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7 Signs Your Blood Sugar Is Out Of Whack – And What To Do About It

Vogue Arabia, March 2021. Photo: Anthony Arquier

Unless you suffer from diabetes (or another related health condition), chances are you hadn’t given a second thought to your blood sugar levels until recently. But the widespread introduction of diabetes and weight-management semaglutide drugs, like Ozempic and Wegovy (which work by stimulating the release of insulin to lower blood sugar, thereby reducing hunger), means we’re now far more aware of the impact our blood sugar levels can have on our weight – as well as our overall physical and mental health – than before.

Health professionals have long been warning about the impact rollercoaster blood sugar levels can have on our bodies and minds, but these messages are being heard more widely thanks to the exposure the subject is getting on social media. Just take the French biochemist Jessie Inchauspé, also known as Glucose Goddess on Instagram, as an example – she has an audience of 2.9million hanging on her every sugar-savvy word.

What exactly is blood sugar?

“Blood sugar is, in simple terms, the amount of glucose circulating in our blood,” explains Henrietta Norton, the co-founder of Wild Nutrition. “The glucose is generated from the food we eat, or from stored forms of glucose (called glycogen). Glucose is essential for fuelling our cells and is most crucial for our brains.” It’s vital to have a healthy supply of it in the blood stream.

Why does blood sugar matter?

Healthy blood sugar levels provide our cells with the energy they need to do their respective jobs. But when they fluctuate a lot, and there is excess insulin in the body on a daily basis, this can contribute to all manner of issues, like “fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, depression, impaired immunity, inflammation, PCOS, menstrual abnormalities and more”, says nutritional therapist Rhian Stephenson.

Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells no longer respond to insulin (the hormone that instructs cells to take in sugar and convert it to energy) in the same way they did before, which results in heightened blood sugar levels. Regular (and excess) exposure to sugars and carbohydrates means our insulin (and the pancreas, which secretes it) have to work double time, tire themselves out and eventually don’t work as effectively as they should. That’s when blood sugar levels become consistently high, an issue that can ultimately lead to diabetes.

Insulin resistance is one of the biggest contributors to chronic disease. Not just just type 2 diabetes, but cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s, too. The aim is to maintain healthy, balanced blood sugar levels to ensure the insulin stays in check for optimal health.

What causes blood sugar to fluctuate?

“Our blood sugar levels are always fluctuating depending on our diet, exercise levels, stress and other life and health factors,” explains Norton. It’s when they veer too high, or too low, that we start to experience issues.

Our diet plays a key role in causing them to fluctuate. “Blood glucose (or sugar) comes from the foods we eat (mostly carbohydrates), which then enters the bloodstream and gets converted into energy or fat,” explains Jessica Sepel, founder of JS Health. Key culprits include alcohol, refined sugars and carbohydrates, and sugary or energy drinks. Coffee also causes a blood sugar yo-yo, says Sepel, due to a link between adrenaline, cortisol and insulin.

7 signs your blood sugar levels are imbalanced

While a blood sugar monitor will allow you to track and understand what’s going on in real time, they are expensive and not something that experts recommend using regularly, unless you are diabetic. That said, you can get an idea of how your blood sugar levels are impacted by different foods by signing up to Zoe, a personalised nutrition programme designed to help you understand exactly what impact the different foods you put into your body are having. It includes a guided two-week period of blood sugar monitoring.

Mostly, you can gauge how they’re faring by paying attention to how you feel. You might notice:

  • Feeling lethargic, tired or sluggish
  • Suffering from brain fog
  • Low mood, anxiety or depression
  • Irritability
  • Feeling constantly hungry and craving unhealthy foods
  • Feeling faint or shaky
  • Forgetfulness

“Blood glucose regulation has a profound impact on mood,” says Norton. “Brain chemicals (also known as neurotransmitters) and hormones that control our mood are generated by using glucose as the primary fuel – a significant body of research has shown that too much or too little glucose impacts the efficiency with which we make these, and therefore has a direct effect on our mental wellbeing.”

Longer term, you might see changes in your weight, hormonal imbalances and more long-lasting mental health issues, not to mention the aforementioned chronic diseases that are so often fuelled by fluctuating blood sugar levels.

How to balance your blood sugar levels


Diet is one of the most influential factors when it comes to blood sugar – and the quickest way to address fluctuating levels is to remove excess sugar from the diet. “When our diet is full of sugar and quickly absorbed carbohydrates, we see bigger peaks and falls of insulin and blood sugar throughout the day,” says Stephenson. “If this continues, the body slowly becomes resistant to the effects of insulin and will need to release more of it to try and keep blood sugar stable – that’s when problems occur.”

As well as forgoing sugary foods and refined carbohydrates (opt for whole food or slow-release carbs instead), Stephenson recommends including adequate protein (think chicken, meat, eggs and tofu), fat and fibre onto your plate. It’s all about starting your day right, with a savoury, high protein and high fat breakfast to prevent blood sugar spikes throughout the day. Cereals, toast and pastries are a no-no.

It can also help to understand the glycemic index (or GI) of foods you’re eating because this is the “measure by which we evaluate the speed at which carbohydrate foods affect your blood sugar levels, if eaten alone”, says Norton. Examples of low GI foods include nuts, seeds, vegetables, proteins and fats, while high GI foods include white bread, cereals, white rice and pastries.

One final thing to be aware of is how you combine your foods – mixing carbohydrates with protein and fat can slow the glucose conversion down, which prevents drastic spikes. Inchauspé recommends starting each meal with a “vegetable starter”, since the fibre in vegetables coats the digestive tract, reducing its ability to absorb glucose from food. This, in turn, reduces blood sugar spikes, regardless of what you eat afterwards.

Intermittent fasting

Time-restricted eating techniques, such as intermittent fasting, can also help lessen insulin load, but Stephenson says that your overall nutrition is still the most important thing. “Eating excess sugar and refined carbohydrates on the days you’re not fasting isn’t going to be beneficial and could actually do more harm than good,” she points out.


If you’re suffering with chronic stress, then chances are you are also suffering with elevated blood sugar levels. “It’s why people often find it difficult to lose weight when they’re stressed, even if their diet seems to be balanced,” says Stephenson. “Anything you can do to diminish the impact of stress will have a knock-on effect on blood sugar.” Make time for things like meditation, mindfulness, yoga or breathwork – or all of them!


Exercise is helpful in a number of ways. “Think of your muscles as your metabolic engines – when we have muscles that are metabolically active, we are able to burn more glucose as fuel, during exercise and at rest,” says Stephenson. “If we have very little muscle tone, we’ll be more prone to storing glucose as fat.” As well as ensuring you work on your muscle mass – via resistance workouts and weights – going for a walk after a meal has been scientifically proven to blunt the glucose response to meals rich in sugar or refined carbs.


“Chromium, cinnamon, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 are some of my favourites for assisting with blood sugar levels,” says Sepel. “Finding a good combination of them can really help.”

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