It can be hard to get out of the cycle of eating junk food. Feeling flat or tired can lead to one or two trips to the fridge-freezer to grab something convenient. Feeling hungry can make the best of us cranky. Which can lead to drinking coffee and soda or grabbing a bag of chips, despite wanting to eat healthily.
The truth is - a lot of junk food is simply a mood-altering substance. It’s not just the sugar, salt, and fats - junk food is invariably packed with chemicals that trick your brain and hit that infamous “bliss point.” So it’s no wonder that we crave junk food when our mood is all over the place.
The question is, can your blood sugar affect mood or cause personality changes? And if so, why does high or low blood sugar make you irritable? Finally, we’ll look at the science behind blood sugar and mood so that you can break the cycle by making small changes that will make a world of difference.
Blood Sugar & Mood Swings/ Anger Issues
The brain is made up of 86 billion neurons and is the most energy-hungry organ in the body. Sugar in the form of glucose (Glc) is the main source of energy for the brain and central nervous system. Low levels of Glc in the brain can lead to irritability, fatigue, brain fog, and impaired judgment. Altering all aspects of your mood and ability to communicate effectively. When blood Glc levels are low, you’re hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis or HTPA axis) is stimulated which can exacerbate feelings of rage.
This cascade of fight or flight hormones can trigger hunger for a quick-fix of sugar. This might be a fizzy drink, a tub of ice-cream, or carbohydrates. In this panic, you’ll eat whatever will satiate the urgent requirement for sugar. A lack of preparation leading to reaching for glucose-rich foods is frustrating. What’s more, when you do grab a donut, you’ll instantly create a spike in your blood sugar levels, adding more fuel to the fire.
Stress Could Be an Issue | High Cortisol = High Blood Sugar
When we’re feeling stressed, the body releases cortisol, which in turn stimulates your body to release Glc from all areas. Cortisol is nature’s alarm system altering your motivation and mood. Chronic stress can therefore lead to high blood sugar and put you at risk for developing diabetes. Stress also alters your mood and energy levels, which can make you more tempted to look for something to calm or energize yourself.
Another issue that can cause this perpetual cycle of ups and downs is feeling anxious and depressed. This can lead to desperately wanting to eat junk food to “temporarily” stimulate the brain to release serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Sadly this cycle is all too familiar for many of us, leading to a risk for developing a chronic illness like diabetes, depression, or obesity.
Breaking the Cycle to Keep Blood Sugars Balanced
The good news is that breaking the cycle and maintaining balanced blood sugar levels is possible. It may not be easy at first if you’re hooked on sugar, but with a little bit of grit and determination, you can keep your blood sugar at healthy levels. Here are 7 lifestyle tips that you can use to balance your blood sugars for good.
1. Avoid The Sweet Stuff
Sugar is hidden in many foods like fruit juice, energy drinks, and yogurt. So avoiding sugar altogether can be a big change. Make sure to check the labels of all of the food that you buy, to ensure that it’s not been added under a different name. Sugar is often added to products and labeled as fructose, lactose, dextrose, or sucrose. Take some time to learn about the 59 different forms of sugar, so that you can cut them out of your diet.
2. Avoid Simple Carbs
There are two types of carbohydrates - simple and complex. Simple carbs break down quickly in the body and release glucose into your bloodstream. An easy way to eat more complex carbs and less simple carbs is to switch your bread, pasta, and rice, from white to brown. Avoiding white carbs, (which are simple carbs) will help stabilize your blood sugars as complex carbs as they are rich in fiber, less processed, and take longer to break down in your body.
3. Crowd Out “Junk Food” With Healthy Snacks
Pack your cupboards with healthy snacks that are easy to grab when you’re peckish. By filling your diet with healthy snacks, there will be less space for junk food. The best snacks to choose are nutrient-dense, high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. A few snack ideas are - yogurt and berries, hummus and carrots, sliced apples and almond butter, or homemade protein bars.
4. Berberine Supplement (Commonly Taken for Diabetes)
Berberine is an AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activator that has insulin-dependent hypoglycemic effects and activates the AMPK pathway. The AMPK pathway controls cell growth and autophagy. AMPK is an energy-sensing enzyme. Berberine is a supplement that has many healing properties such as being anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and it may also reduce cholesterol. Popular in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, and has been for thousands of years.
5. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
According to the National Sleep Foundation, getting a good night’s sleep lowers blood glucose levels. A lack of sleep alters your ability to metabolize Glc and affects your hormones. In another study, participants were 40 percent less able to metabolize Glc when sleep restricted. Creating a healthy bedtime routine, ensuring enough high-quality sleep is key.
6. Exercise Regularly to Balance Blood Sugar
The health benefits of exercise include reducing toxic overload by activating your natural detoxification systems. Exercise also stimulates the AMPK pathway, drawing on glucose stores in your muscles and liver. This balances out your blood sugar. Strenuous exercise has the most powerful effect on balancing blood sugar. The effects of exercise on your blood sugar can last up to 24 hours. By monitoring your blood sugar before and after workouts you’ll be able to track your progress.
7. Reduce Stress
Reducing stress is a key factor in balancing your blood sugar because the stress hormone cortisol produces sugar in the blood. The best ways to reduce stress are to understand your triggers and avoid them where possible. That might mean taking five minutes to yourself at the end of the day, or going for a walk when you can feel your stress levels rising. Meditation and yoga are also great habits that help you de-stress and relax. Mindfulness meditation has been clinically proven to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression
The Bottom Line
Blood sugar levels (low or high) can seriously alter your mood. Therefore it’s important to build healthy daily habits that will balance your blood sugar. It’s a good idea to focus on one or two of the above tips, and then gradually build upon them to avoid overwhelm. Small changes to your daily routine build up and lead to a well-balanced healthful lifestyle.
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