Q: I feel moody a lot, and it’s not just PMS. I also crave sweets. I think these are related! What can I do? —Jane P., Seattle
A: We’ve all heard the saying, “everything in moderation.” It may seem banal, but it’s actually sage advice. Humans work best with routines. Go to bed and arise at the same time; brush your teeth morning and night; set aside 30 minutes for exercise each day; and so on. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be spontaneous from time to time, but a regular, stable routine can make all the difference in the world to your outlook, and your health.
This is especially true of blood sugar—one of the most important aspects of our physiology that needs stability. The key is keeping track of blood sugar levels and how different foods affect them. Glucometers are widely available and inexpensive, though the test strips can be costly.
A morning reading, after fasting overnight for 8 hours, should be under 100 ng/mL, but 75–90 is better. Below 60 suggests hypoglycemia, a different problem that requires professional support. More often, however, Americans carry a high blood sugar load, and we currently have an epidemic of diabetes in this country. Unfortunately, this is mostly due to the awful “food” we eat, especially processed grains (cereal, chips, pasta, crackers, donuts, bagels, white bread, cake, cupcakes), and poor-quality fats (found in everything from salad dressings to fried foods).
After eating, it’s normal for blood sugar to rise, up to over 140. But 2 hours later (or 3 hours, later in pregnant women), blood sugar should return to below 140. Get in the habit of checking your morning fasting glucose, writing it down, and rechecking 30 minutes and 2 hours after every meal. The morning and well-after-eating numbers should be below 100. The just-after-eating number should not be above 160. If you get higher readings, see a healthcare professional to diagnose the problem and learn what do to about it.
Did You Know?
The brain requires a huge amount of glucose to function, which is why studying hard often makes people hungry.
Healthy Insulin Levels for Preventing Diabetes
Insulin is produced in the pancreas, and eating triggers its release into the bloodstream. This delivers it to the body’s cells to make energy, sending a message to the brain that there’s plenty of fuel to keep everything running. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your pancreas can’t produce insulin, while type 2 diabetes usually results from eating too many carbs. This desensitizes the insulin receptors in the body’s cells, a condition known as insulin resistance, which in turn keeps glucose in the bloodstream instead of entering the cells.
Fasting insulin levels should be below 12, and go no higher than 25–30 after eating. Anything higher indicates excess sugar in the bloodstream, which can cause oxidative damage that ultimately destroys the tiny capillaries in the lower legs, retinae, and kidneys, which is why diabetics often need foot amputations or kidney dialysis, and may go blind.
3 Tips for Preventing Diabetes Naturally
Fortunately, preventing type 2 diabetes can be as simple as changing your diet. Put down the carbs, and focus on lean, clean protein, plenty of veggies, and unsaturated fats. Stop buying food that wasn’t recently living. A box of crackers? Not lively.
1 - Eat enough dietary fiber
Fiber is crucial for blood sugar control. There is soluble fiber (think oat bran) and insoluble fiber (such as celery), both of which slow the uptake of glucose and prevent the wild ups and downs that eating sugary foods can create. The importance of fiber is readily appreciated in the difference between eating a whole apple (good idea) and drinking a glass of apple juice (bad idea). The saddest part of the Standard American Diet (SAD) is its low fiber content.
2 - Get regular exercise
You simply cannot maintain optimal health by sitting around all day. Standing desks can help. Taking the stairs whenever possible helps. Don’t drive around looking for a parking spot; park farther away and walk a little. The goal is to be at least as active during the day as you are sedentary.
3 - Sleep at least 7 hours or more a night
Less than 7 hours per night has been statistically correlated with obesity. And make water your drink of choice. Keep a glass or stainless steel water bottle with you throughout the day, and invest in a home filtration system (reverse osmosis is good) if you don’t like your community water supply.
Chromium can reduce sugar cravings
Taking a small amount of the inexpensive trace mineral chromium can often significantly curb sugar cravings. Chromium is an essential, naturally occurring mineral that helps insulin deliver glucose to the inside of cells. Look for the picolinate form, and start with 250–300 mcg daily. You’ll know within 10 days if this is a useful strategy for you.
If you’re going to be exposed to tempting “treats” (a real problem during the holidays), here is a strategy to temper the urge. Remember that your body deserves only the best, most nutritiously delicious foods. Don’t gunk it up with junk. It doesn’t feel good, and pretty soon it doesn’t look good, either. It’s just not worth it.