Maintaining blood sugar balance is vital for the optimum health and functionality of any individual. During pregnancy, your increased blood supply and elevated levels of certain hormones expose you to more dips in blood sugar and make balance harder to achieve. I will, therefore, provide useful tips and nutritional advice on how to curb this problem.
Having excessive amounts of sugar in the blood can cause significant damage to our arteries and organs. When we consume foods containing sugar our bodies release a hormone called insulin to pull excess glucose from the blood; the higher the sugar content, the more insulin is released causing blood sugar levels to plummet suddenly.
Since we need some sugar to fuel our cells, we crave sweet treats and pick-me-ups to relieve our symptoms. This triggers another spike and drops in blood sugar.
Short-term symptoms of blood sugar level imbalance:
- Sugar cravings
Long-term symptoms of blood sugar imbalance:
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
Constant fluctuations in blood sugar place unwanted stress on the pancreas and leads to the over-production of cortisol – a hormone that has a direct effect on the ageing process.
Why is blood sugar balance important for your baby?
Babies born to mothers with poor blood sugar control are often bigger. Macrosomia is a condition in which the baby grows excessively large due to a continuously high level of maternal blood sugar, generally due to gestational diabetes. This condition increases the risk of delivery complications, such as shoulder dystocia and caesarean section. Large babies of mothers with elevated blood sugar levels have a higher risk of childhood obesity and developing other health conditions later in childhood. Your midwife will monitor your blood-sugar levels during the third trimester, as gestational diabetes is becoming more and more common.
Follow these rules to balance your blood sugar:
Avoid refined sugar
Simple carbohydrates (sweets, chocolate, cakes, etc.) and refined carbohydrates (white and whole-wheat flour, bread, pasta, white potatoes, etc.) release sugar very quickly into the bloodstream and cause it to spike. Replace these with complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit, brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc.), which contain fibre and release energy slowly, and maintain your blood sugar balance.
Leaving large gaps between meals causes blood sugar levels to drop, leaving you feeling tired and low in energy. In this state, you are more likely to make poor food choices. To prevent this dip, eat three meals and two or more snacks daily. Eating little and often will also be beneficial in the third trimester. By then there is not as much room in your stomach so small meals will help relieve heartburn.
Balance your meals
Combining carbohydrates with healthy fats, protein and fibre ensure a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream. This is why an apple and a piece of chocolate may contain the same amount of sugar, but only the chocolate will spike your blood sugar. Eating a handful of nuts with your fruit, or having a tablespoon of hummus with your crackers, will blunt the sugar spike. As a general rule, all meals should contain carbohydrates, protein and fat, and snacks should contain carbohydrates and protein. This is particularly important for breakfast, which tends to be carbohydrate heavy. Think about introducing natural live yoghurt, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits, berries and eggs.
Stimulants, such as caffeine, have the same effect as sugar on insulin release. They should, therefore, be kept to a minimum or avoided. Can’t go without your daily coffee? Try taking it with half a teaspoon of cinnamon, which cleverly blunts the sugar spike.
Eat fruit in their whole form, rather than juicing
Fruit juice has the same effect on your blood sugar as candy-floss. You need the fibre to bind the sugar and slow its release into your bloodstream.
Moderate exercise and relaxation are helpful to even out blood sugar levels. We recommend yoga, walking, and swimming if you do not already have an exercise routine. In addition to evening out blood sugar levels, you will also gain the benefits of endorphins, those ‘feel good’ hormones crucial to supporting your pregnancy journey.
My resource ‘refined- sugar alternatives and their nutritional benefit.’ may provide a helpful insight and alternative when the sugar cravings kick in. Sugar is important, but it is vital to get the right source of sugar without devouring typical, and often processed sweet-treats, other options are readily available as well.