Taking care of your blood sugar is one of the most valuable things you can do for your mood, weight, and even your heart health. It’s essential for keeping your body’s chemicals (a.k.a. your hormones) in check and also helps stabilize your appetite. If you’re having a hard time finding some balance with your blood sugar, and constantly hungry no matter what, or jittery and shaky, then it’s time to turn to some tips for taking care of your blood sugar ASAP!

Surprisingly, it’s not just the sugary white stuff that raises your blood sugar, and not even the fruit in your diet like some might say. It can also be caused by other factors that you’ll want to be aware of when going throughout your day. Your blood sugar really boils down to your insulin (the sugar hormone, as many call it), which also stores fat and secrets glucose into the cells. Your insulin isn’t your enemy when you care for it. It can help keep your energy stable, but the key is to slow it down for a steady walk, not send it on a rollercoaster ride.

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Here are some things you might not realize affect your blood sugar:

1. Too Much Caffeine

Caffeine also raises insulin when consumed in excess. While a cup (or even two cups) of coffee a day is actually beneficial for your insulin, more than that can cause it to sky-rocket. Even when consumed from healthier sources like yerba mate or black tea, caffeine can make your insulin surge, which leaves you moody, shaky, irritable, and craving sweets. Then you become tired and exhausted when levels drop, which leads you to reach for more caffeine or more sugar, depending on your vice. See how to Eat Your Way to Energy: No Caffeine Needed here if you need some help, or these 14 Natural Caffeine-Free Choices to Help Mellow You Out if you’re stressed.

2. Sugar With Lots of Fat

Natural sources of sugar like fruit are not harmful to the blood sugar when consumed a few times a day and when eaten away from high amounts of fat. (Processed sugar on the other hand, is not a good idea, period.) Fat isn’t bad for you and neither are healthy whole foods like fruit, however, when the two are combined, something funny happens in the cells. Insulin receives sugary sources of food (preferably from whole foods like fruit) and uses it for glucose utilization to give you energy and satisfy your body’s need for carbs. Fruit’s fiber helps slow the sugar’s release into the blood stream, so you tend to be satisfied on a piece of fruit alone as a snack quite easily. However, when eaten with dense sources of fat like oil, insulin doesn’t reach the cells as quickly, so your blood sugar stays elevated. The fat blocks it’s entering into the cells as quickly because fat takes much longer to digest and process. Of course, healthy foods like trail mix and raw nut butter treats are full of good healthy fats and fruit, so the trick is to consume only a little, and never so much that you end up eating more than one serving. Generally, a good ratio is per 1/4 cup or 1/2 piece of fruit to 1 tablespoon of fat. Whole food-based sources of nuts and seeds are also much better than oil, which is not a whole food source of fat. Also avoid sugar juices, refined bread like toast and sugary sources like jam for breakfast whenever possible. Those foods contain processed forms of sugar and very little nutrition overall.

3. Fat-Free Foods

Before you start fearing fat on us, hold up right there! Fat-free isn’t the answer either. Healthy fats help satisfy you sooner, lower insulin, and actually improve your overall absorption of nutrients. The key is to eat a little healthy fat with each meal, and go for more vegetables, leafy greens, beans, legumes, and whole grains than emphasizing a fruit-heavy meal. Again, 1-2 tablespoons is a good size serving of healthy fats for most. If you’re active each day, more may be suitable. Healthy fats also make a great snack at times as well, and healthy fats promote healthy hormone function. Don’t fear the fats! Your blood sugar will benefit when you consume them the smart way: away from high sugary foods whenever possible.

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4. Too Much Protein

Did you know too much protein can actually raise your insulin? Most people find this hard to believe, but your body can only use (and needs) so much protein at one time. Anything after that is almost a waste. Protein can actually help you lose weight and is essential to a healthy blood sugar level, but the trick is not to go overboard with dense sources of protein. This is especially true of over-consuming protein powders and eating animal proteins. Instead, go for veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains for your protein, which your body will easily tell you when you’ve had enough of.  Most people only need 0.5 grams to 1 gram of protein per body weight per day and those amounts should be split up into multiple servings, not consumed at one time.

5. Skipping Meals

You may already know that skipping meals causes blood sugar problems, but in case you don’t, listen up! Skipping meals only teaches your body to store fat and conserve, not metabolize and burn. It also causes your insulin to become imbalanced all the time. Your blood sugar is kept healthy when regular meals (and snacks if needed) are eaten. That being said, if you have an especially heavy meal and aren’t up for a regular size meal later or the next morning, at least eat something light so your insulin is taken care of. If you’re skipping meals to lose weight, stop! Here are some foods that can actually help do that for you (and you still get to eat!).

Be sure to fill your diet up with whole, plant-based foods whenever possible versus animal foods that raise blood sugar or processed foods (vegan or not) that also raise your blood sugar. Taking care of your blood sugar can be the easiest way to stabilize your mood, keep weight off, and improve your energy, all without doing anything else at all. How easy is that?

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