The connection between your blood sugar balance and your mental health is so important to understand. But don’t worry if you’re not sure what I even mean by blood sugar levels yet. I’ll explain and promise to keep it simple.
But let’s start with a symptom checker. Are any of the symptoms below familiar to you?
With you being here on my site, my guess is that you probably experience quite a few of these symptoms. Perhaps not just a few but most of them.
They are all connected to your mental health, right?
If you went to your doctor complaining of anxiety, irritability, mood swings, excessive sweating, shakiness and heart palpitations, you might well leave with a diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder.
Or you might get diagnosed with depression if you complain of feeling low, moody and fatigued, have trouble sleeping and concentrating, and your appetite as well as your weight have changed.
It all makes sense, right?
But here’s the thing. All the symptoms listed above are also symptoms of blood sugar imbalances! So just to repeat, I didn’t get this list of symptoms by googling for diagnoses of anxiety or depression. I was looking for symptoms of blood sugar imbalance.
So what does that mean? What is a blood sugar imbalance?
Blood sugar balance explained
You can categorise your foods into three main food groups: your carbs, your proteins and your fats.
And when we talk about blood sugar balance, we always talk about your carbohydrates. Why?
All your carbs, whether “complex” or “simple”, get broken down into glucose molecules by your digestion. Glucose is a type of sugar. A simple sugar that your body then absorbs from your gut into your bloodstream. And that’s when you call it blood sugar.
There is always a certain amount of sugar in your bloodstream. The body actually uses that sugar to send it to cells all across your body where it’s then used to make energy. Without this sugar in your bloodstream and in your cells, we’d be dead pretty quickly.
So again: You eat carbohydrates, your digestion breaks them down into glucose molecules which are then absorbed into your bloodstream. Once in your bloodstream, we call it your blood sugar. And this blood sugar is very important to make energy for your body and all its many functions.
why balancing your blood sugar levels is so important for your mental health
The amount of sugar in your bloodstream is carefully controlled by the hormone insulin. You don’t want to have excess blood sugar levels nor do you want them to be too low for too long. But this up-and-down is exactly what so many of us experience.
So after you eat (or drink) something sweet or starchy, the amount of glucose in your blood rises. Insulin is then released to bring your blood glucose levels back down to normal levels again. But if you eat something that is very high in sugar, your blood sugar levels will rise too rapidly, and your body can up releasing too much insulin. This very high amount of insulin can then cause your blood sugar to drop very low- lower than you’d ideally want it.
So you’re swinging from very high to very low blood sugar levels, which is often called the blood sugar rollercoaster. A lot of us with the typical Western dietary patterns do that.
The result? Many of the symptoms that I listed above. The same symptoms you might class as mental health disorders.
Am I saying that your struggle with mood and mental health are just down to your blood sugar balance? Of course not. Poor mental health often has its roots in multiple factors.
But if you are trying to improve your mood and mental health and you haven’t yet looked at balancing your blood sugar levels, then there is a huge opportunity for you here.
There is a fascinating case report about a teenage girl suffering from anxiety and the link between her mental health and hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels). It was published in the journal of Case Reports in Psychiatry and is well worth a read.
Other than causing psychological and cognitive symptoms, blood sugar imbalances can over time also contribute to other consequences, including increased inflammation and diabetes.
Shere really are so many reasons why it’s important to try and balance your blood sugar levels, and mental health is definitely one of them.
How to balance your blood sugar for your mental health
Here are some great tips on how to improve your blood sugar balance and hopefully reduce some of those symptoms listed above.
From my own experience both personally and with my clients, you can see improvements often within the matter of days if you try really hard.
But depending on where you are in your health journey, you might want to go very slow to start with instead of all-in. As always, it’s down to what will work best for you in this given moment.
1. Reduce your sugar intake
As best as you can, reduce your intake of foods that are high in sugar and highly processed. Cakes, biscuits, white bread, sugary cereals, jams, chocolate, sweets, crisps… Keep this foods as occasional treats, not staple foods.
2. Eat regularly and have snacks if you get hungry
If you skip a meal and then suddenly find yourself feeling very hungry, your blood sugar levels would have dropped very low.
And let’s face it: what are you likely to quickly grab when you’re feeling really hungry? Probably something that will get your sugar levels up really high again. Break that cycle as best as you can. Snack in between meals if you need to.
3. Add protein into your meals and snacks
Protein takes much longer to digest in your stomach and combining your carbs with protein will therefore reduce big blood sugar spikes.
So add meat, fish, eggs, lentils, peas or beans to your meals. Have something like nuts or hummus or an egg as a snack along with fruit or crackers if you like.
4. Go for whole foods high in fibre
Fibre can slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream as well which is good news for your blood sugar levels.
Again, choose unprocessed foods and go for the “brown” rather than “white” options. Include lots of different types of veggies if you can.
5. Regular moderate exercise
Regular, moderate exercise can help to improve how your body handles insulin and sugar, which is great for your blood sugar balance.
Even just a walk can help!
6. Try and lower your stress levels
When faced with the threat of a tiger, the body releases stored glucose into your bloodstream causing your blood sugar levels to rise. Whilst it’s undoubtedly helpful to have extra energy to run away from said tiger, you don’t really need all this extra glucose in today’s stressful situations. A stressful phone call, a work deadline, crying children or a family dispute can all contribute to blood sugar imbalances.
Whilst it’s of course not always possible to avoid stressful scenarios, I’d say that particularly we women need to get better at really allowing ourselves to rest and switch off. Anything that helps you to calm down and feel relaxed is a good thing for your blood sugar balance and mental health.
I hope I’ve been able to show you just how important balancing your blood sugar levels and looking at your sugar intake can be for your mood and mental health. For me personally, it was the very first and also the most significant thing that I did in my own recovery from depression.
And if you are interested in working together so that you too can turn your mood and mental health around, just get in touch. I’d love to be able to help you.