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Blood Sugar Terminology Made Simple

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Our Educational Content is Not Meant or Intended for Medical Advice or Treatment

Over 100 million people in the United States have been told by their doctors they are either pre-diabetic or they have Type 1 diabetes, or Type 2 diabetes. Are you or a loved one suffering with one of these conditions?

Are you confused by all of the new rules about your diet, testing your blood sugar, and doing all you can to prevent things from getting worse?

Do you even know what your doctors mean when they use terms such as glycemic index, insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, or diabetic ketoacidosis?

I’d like to address this confusion head on and offer you some clarity about basic terminology, dietary considerations, and how to take your power back while you walk this journey back to health. My goal is to simplify things for you so that you can take action.

photo of doctor's coat and hands out, holding question marks.


In this article, I will cover:

 

A Simplified View of 9 Common Blood Sugar Terms

  1. Glycemic is a term that relates to blood glucose, or sugar. The most common ways to measure blood glucose levels in the body are glycemic index and glycemic load.

    paper with Glycemic Load equation and example, alongside a calculator.

     

  2. Glycemic Index is a scale that helps us measure how fast the body digests, absorbs, and raises sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. If you were to eat jellybeans, for example, your blood glucose would spike. If you ate celery, which is not very sweet, your blood sugar would be lower. This numerical value, or index, helps determine how fast your sugars will spike from food.
  3. Insulin is a hormone that is triggered to decrease the amount of sugar in the blood. The pancreas works to produce enough insulin to correct high blood sugar after it spikes. It essentially lowers excess glucose in the blood.

    illustration of body core highlighting location of insulin production, pancreas, arteries, and veins

     

  4. Glycemic Load is a combination of the glycemic index and carbohydrate content. So, based on the amount of carbohydrates in a particular food and its glycemic index scale value, your body will determine how high or low your blood sugar will be and how long it will stay there. For example: If you eat carrots, which have a low glycemic index value and a high carbohydrate/fiber content, they will have a low glycemic load. This would create an increase in blood sugar that comes down quickly on its own. However, if you eat a baked potato, which has a very high glycemic index value and a high carbohydrate amount, you will experience a high glycemic load, because this would create a blood sugar spike for a longer duration. So, we want to look at both the quantity of carbohydrates and the duration of the spikes in glucose levels, in order to truly measure someone’s glycemic response. Of course, a good blood glucose monitoring kit is beneficial to tracking your levels regularly.
  5. Insulin index is another scale of how much insulin the body will release. We know that the glycemic index measures blood sugar spikes -- the insulin index measures insulin spikes. It’s a really good number to keep track of, because insulin should be as low as possible to normal, in order to support weight loss. The higher the insulin, the more damage to the body and the greater the likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Multiple factors can influence the insulin index - not just carbohydrates.
  6. Macronutrients are the three basic parts of any diet, including proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It's important to know that all of these macronutrients can influence insulin levels at some level. Carbohydrates impact insulin levels more than any other macronutrient; especially high-carb foods, such as refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, refined grains, corn, and starches. Excess Protein has the capacity to raise insulin. The main reason we need protein in the diet is to provide structure material for our body parts, such as hair, nails, collagen, muscle, bones, etc. We need protein to build, maintain, and repair our structure. When you consume excessive protein, it will increase insulin. Specifically, any meal with more than 35 grams of protein can be converted into sugar, or glucose. This all depends on age and metabolism. Generally speaking, I recommend a moderate amount of protein, approximately 3-6 ounces per meal, to be safe. The number may vary based on the person, but the true goal is to ensure protein does not stimulate insulin. Let’s look at an example: Low-fat protein, such as fat-free dairy, can trigger higher insulin than a fattier protein like brie cheese. This is interesting, since most people choose to eat a low-fat diet. Fat has a near-zero probability of creating insulin spikes. It’s pretty common for most people to avoid fat. However, fat has near zero response of insulin spikes. It doesn’t have the same response as carbohydrates.
  7. Ketosis and the Ketogenic diet - when you consider creating ketosis or consuming a ketogenic diet, understand that it is very low on carbs, moderate protein, and higher in fat. Why? Because the whole purpose of ketosis is to run your body an alternative fuel source. When you go into a state of ketosis, you no longer use glucose for your fuel. You are using ketones, which is a byproduct of fat. The way you get into ketosis is by reducing your carbs down to 20-50 grams per day. When carbs are lowered, the body is forced to use another fuel system. This can be a much cleaner fuel source than glucose. There are a lot of benefits, such as weight loss and improved cognitive function.

    illustration of low glycemic index foods,healthy fats, grains, vegetables, and nuts

     

  8. Insulin sensitivity occurs when a person has high sensitivity to insulin, their body works harder to control blood sugar levels. The people who have insulin sensitivity typically don’t have a weight problem. They are often thin and pretty healthy.
  9. Insulin resistance - If a person’s insulin is not functioning properly, they are no longer absorbing insulin as intended – the cells essentially block it. This reaction causes a feedback loop where the pancreas makes more insulin to try to overcompensate. In this scenario, a person would have five to seven times more insulin circulating throughout their blood compared to someone with a normal insulin response. These people are typically overweight. Two-thirds of the population has this problem while many do not even know it. The progression of insulin resistance (also known as pre-diabetes) and the body’s inability to adjust can turn into diabetes. Once someone reaches this stage, it becomes more difficult to control blood sugar and insulin levels. One related condition for many with diabetes is called hypoglycemia, which is also known as low blood sugar.
 

Five Ways to Support Healthy Insulin Production

Fortunately, there are several ways to support healthy insulin production and balanced blood sugar levels:


Woman measuring her blood glucose level with serious facial expression.


  1. Lower consumption of carbohydrates – one helpful diet to simplify this step is the ketogenic diet, which is low in carbohydrates and moderate in protein and good sources of fat.
  2. Consume Apple Cider Vinegar, which can help improve insulin sensitivity, support a healthy immune system, sooth acid reflux, and many other benefits.
  3. Eat potassium-rich foods, such as: beet tops, spinach, brussel sprouts, bananas, avocado, squash and electrolyte powders), and foods rich in B-vitamins, such as salmon, avocado, and nutritional yeast.
  4. Get some exercise, which can help insulin receptors to become more receptive and sensitive. Make sure you check with your doctor to agree on the right intensity of exercise and movement for you. Starting with light walking, meditation, and stretching are all great places to start.
  5. Try Intermittent Fasting, which can allow the body time to heal from insulin resistance on its own. Every time you eat, you have the potential to create an insulin spike. Giving the body a break can support the transition to a normal insulin production level. You may find that people's approach to fasting varies. Start with understanding the benefits and build a schedule that works for your lifestyle. Not eating as frequently and not snacking in between meals.
 

The Bottom Line

Overall, whether you struggle with balancing your blood sugar or you just want to get educated about how to protect your system from unhealthy glucose and insulin production levels, I hope that you now have a better understanding of glycemic index, glycemic load, insulin, blood sugar, the ketogenic diet, and lifestyle improvements to support your health goals.

I'd like to get your feedback on this article. Please add comments below.

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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