues, weight gain, and messed up hormone levels.

When the body has a lack of sleep and unbalanced hormones, it can directly affect our blood sugar levels according to the National Sleep Foundation. This is because when the body is deprived of sleep, it releases less insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar, after eating. Without enough insulin, the glucose from our food isn’t broken down properly. The net effect: Too much glucose stays in the bloodstream, which can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Make sure to get to bed early, prioritize your rest, treat your gut microbiome with love (and pre- and probiotics), and kick that afternoon coffee to the curb. Get proper sleep, your body will thank you.

Everyone, even those who don’t have blood sugar concerns, should be aware of the way food is affecting their bodies. When we know what happens internally when we feed ourselves, we can make better choices for our gut health, our blood sugar, and our overall well being.