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Should you be worried about blood sugar spikes?

Do we need to monitor our blood sugar levels?

Here’s what you need to know about blood sugar monitoring.

Blood sugar monitoring (for people without diabetes) seems to be the latest diet trend. But do we really need to focus on foods that keep blood sugars stable?

Here’s what you need to know about blood sugar “spikes” and whether you should monitor your blood sugar levels.

 

What are blood sugar spikes?

In those without diabetes, our blood sugars will naturally increase after eating. Our body responds by releasing more insulin (a hormone) into our bloodstream. Insulin is like a key that allows the sugar to enter into our cells where it is needed for energy.

This is all a normal and healthy part of human functioning.

Some foods will cause higher increases than other foods, such as sweeter or more carbohydrate heavy foods.

This does not make these foods “bad”.

Our bodies are able to digest and process a range of different foods and amounts of food. Our bodies are so well adapted to changing environments and food availability.

Importantly, eating carb heavy or high sugar foods does not cause diabetes. There is no evidence of this.

 

What's the issue with the latest blood sugar monitoring trend?

Fear.

The messages we are receiving from companies just wanting us to spend our money is that food is scary and we cannot trust our bodies.

We are made to feel we need to monitor and control otherwise we will cause harm to ourselves.

The irony is that creating fear of foods and distrust with our bodies is what causes harm.

 

It's not just food that influences our blood sugar

The other issue, it is not only food that influences our blood sugar levels. Our blood sugar can increase even in the absence of eating. And eating the same food at different times or under different conditions can mean different blood sugar responses.

So if we are monitoring our blood sugar and changing what we eat to try to stop "spikes", we are likely to still see blood sugar increases which can feel confusing.

Our body is great at responding to internal (inside our body) and external (around us) stimuli and making sure we are equipped to respond. If our body thinks we need energy, it will release stored sugars into the bloodstream and this can result in increased blood sugar levels.

Non-food stimuli that can increase our blood sugar levels:

  • Stress (including feeling stressed over food)
  • Sleep
  • Time of day
  • Dehydration
  • Coffee
  • Exercise
  • Even our beliefs about food can influence our blood sugar levels!

 

An interesting study

In a study, people with diabetes were given the same sugary drink but with different nutrition labels. Half the participants believed they were drinking a low sugar drink and half believed they were drinking a high sugar drink.

The study found that the blood sugar levels of the participants more closely matched the sugar content they believed they were drinking, rather than the actual sugar content of the drink.

Those who had a "high sugar" label had steeper blood sugar increases. Whereas those with a "low sugar" label had minimal blood sugar increases. They all drank the same actual drink!
(Park, Pagnini & Langer, 2020)

 

In summary

Monitoring and trying to control our body is a risk factor for developing a stressful relationship with food. If you don't need to monitor your blood sugar levels for medical reasons, then it's probably healthiest to avoid it.

If food is feeling stressful or confusing, there's other ways to make supportive changes that don't risk confusion and food fear.

 

If you are looking for support to feel good around food without a side of diet culture, you can get in touch here. 

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