Over the years as a functional medicine doctor, I have seen just about every hormone problem imaginable. The beautifully delicate balance of your hormonal system is essential for your mood, metabolism, energy, sex drive, and sleep. It is this perfect dance between your brain, endocrine system, hormones, and cells that make for an abundantly thriving life. The loss of this sacred balance throws off just about every aspect of what makes you feel like you.
When your thyroid, leptin, insulin, and cortisol hormones are off, so are you. One of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance and resistance patterns is a blood sugar out of control. The subsequent blood sugar roller coaster will make you feel like a mess: irritable, exhausted, and hangry for everything you don't want to be eating but can't seem to stop. Most of my patients are eating cleaner than most, well-educated in all things healthy, but despite their best efforts they are still having these hormone and blood sugar problems.
Functional medicine is predicated on finding out what your body loves and hates. Even if something is generally healthy, it may not be optimal for you. Everyone knows eating junk food isn't good for hormone and blood sugar balance. If you are doing everything right but still have blood sugar issues, here are the unsuspecting "healthy foods" I find don't work so well if blood sugar highs and lows are an issue for you:
1. Agave nectar:
Agave is usually considered a healthy alternative when it comes to sweetener alternatives because it is considered a low-glycemic option. The glycemic index grades carbohydrates based on how fast they will raise your blood sugar, which in my opinion, can be a very simplistic way of determining whether a food is "bad" or not.
Since agave nectar is extremely high in fructose, which, while low-glycemic, delays damage to the body. Your body takes a while to convert the fructose into glucose, glycogen, lactate, and fat in your liver. This is very stressful on your liver and can contribute to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance.
2. "Healthy" grains: gluten-free products, whole grains, sprouted grains:
We all know by now that gluten can be bad for your health in myriad ways. However, even so-called "healthy" gluten-free grains can be just as inflammatory. Gluten-free grains and whole or sprouted grains have similar proteins to gluten, which can contribute to inflammation and are still extremely high in amylose sugars. An overload of these can lead to blood sugar spikes, insulin resistance, and inflammation: sure markers of diabetes.
3. Higher fructose fruit:
Fruit contains natural sugars, but for people with blood sugar problems it can still spike blood sugars. It is easy to assume that fruit is healthy because it is a whole unprocessed food source. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you have blood sugar problems it is important to limit high-fructose fruits such as apples, watermelon, pears, and cherries. But don't fear fruit! There are many healing aspects to these foods. It's all about balance and what amount works best for your body.
Beans contain a large amount of starch and fiber that are generally healthy, but for people with blood sugar issues, not always. In addition, the lectins and phytates proteins in legumes can cause bloating and gas and continue to drive inflammation. I find that this is one common blood sugar spiker in people who eat clean but rely heavily on beans as a source of protein, such as vegans and vegetarians. Again, healthy food, but what works for one person may not be right for you.
5. Too many starchy vegetables:
Your body quickly converts carbohydrates to glucose. By only including carb-heavy vegetables in your diet you can be contributing to higher blood sugar levels to rise without even meaning to. Foods like potatoes, beets, and squash are all healthy foods, but I find people with blood sugar issues have to limit these as they are regaining insulin sensitivity. As with the mentioned fruits, once insulin sensitivity and hormonal balance are regained, these are wonderfully healing foods that can be increased.
Healthy fats are needed for anyone with blood sugar problems. Transitioning your body from being a sugar burner to a more stable fat burner is essential for sustainable blood sugar balance. The problem happens when your fat comes from unhealthy sources like processed polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) oils found in vegetable, canola sunflower, corn, and soybean oils. Touted as "heart healthy," these oils are highly processed and oxidize easily with heat and air exposure. This can raise inflammation, which is a source of insulin resistance and blood sugar problems.