Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is super important for overall health and wellness. Even more so for individuals who have to watch their blood sugar balance. Nutrient-dense foods (like the ingredients we start with in a Good Measure Nut Butter Bar!) contain protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals that can contribute to a healthy diet.
Most importantly, protein and fiber help regulate blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and support a healthy immune system. Want to learn more about nutrient density and how it supports blood sugar balance? Continue reading!
What Does "Blood Sugar Balance" Really Mean?
The term "blood sugar" refers to the glucose in your bloodstream. When you eat carbohydrates for example, your blood sugar increases temporarily, triggering the release of insulin. Eating blood sugar-balancing foods may help with cognitive function, mood, and energy levels. However, when your blood sugar is out of balance it can contribute to brain fog, poor sleep, irritability, anxiety, low energy, and weight gain.
What Is Nutrient Density?
Nutrient-dense foods are low in calories but relatively high in nutrients. They contain vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates, all of which your body uses to maintain its normal functions. In technical terms, nutrient density is the contribution of nutrients per calorie of a food or beverage. That definition is a little difficult to understand, especially if you're trying to teach children about nutrient density, so let's take a look at a real-life example.
Imagine you're standing in the snack aisle of your local grocery store. You have a box of crackers in each hand, and you're comparing the nutrition labels to see which product is better for you. Both types of crackers have 100 calories per serving, but you notice that one box has more fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals when compared to the other option. That box has more nutrients per calorie, indicating it has a higher level of nutrient density. Whole fruits, fruits and vegetables, seafood, low-fat dairy products, beans, nuts, peas, and eggs are examples of nutrient-dense foods.
The Importance of Nutrient-Dense Foods for Blood Sugar Management
Even when you pay close attention to nutrition labels and do your best to choose nutritious foods, you may be consuming more sugar than recommended. Without moderation, even natural forms of sugar in maple syrup, honey, and other foods can be harmful to your body. Too much sugar reduces the nutritional benefits of eating foods high in essential vitamins and minerals.
How Can Blood Sugar Impact Energy?
When your blood sugar is too high, it stimulates an insulin response that can ‘over-react’ thus pulling too much sugar into tissues causing the so-called feeling of a crash. Sleep is important, but your sense of energy is closely related to how, what, and when you eat. Under normal conditions, your brain uses mostly glucose for energy. Therefore, it's no surprise that poor glucose balance has been linked to reduced alertness, fatigue, and decreased energy levels.
That said, the more "energy" you have in your body in the form of glucose, the less energetic you're likely to feel. Your perception of energy is closely linked to spikes and dips in your blood sugar.
Spikes in Blood Sugar
After a meal or snack, your blood sugar level "spikes," which may lead to a post-meal slump. During this slump, you could feel sleepy and have trouble doing tasks requiring high levels of energy. Hyperglycemia in individuals starts at 180-200 mg/dl. When this spike in blood sugar occurs, short-term symptoms an individual will notice include:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
Individuals can also expect to deal with feelings of sadness and anxiety, experience slower mental processing speeds, and had worse working memory and attention spans. That quick spike in blood sugar seemed to correspond to lower energy levels and poor performance on cognitive tasks.
Dips in Blood Sugar
Glucose spikes affect your energy levels, but so do glucose dips. In a study involving individuals with diabetes, researchers discovered that glucose levels between 42 and 59 milligrams per deciliter overnight were associated with decreased well-being, a lack of energy, and a faster time to fatigue during exercise the following day. Their performance was compared to the performance of individuals whose glucose levels ranged from 90 to 216 milligrams per deciliter overnight.
In some cases, a glucose dip occurs after a post-meal glucose spike. This is known as reactive hypoglycemia, a phenomenon that's notorious for causing fatigue and low energy. Some studies suggest that making small changes to your eating habits can minimize or eliminate reactive hypoglycemia.
Glycemic Load Explained
Several factors influence your post-meal glucose levels. The glycemic index of food helps you understand how quickly glucose from food is absorbed and enters the bloodstream. The glycemic load describes the glycemic index in a serving of food. Therefore, some foods with high easily- absorbed sugars may be small servings and not increase your body glucose very much.
What Does "Energy Dense" Mean?
Energy-dense foods contain a high number of calories per gram, which means they contain more energy. An energy-dense food usually has little moisture and higher amounts of fat. These are some common examples of foods with high levels of energy density and low levels of nutrients:
- Deep-fried foods
- Fatty cuts of meat
- French fries
- Chips and crackers
- Baked goods
Low Energy Density Foods
Low-calorie foods often have a low energy density, but not always, so read nutrition labels carefully to ensure you're making the best choices. High-fiber foods, colorful fruits and vegetables, and foods with high water content tend to have low energy density.
For example, a slice of juicy watermelon is packed with nutrients, but it doesn't have many calories. Since many nutrient-dense foods are also low in energy density, they typically have more nutrients per serving size. A good example is fresh fruits and berries. They're low in calories, but they contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Tips to Reduce Energy Density and Increase the Nutrients of Your Food Choices
One way to reduce the energy density of your diet is to choose fiber-rich, water-rich fruits and vegetables. You should also consider limiting the number of saturated fats in your diet and keeping fat intake from unsaturated fats such as fish or nuts.
Here are some additional tips to increase your nutrient intake while lowering energy density:
- Incorporate more fruits and vegetables: Fresh produce is packed with fiber and water, making it nutrient-dense without increasing energy density.
- Add cooked starchy vegetables for balance: Have a baked potato as a side dish or eat another starchy vegetable to balance out other foods.
- Pay close attention to portion sizes: Controlling your portions is an excellent way to reduce energy density throughout the day.
Incorporate Nutrient Dense Foods with Good Measure
Knowing what foods to eat in order to maintain balanced blood sugar levels is vital for those that want to keep an eye on it. Remember, nutrient-dense foods include whole vegetables, dark chocolate, seafood, and eggs.
With the help of nutrient-dense foods for ingredients like
Good Measure Nut Butter Bars, making blood sugar-friendly choices becomes a little easier.