Do you tend to miss breakfast and then crave sugary snacks by 11am, do you suffer a brain ‘fog’ in mid-afternoon and ease it with another coffee and a biscuit?

Are you Type A Personality – a generally stressed, rushed/and or exhausted person?

If the answer is Yes to any of these questions, you may well have blood sugar problems.

One major reason to avoid eating sugar is to slow the ageing process. Sugar is the most significant physical factor that accelerates ageing. It does this by two mechanisms. Firstly it attaches itself to proteins in the body forming sugar-protein substances called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). The higher the AGE levels, the faster your skin will wrinkle and the AGEs also trigger inflammation, especially in the brain, which can cause mental ‘fogginess’, and in the long term degenerative conditions of the brain. Also, sugar increases free radicals in the body, which accelerates ageing, and the average person in the West consumes around 30lbs of sugar annually!

Eating foods with a high sugar content such as biscuits, cakes, meringues, desserts and so on, causes a rapid rise in your blood sugar levels. In response, the pancreas over-reacts by secreting too much insulin to remove the excess sugar from the blood stream. This results in a drop in blood sugar, and the adrenal glands then begin secreting cortisol to balance the pancreas, which prevents glucose levels from dropping too far or too quickly.

If this situation continues, over production of insulin not only places an additional burden on the pancreas (that can lead to diabetes), but also the adrenal glands. And if the adrenal glands become exhausted, then production of cortisol is greatly reduced. If this happens, because cortisol is needed to help regulate blood sugar levels, they can eventually drop too low, which triggers headaches, brain fog and in extreme cases blackouts.

Whilst all this is going on in your body, you will most probably crave even more sugary foods and drinks as your body strives to achieve a proper glucose/insulin balance. Your sugar cravings are a direct indication that sugar is at work ageing your body.

Nutritionist, Kathryn Marsden, once explained this brilliantly in one of her lectures. Imagine you are setting fire to a piece of paper. Initially it bursts into bright flames which last for a few minutes, but then quickly subsides into ashes, and if you want bright flames again, you need more paper. This simple analogy is perfect to explain blood sugar problems. You eat sugar, you get the quick energy burst and then thirty minutes or so later you need more to keep the flames bright.

It’s an addictive vicious cycle that needs a fair amount of discipline to overcome. Fluctuations in blood sugar can trigger feelings of depression, anxiety, mood swings, fatigue and even aggressive behaviour. Proper sugar balance is also needed for muscle contractions, the digestive system and nerve health. Additional symptoms range from restlessness, insomnia, dizziness, general shakiness and trembling, ravenous hunger and craving for sweets, plus heart problems, nausea, blurry vision, and frequent headaches or migraines.

The fluctuation in blood sugar levels is particularly harmful to the brain, which is highly sensitive to blood sugar levels. The brain uses glucose, as a source of fuel to think and function clearly, and when you become hungry then the hypothalamus area within the brain simply demands more sugar. But at this point you need to eat more foods that release their natural sugars more slowly into the bloodstream, such as wholemeal bread and pastas, brown rice, etc whilst avoiding high sugar foods. Sugar depletes the body of vital minerals, especially chromium, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc, and magnesium, which are all needed to process sugar.

During my 10 years as a health writer I have heard some dreadful stories about blood sugar problems. In one such case a 38-year-old mother of 2 began to suffer giddy spells. Her doctor said it was an ear problem and prescribed antibiotics. There was no improvement. A month later she fainted, after a several more weeks and more blackouts her driver’s licence was taken from her and she lost her job. She found it hard to get up in the morning and was constantly exhausted. The doctor prescribed anti-depressants.

Eventually, her husband left and took the children. Her doctor admitted her to hospital, but all the tests showed nothing. Then almost by chance she met a nutritional doctor who asked her about her diet. This was the first time in a year that anyone had asked her about her diet. She lived on sugary drinks and snacks. She had low blood sugar. It took her 18 months to finally conquer her terrible addiction to sugar and she is now fine.

This is an extreme case, but I have heard of dozens of cases of young women who skip breakfast, live on colas and snacks and then have fainting/blackout episodes. Such symptoms can usually be avoided by just watching your diet. One of the easiest ways to recognise blood sugar problems, is if you eat fatty sugary foods one day- and you notice almost immediately you are ‘wearing’ the extra weight on your tummy and thighs- this is because of the excess sugar  being stored as fat.

Foods To Avoid

The most important thing is to remove all refined and most processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, caffeine, pre-packaged fruit juices and alcohol. Alcohol severely stresses blood sugar control, particularly if you drink on an empty stomach.

  •  I’m afraid all those wonderful chocolate croissants, sugary cakes, biscuits, white rice and bread – generally ‘white’ foods need to go. Not forever, just keep things in balance. You can have treats, but don’t live on them.
  • The average can of a fizzy drink contains 8 to 9 teaspoons of sugar. When a person drinks it, the blood is hit with a hefty dose of sugar 8 to 9 times more than normal.
  • All these foods are low in fibre and minerals, the very things that you need to help control blood sugar.
  • Limit the foods with a high glycemic index (see below).

Friendly Foods

Chia Seeds are a/v in all health food shops and if used regularly they help slow the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed and reduce sugar cravings.  They help balance blood sugar levels. Soak a dessert spoon in half a cup of water, soak for half an hour and drink between meals.

Begin the day with breakfast – you are literally breaking a fast – and to keep your blood sugar on an even keel try porridge oats, sweetened with chopped fruit and a few prunes or raisins. Otherwise a low sugar cereal, beans on toast or an egg is fine. If you cannot face breakfast at least take with you a couple of bananas, a yoghurt and a packet of raisins and pumpkin seeds.

