How Are Gut Health and Blood Sugar Affecting One Another?
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.
We talked with registered dietician Shanti Wolfe, RD about the connection between the health of our gut microbiome and healthy blood levels. He gave all of us rowdy folks some great insight on how we can take care of our gut bacteria and blood sugar. Check out what the blood sugar buzz is all about.
A Spike In Blood Sugar
Every time you eat, your body reactions. Let’s say you eat a high-protein meal, your body will be loaded with energy. 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 for a long duration,” says Shanti.
However, for someone with unbalanced blood sugar levels or diabetic concerns, quick spikes can be extremely harmful to their health.
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 wellbeing.
The Connection Between Blood Sugar and Gut Health
What does food do for our bodies? It fuels the body, right? Every time we eat a meal or a snack, 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 also negatively impact our gut and brain function if consumed often over time.
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. If you eat something that your gut isn’t a fan of, that food will negatively impact its function and the balance of bacteria the gut naturally has.
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,” says Shanti Wolfe. Taking care of your gut and your blood sugar levels go hand in hand—the same foods that promote gut health actually help regulate blood sugar too (and visa versa).
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 bad-guy 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. “Harvard researchers recommend a 10:1 ratio of carbohydrates to fiber on foods, so for every 10 grams of carbohydrates a food has, it should have at least 1 gram of fiber.”
Shanti Wolfe also tells us that “quantity dictates the spike in blood sugar, so a sensible amount of these foods shouldn’t create a huge spike in blood sugar.”
How to Keep Your Microbiome and 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,” says Shanti.
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.
Give a Rowdy Bar a try. Each of our flavors are high in fiber that comes from the fruits, nuts and seeds we use, and are low in added sugar, making them the perfect balanced blood sugar snack.
3. Eat Clean
Eating clean 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-you chemicals. These types of foods are certainly a cause of blood sugar issues and can lead to or worsen diabetes.
“We don’t want to scare anyone away from eating foods that they enjoy, but they have to be aware that their food choices have consequences,” says Shanti. “People with diabetes should be aware of the foods they consume that have carbohydrates in them that affect their blood sugar levels, and if they are monitoring their blood sugar and carbohydrate-containing foods they eat, they can create a balance to keep their blood sugars within normal ranges.”
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.
Related Articles to Learn More About Clean Eating
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).
FOS is the name behind the “added sugar” section of the Rowdy Bars nutrition label. We use the yacon root to sweeten our bars—a sweetener that is A-OK when it comes to blood sugar worries. No raised blood sugar equals clean eating energy for you!
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.