How sugar affects energy levels

Published February 24, 2015

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Ever wondered why you experience mid-afternoon energy slumps and overwhelming desires for sweet snacks to help get you through the day? The problem may lie in the sugars hidden in the food you ate at lunch.

Sugar, or glucose to be precise, is the fuel that drives all the processes that happen in our bodies and is the brain’s sole source of energy. When foods that are high in sugar are eaten, they’re rapidly digested by the body causing a sudden surge of glucose in the blood stream and provide an instant ‘lift’. The rise in energy is unfortunately usually short-lived. The sharp surge in blood glucose levels triggers the secretion of excessive amounts of the hormone insulin, which removes glucose from the blood stream and moves it into the body’s cells where glucose is used for energy.

The sudden rise in blood sugar from the sweet food, followed by a dramatic fall as insulin moves the sugar into the cells, results in blood sugar levels crashing and energy levels dropping. To restore balance, you’ll often start craving sugary treats to rapidly raise your blood sugar. This is how the roller coaster of highs and lows begins again.

How to balance your blood sugar levels and improve your energy

Balancing your blood sugar level is important for maintaining your energy levels. To help achieve this, choose foods that are slowly broken down and absorbed, providing a gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream. Here are some tips to help you maintain steady blood sugar and energy levels:

  • Reduce your intake of high sugar foods such as confectionery, white carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice etc), soft drink and baked goods. This can help avoid energy peaks and troughs. Also look out for hidden sugars in every day foods.
  • Add good quality protein to each meal and snack.1 Try including tuna or a boiled egg with your salad and having a small handful of raw nuts with your fruit.
  • Include complex carbohydrates into your meals such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, millet and rye.
  • Ensure you’re consuming enough fiber because in the digestive tract fiber helps slow down the release of glucose into the body, therefore avoiding spikes in blood glucose amounts.1 Fiber is in plant foods so include plenty of vegetables, lentils and pulses.
  • Eat plenty of essential fatty acids found in avocados, fish, walnuts, chia, and raw nuts and seeds. These foods provide good fats that help slow down the absorption of sugar into the body.
  • Exercise regularly and reduce stress. Addressing these two areas is also very important for managing energy dips.1

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