Fibre helps to slow down the release of sugars, so if you have porridge or cereal add extra rice or oat bran to increase fibre, or eat a piece of fruit before the porridge.

Eat sugar in the form of complex carbohydrates, high in fibre, like brown rice and pasta, barley, lentils, spelt, amaranth, millet and vegetables. The body slowly breaks these down into simple sugars, which are steadily released into the bloodstream giving sustained energy.

Eat a little protein with each meal. Good proteins include fish, unrefined nuts, seeds, tofu, skinless turkey or chicken, low fat yoghurt (preferably sheep or goats).

Reduce saturated fats found in meats and dairy foods, but include more good quality oils, such as olive oil, unrefined flaxseed or fish oil, walnut or sunflower oil. (Do not use these for cooking, apart from olive oil.) Avoid NO fat diets as some fat in the diet helps to slow the uptake of glucose into the blood .

To keep the blood sugar at a relatively constant level, eat little and often, about 4–6 small meals/snacks a day. Do not allow yourself to become really hungry. Some people with chronic hypoglycaemia find it helpful to eat a small snack such as a banana with a few seeds at bedtime. § During a hypoglycaemic reaction, a good snack would be a couple of oatcakes with nut butter (almond, hazelnut, cashew or peanut), or oat or rice cakes with goats cheese or avocado.

However, in acute cases – such as fainting, extreme weakness, trembling and giddiness – it is vital to restore blood sugar balance as quickly as possible. Although it’s not the long-term solution, give the person a sugary drink such as Lucozade, or a sugary biscuit, which should alleviate their symptoms fairly quickly.

The glycaemic index is a measure of how a given food affects blood-glucose levels, with each food assigned a numbered rating. The lower the rating, the slower the digestion and absorption process. Conversely, a high rating means blood-glucose levels are increased quickly.

Eat foods which are low on the glycaemic index. The lower the number the better, although you can take a small portion of food which is high on the glycaemic index if you mix it with a protein food.
Glycaemic Index Table

  • Maltose 100
  • Glucose 100
  • Sugar (sucrose) 59
  • Fructose (fruit sugar) (Fructose is many times sweeter than ordinary sugar- use for baking etc.) 20
  • Honey 87
  • Jam 55
  • Fruit preserve (without sugar) 25
  • Biscuits 70
  • White bread 70
  • Brown bread 65
  • Wholemeal bread or bread with bran 46
  • Wholemeal rye bread 41
  • 100% stoneground wholemeal bread 35
  • Refined cereals with sugar 73
  • Wholegrain cereals without sugar 66
  • Oat flakes 49
  • Cornflakes 80
  • Popcorn 85
  • Chocolate bars 68
  • Dark chocolate (over 60% cocoa) 22
  • Milk products 36
  • White rice 72
  • Wholegrain rice 66
  • Non or whole wheat pasta 55
  • Wholewheat pasta 42
  • 100% stoneground whole wheat pasta 30
  • Fresh fruit juice (without sugar) 37
  • Fresh fruit 30
  • Bananas 62
  • Lemons Less than 15
  • Red kidney beans 29
  • Dried peas 35
  • Dried beans 31
  • Lentils 29
  • Corn (maize) 70
  • Chickpeas 36
  • Soya 15
  • Peas 51
  • Carrots 49
  • Beetroot 64
  • Mashed potatoes 90
  • Baked jacket potatoes 85
  • Boiled potatoes 70
  • Green vegetables, tomatoes, mushrooms Less than 15
  • Xyltol – a plant based sugar – a/v in all health shops  9

Useful Remedies For Hypoglycaemia

  • Chromium in the form of chromium picolinate, chromium polynicotinate, or GTF chromium, help control blood sugar levels by assisting insulin to carry glucose into cells to be burned for energy. American research has found that taking just 200mcg daily can reduce the likelihood of late onset diabetes by 50%.
  • You also need a multi-mineral formula that contains 200-400mg of magnesium, which helps to keep you calm and balance blood sugar.
  • A high strength vitamin B-complex helps support the adrenal glands and play a major part in carbohydrate metabolism.
  • Carnosine is a naturally occurring antioxidant made within the body and as we age the levels fall. High concentrations of carnosine are present in long-lived cells such as in nerve tissues and people who live longer have higher levels of this nutrient. Carnosine has been shown to help reverse age related damage caused by advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) especially in the skin. It’s found in lean red meat and chicken. Take 150mg daily on an empty stomach. Available from The Nutri Centre Tel 0207 436 5122 or order from the Life Extension Foundation on www.lef.org.
  • Vitamin C helps support the adrenal glands, which help to regulate blood sugar levels. Take 1gram daily.
  • Glucobalance is specially formulated for hypoglycaemia, and contains Chromium polynicotinate which has been shown to improve blood sugar stability. Glucobalance also contains vitamins C and B5 which support the adrenal glands – as adrenal weakness is often at the root of hypoglycaemic problems. Other ingredients include Vanadium and L Carnitine. It also contains vitamins B1, B3 and B3, which are needed for energy production. For details contact The Nutri Centre – 0207 436 5122. Helpful Hints
  • If you are an adrenaline junkie, live on your nerves, snacking on junk foods, you need to take a long hard look at your life, and change your diet.
  • Living on adrenaline is an alternative way to produce energy as this causes blood sugar to be released from the cells. In time, the adrenal glands become exhausted due to overuse and low blood sugar problems worsen. Make efforts to reduce or eliminate stress, particularly emotional stress. § In some people low blood pressure is linked to low blood sugar.
  • Regular exercise is very important as it improves insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance and increases tissue chromium concentrations.
  • For more help, my cookbook ‘500 of the healthiest remedies you’ll ever need’ – Cico books – contains some excellent advice and recipes for controlling blood sugar issues.