The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster & the Magic Plate

Meet Jane. Jane is a social worker that works at a busy hospital 30 minutes from her home.

She wakes up, gets dressed, and heads to work every morning at 7:15 am. On her way there, she stops at her favorite coffee shop, where she grabs her typical breakfast. A black coffee and an everything bagel with low-fat cream cheese.

She eats her breakfast as soon as she gets to work and is ready to start working at 8:00 am. She feels great as she settles into her workspace while slowly seeping her coffee. Two hours later, she stops working because she is beginning to crave something sweet. This is also a perfect time to take a break from work and stretch her legs. She heads over to the hospital vending machine and buys her favorite sugary snack. She returns to her desk and continues to work, as she munches along. Her workload is crazy today, as expected for a Monday. She takes another break at 12:30 pm to the breakroom to have lunch. A healthy salad with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, and low-fat salad dressing. Shortly after that, she makes herself another cup of coffee, to rescue her from the typical mid-day slump.

Throughout the day, she continues this pattern, experiencing intense cravings, mood swings, difficulty focusing, low energy levels, and re-snacking. In other words, she goes through a cycle that looks like this…

Eat → Sugar Spike → Crash → Eat → Sugar Spike → Crash → Coffee → Repeat

For a long time, I only associated word hypoglycemia (the medical term for low blood sugar) with diabetes or starvation. Yes, hypoglycemia can be a serious concern for people with diabetes, but there are hypoglycemic conditions that affect people without diabetes.

Two conditions that can affect people without diabetes are reactive hypoglycemia and postprandial syndrome. While the presentation and treatment of these two conditions are quite similar, a definitive diagnosis can only be made only by consulting with a licensed practitioner. In this article, I am focusing only on postprandial syndrome.

The term postprandial means after eating. The postprandial syndrome occurs when someone develops symptoms of low blood sugar within 2-4 hours after eating but their blood sugar doesn’t drop below the normal range (when measured with a glucometer).

When the body is exposed to high sugar levels, it rapidly produces insulin in an attempt to keep the glucose levels consistent. This causes blood glucose to quickly decrease, which results in a sudden drop in energy levels, also known as a sugar crash. These symptoms are often associated with eating a high carbohydrate meal.

Symptoms of postprandial syndrome/sugar crash include:

  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Shakiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Craving for sweets
  • Confusion

A sugar crash is often followed by an intense craving for sugar, leading to a harmful self-perpetuating cycle, called the blood sugar rollercoaster.

The blood sugar rollercoaster generally causes us to be incredibly distracted throughout the day, which leads to decreased productivity, concentration, and the inability to complete routine tasks.

An unstable blood sugar level is a common cause of fatigue, mood swings, sugary food cravings, weight gain, and sleep disturbances. The body has to constantly work hard, to maintain balance. This causes biological and chemical stress on the body as it has to initiate and maintain the body’s stress response over and over again.

It took me a while to make a connection between my mood swings and being on the blood sugar rollercoaster. I have mentioned in previous posts that I often experienced mood swings and low energy levels. Unsurprisingly, this article from food for the brain states that “The more uneven your blood sugar supply the more uneven your mood” and that “Poor blood sugar balance is often the single biggest factor in mood disorders.”

There are many ways to avoid the unpleasant blood sugar rollercoaster ride. The most effective way is to incorporate balance. This means, keeping blood sugar levels consistent throughout the day; which can easily be done by balancing each meal with the appropriate amounts of protein, fiber, and fats while limiting the consumption of refined sugar and refined foods.

Enter the concept of The Magic Plate.

Like I mentioned earlier, there are several ways to prevent the blood glucose rollercoaster but my favorite method is the Magic plate. Why? because the concept is quite simple. It’s taking a meal that is nutritionally unbalanced based on macronutrients and making it balanced.

The Magic Plate formula consists of ⅓ green vegetables, ⅓ high-quality protein, ⅓ nutrient-dense starchy vegetable or grain, and 1-3 tbsp of high-quality fat.

Following this guideline, you have an easy formula to develop balanced meals each day that will give you energy and help stabilize your blood sugar. My favorite thing about the magic plate is that you don’t necessarily need to invent new recipes, you can work with the meals you already love and transform them into a magic plate.

Don’t deprive yourself of your favorite recipes. Instead, upgrade them using the magic plate formula. Incorporating healthy proteins and fats and fiber in combination with carbohydrates can slow down digestion and actually help balance out the spike in your blood sugar. If you have something sweet, eat it with a meal, as the other foods at the meal reduce the effects of the sugar.

The advantage of adopting a strategy like the magic plate is that it puts you ahead of your cravings, to the point where you can drastically decrease and possibly eliminate them. Aside from the Magic plate, there are other ways to balance blood sugar, like consistent meal timing, movement, and adequate hydration.

Now that you made it to the end of this article, here is my action step for you. Take one meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) and transform it into a magic plate. Use the magic plate picture above to help you with the transformation!

What changes will you make in your diet, based on what you learned today? Leave them down in the comments section below.

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