You probably know what it feels like to have low blood sugar: after going too long between meals or snacks, you might have a headache, be irritable, or feel weak or shaky.
It’s quite likely that in response to that state of hypoglycemia you wanted to eat something high in sugar or calories, fast. Think chocolate bars or chips.
Research shows that when our blood sugar levels drop, we lose our ability to control our desire to eat. And we crave calorie-laden sweets and snacks.
What happens when you eat junk food, or “empty” snacks, though, is that blood sugar levels spike then drop dramatically. Lethargy sets in. Once you hit another low, the craving for even more high-calorie foods kicks in again. It’s a vicious cycle.
How do blood sugar levels work?
Blood sugar levels fluctuate naturally during the day. Levels are lowest in the morning before breakfast, when they trigger hunger. They peak an hour or so after a meal and then return to a base level for a few hours after that, when the stomach is satiated.
Blood sugar spikes stimulate the pancreas to pump out more insulin. Some researchers suggest that years and years of such peaks contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, which usually occurs after age 40 and more than doubles the risk of stroke and heart disease.
To avoid extreme highs and lows, it helps to eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. This helps to keep you feeling full, so that you don’t give in to the desire for unhealthy sweets and snacks.
The type of food you eat is crucial, too. Eating high fibre foods reduces hunger and promotes satiety.
How can fibre help?
Foods that are high in fibre, such as vegetables and whole grains, are digested more slowly than low fibre, processed foods.
Because fibre slows the digestion of food, it helps prevent the spikes in blood glucose that can occur after a low fibre meal.
Fibre also slows the absorption of carbohydrates from food, lowering their glycemic impact.
What are good sources of fibre?
- fruits and vegetables with the skin on
- whole grain bread, pasta, and cereal
- brown rice
- legumes, such as beans, chick peas, and lentils
- hazelnuts, macadamia, pine, pistachio
- flax and pumpkin seeds
How much fibre is enough?
Most Canadians only get half the fibre they need every day. There is no upper limit for the intake of fibre.
Men aged 19 to 50 should get 38 grams per day while men over 50 should aim for 30 grams.
Women aged 19 to 50 should consume 25 grams a day and those over 50 should get 21 grams daily.