Do we need to do more than just exclude gluten?
By Christine Lewis
If you’re living with gut symptoms from IBS, gluten intolerance or avoid gluten with coeliac disease, you may experience seemingly unrelated health issues.
Maintaining optimum health whilst living with an ongoing gut condition is essential.
I’m a registered nutrition therapist specialising in gut-related health conditions and work to improve the availability of gluten-free products in the food sector. Over the coming months, I will be bringing you a series of evidence-based articles with clinical relevance to gut conditions. I hope you enjoy this series and that these articles help you to improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Stabilising blood sugar is a key first step to supporting food intolerances, inflammatory and autoimmune conditions
Unstable blood sugar underlies many of the symptoms that sufferers of food-triggered inflammatory conditions have to cope with. You might recognise the symptoms of exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety, depression and brain fog but may not have made the connection that your diet and the way you eat is affecting your blood sugar metabolism. All these symptoms are relatively easy to remedy, and many sufferings from gut-related conditions don’t realise how closely these symptoms impact overall health. So, understanding how and why blood sugar balance is so important is a particularly good place to start.
Low blood sugar has many noticeable symptoms. One clear sign that changes in your blood sugar metabolism are occurring is how you feel after eating. Feeling re-energised with improved brain function suggests that things are not right. This may sound counter-intuitive, but you should feel the same after eating as you do before, just not hungry.
Our busy lifestyle is often behind the progression of blood sugar metabolism changes. Do you have coffee in the morning to keep yourself going when you don’t have time for breakfast? Maybe you have a chocolate biscuit in the afternoon to lift you from fatigue and regularly have snacks that don’t contain protein? If so, you are likely pushing your blood sugar regulation off normal balance and as a consequence, you may experience some of the following:
- Increased energy after meals
- Eating to relieve fatigue
- Becoming lightheaded around mealtimes
- Craving for chocolate or sweets between meals
- Dependency on coffee and sugar for energy
- Shaky or jittery feelings when mealtime is delayed
- Feeling nervous or agitated
- Poor memory and forgetfulness
Managing good blood sugar balance is essential for every aspect of health, particularly when you are coping withgut-relatedd problems. Here are some easy habits you can adopt to prevent or correct fluctuations in blood sugar balance:
- Includhigh-qualityty protein and fats with your breakfast. You may wake up with no appetite but trying to eat a small amount of protein within the first two hours of waking will really help to get you off to a good start. Egg, cottage/feta cheese and avocado are all great protein toppings for gluten-free toast and will help to stabilise your blood sugar, keeping you feeling sustained for longer.
- Always eat refined or high carbohydrate foods, including gluten-free alternatives, with protein or healthy fat. Healthy fats and protein help to slow down the absorption of sugar/glucose and reduce the peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day.
- A high carbohydrate diet is often the root of blood sugar imbalances, according to data from a randomised controlled study published in The Journal of Nutrition and Diabetes (1). The level of carbohydrate tolerance is personal to each person. Try to assess how you feel after eating refined carbohydrate foods. If you feel tired after eating refined carbohydrates, you may well be eating too much; try to reduce the portion size and always ensure it is accompanied by some protein.
- Initially, it is better to eat a small amount of food with protein every two to three hours until you begin to feel less reliant on sugary foods for energy. Going for long periods without food with low blood sugar can make the situation worse longer-term. When you notice your symptoms improving, move to three meals a day and try not to snack between meals.
- Limit caffeine energy-boosting drinks as these place demand on the adrenal glands, which work to produce cortisol. Cortisol is a key hormone that functions alongside insulin to control blood sugar balance.
- Try to remove fruit juices as these contain a surprisingly high about of sugar with no fibre to slow the release of glucose into blood circulation.
- It is best not to eat sugary or starchy foods before bed. If your body is not controlling blood sugar well, you will find your blood sugar level will fall dramatically during the night long before your next meal is due. Your adrenal system, in trying to release stored glucose, will release cortisol, the hormone that stimulates the body to wake and can cause restless sleep, particularly around 3 am.
- Eat a well-balanced diet including plenty of vegetables, good quality meat, fish and animal fats.
- Always keep away from your food intolerances, food allergies or known food triggers. Whenever a food creates an immune response, it also creates blood sugar instability and insulin surges.
You should find these simple habits provide you with better energy levels that stay consistent throughout the day. You should feel more mentally alert and able to stay on top of your food intolerance and not give in to cravings.
Amazingly there are some foods that help us better handle sugar.
The spice cinnamon has been used and recorded in just about every traditional medicine culture across the world. As well as suppressing inflammation cinnamon helps to regulate blood sugar metabolism. In a study by Ball State University (2), researchers found that the addition of 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to morning cereal reduced blood glucose concentration by 24%. Cinnamon is great on porridge, in hot milk and a treat in rice pudding.
Managing your blood sugar is a powerful tool you have at your disposal and a vital ingredient to maintaining your health and wellbeing.
The information in this article is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Please always seek advice from your doctor.
- (1) Saslow. L et.al (2017) Twelve-month outcomes of a randomised trial of a moderate-carbohydrate versus very low-carbohydrate diet in overweight adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus or prediabetes PMCID: PMC5865541 DOI: 10.1038/s41387-017-0006-9
- (2) Magistrelli, A. 2012 Effect of ground cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose concentration in normal-weight and obese adults. PMID: 23102179 DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.07.037