Updated: Oct 25, 2022
Balanced blood sugar levels are the base for a healthy brain and a healthy brain is the base for healthy hormones, immune function and less migraines.
This is the way to avoid brain fog, afternoon energy slumps and also migraines and headaches. Elevated blood sugar also causes hormonal changes that will affect blood vessel behavior in the brain and that again can cause a headache.
You see that imbalanced blood sugar levels not only affect your daily wellbeing, but they also cause inflammation in our brain and leaving us more prone to diseases like Dementia or Alzheimers for instance. (Read more on why that is at the end of the article)*
So as weird as this still might seem to some of you, balancing your blood sugar is the first step to migraine freedom (and better memory, less cravings, brain fog and happy hormones…)
Especially women are affected by a lower tolerance of carbohydrates in peri menopause and menopause - which means that we need to reduce the consumption of starches, sugars and carbohydrates in general.
Now, everyone knows that eating doughnuts, croissants, pancakes, bread, bagels or cereal in the morning is not very healthy and will spike your blood sugar levels. But it’s also setting you up for a bad mood, low energy, cravings and brain fog for the rest of the day.
But you might not have thought that these “healthy” foods will impact your blood sugar… I was really surprised to hear that overnight’s oats are as bad as pancakes!
There’s many companies who’ve launched CGMs - continuous glucose monitors in the past year(s) and these are the first sets of data they are sharing. I’ve been wanting to test one of these glucose monitors myself to see which foods possibly spike my blood sugar levels, but they are not as available yet in Europe and can be really expensive. If I get around to experimenting with one of these, I will surely write it up for you..
5 “healthy” foods that spike your blood sugar
Many fruits are high in sugar and will produce blood sugar spikes (although whole fruit is always better than juice). Grapes have 15g–20g of sugar per cup (which is about a handful), and though they are said to have a low glycemic index, it has been found that they raise glucose levels sharply.
What are your alternatives: Opt for fruit lower in sugar like green apples or berries and always pair them with fat and protein. Pairing fruit and nuts or nut butters is great as the nuts have some protein and also healthy fat.
I think Oatmeal can safely be considered THE healthy go-to breakfast: we’ve been told it’s good for our cholesterol, has plenty of fiber etc. Plus most of us grew up with porridge at breakfast and it’s just the perfect comfort food. But we now know that oatmeal surprises as a glucose spiker. Worst are of course the instant and quick oats and the flavored varieties that contain added fruit and sweeteners. Also, many people will add maple syrup, brown sugar or honey to their oatmeal. I was surprised to learn that overnight rolled oats are as bad - I would have thought that the prebiotic effect would be extra beneficial.
But of course it always depends on the mix: If you cannot miss your oats, make sure you reduce the amount of oats in your bowl: try 2 TBSP max of steel-cut (big leaf oats), 1 TBSP of ground flax or chia seeds, 1 TBSP of hemp protein, 1 TBSP of nut butter or opt for chia pudding or try this baked blueberry-zucchini oatmeal instead.
Breakfast is best to have hearty as our glucose levels are most sensitive in the morning. That’s why I recommend to eat eggs, meat, fish or have a lentil porridge if you can’t imagine eating meat in the morning. Eggs are easy and quick and also a great way to add in plenty of veggies when making a frittata or scramble.
Sushi and maki are not a great choice, because the sticky white rice is high in starch (carbs) and has almost no fiber. So it’s lacking fiber, but also doesn’t provide much protein as the amount of fish you are getting is quite small. But Sushi is also lacking fat depending on which fish is in it and how much you are eating. Soy sauce also frequently contains sugar.
If you want to enjoy sushi, try this instead: Order sashimi with no rice, and get unsweetened soy sauce. You can have makis (and ideally have maki with salmon and avocado), but eat the sashimi first and keep the amount limited to max 4. Or, try cauliflower rice sushi, which is starting to appear at restaurants and is easy to make. Most supermarkets now have ready frozen cauliflower rice, you just need to cook it. On a side note: tuna is about the worst contaminated fish and salmon (especially from Norway if you live in Europe) is not much better. If you have it from time to time it doesn't matter, but it has been shown that people with heavy metal toxicity feel much better when eliminating sushi from their diet.
4. Acai Bowl
Acai berries are low in sugar (just 2g or 3g per 100g) and loaded with antioxidants, but they have a slight bitter taste, so if you buy this ready, be aware of added sugars from sweeter fruits like bananas or mangos (or even dates), sweeteners like honey, or sweetened nut milks, which are making this “healthy” bowl a real sugar trap. If you are enoying it as a smoothie bowl or smoothie, it’s even worse they will have less fiber that can slow glucose absorption.
So when ordering dishes like this, it’s best to go off the menu or make your own: ask for full fat coconut milk instead of a sweetened nut milk, omit other sugars and ask for the addition of veggies like zucchini, spinach leaves or rocket salad. Reduce the sweeteners, add low-sugar fruits like berries, lemon juice or coconut, and mix in unsweetened milk.
5. Pho and Ramen
Ok not the same dish, but both have a bunch of NOODLES (also the cheapest ingredient) The same has been found for Chinese and Thai food dishes that have white rice and noodles by the way (think fried rice, Phad thai etc). Noodles (even rice noodles) are a processed food made with refined grains that tends to spike many people’s blood sugar.
So if you’re eating these, add extra protein and veggies and either leave 60% of your noodles, order without noodles or check for lower carb alternatives like zucchini (zoodles), konjac root or mung bean noodles. Also, avoid any sugary sauces or glazes.
You see that what you are eating with the carbs and also in what order is actually important: if you are having eggs and greens for breakfast and then have a coffee or pancake afterwards, it will not impact your blood sugar as much because you had a balanced meal before.
Eating a slice of bread or fruit alone will spike your blood sugar, but topping your bread and fruit with nut butter or eating whole nuts will lessen the glucose spike. You know I always pray: FAT, FIBER & PROTEIN with every meal!!!
Now your diet might be great and you can still have imbalanced
blood sugar levels…
This is why I always focus on digestion first (see step 2 of the migraine freedom pyramid):
If you aren’t absorbing vitamins, fatty acids, and fiber from the food you eat, you won’t have the essential factors required to support pancreatic function and insulin production, and as a result you can’t optimize blood sugar handling.
If you can’t access the minerals from your diet, you’re going to have deficiencies, and supplementation will certainly help, but isn’t addressing the root of the issue.
Mineral balance is especially important for migraines and also hormone balance.
*Why does elevated blood sugar cause inflammation in your brain?
Glucose is the body's main source of fuel and our brain is consuming about 20% of the glucose your body is producing. When you have constantly elevated blood glucose levels (and no insulin anymore to counter that effect because your cells have become insulin resistant and/or your pancreas cannot keep up anymore with insulin production), it can damage the kidneys and other organs—including, the brain.
High levels of blood glucose entering the brain cause damage to blood vessels over time. When excess blood sugar levels damage the small blood vessels of the brain, the of your nerves is disrupted and impacts your mental function.
Studies show that patients with type 2 diabetes have reductions in brain volume of 0.5 to 2% which is what you’ll normally lose in 2-5 years of “normal” ageing.
But consistently high blood sugar also increases the buildup of beta amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain.
Elevated glucose levels in the bloodstream will bind to proteins and make them sticky, almost like putting cotton candy in your arteries. Over time, that excess sugar contributes to narrowing and stiffening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Since the brain is dependent on the arteries to carry oxygen and nutrients, when there are microvascular injuries, the brain suffers as well from oxygen and nutrient deprivation.