Blood sugar management is often cited as the most important nutritional step one can take in sobriety to promote recovery and restore health. How the body breaks down and utilizes sugar can make or break our physical, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing. Unfortunately, the large majority of the foods we consume in early recovery, either out of convenience or ignorance, have the most detrimental effect on how the body metabolizes sugar and promote erratic swings in blood glucose, energy, and mood, all of which jeopardize sobriety.
Food is the solution, but in order to fully understand how we can properly manage blood sugar with diet, we must take a quick look at how our food is converted into sugar, or glucose, and how the body then processes said sugar.
Carbohydrates (bread, rice, sweet potatoes, and heavily processed foods) are converted into sugar during the digestive process and is then transported around the body to provide cells the fuel they need to function and produce energy. However, our body can’t just pick up all this new sugar circulating in our system and the pancreas must spit out a bunch of insulin to push sugar out of our blood into our cells. Blood sugar levels then return to normal and we can go about our day full of energy in a positive mood.
The body runs into problems when it is constantly bombarded with carbohydrates and the pancreas has to work double- or triple-time to clear sugar from the blood. The consequence is such that the body overproduces insulin to cause dramatic drops in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or insulin becomes ineffective and blood sugar levels stay elevated to such a degree that is detrimental to health (hyperglycemia, a.k.a. diabetes).
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can produce a long list of uncomfortable symptoms, which include: anxiety, confusion, irritability, hunger, shakiness, weakness, and fatigue. Often, in an attempt to remedy said symptoms, we reach for easily digestible carbohydrates to drive blood sugar back up, which is often sugar laden foods and beverages. Here in lies the rub. When we are experiencing symptoms associated with hypoglycemia and we eat a sugar heavy snack, blood sugar shoots up and the pancreas overcompensates with too much insulin again and blood sugar plummets well below normal, which reinforces the vicious cycle of managing the extremes of blood sugar balance. If we fight this war for to long, the body and mind may become fatigued and we may reach for another rapidly digestible carb, alcohol, or other substances that produce a similar physiological response, drugs.
Diabetes, or chronically elevated blood sugar, is a condition in which your body does not use insulin properly, which can contribute to the development of ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition that is associated with symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and very dry mouth. Untreated or unmanaged hyperglycemia can also lead to vision loss, kidney disease, heart disease, and neuropathy.
Alcoholics and addicts are highly susceptible to glucose metabolism disorders such as hypo- and hyperglycemia, which increase the risk of “seeking behavior” for foods and beverages that manipulate blood sugar. Energy drinks, coffee, candy, and pastries are the most common offenders, but processed foods like crackers, ready-to-eat cereals, chips, and bread have the same effect and are equally detrimental. Blood sugar balance is an especially precarious situation for those in early recovery, because dramatic swings in blood sugar can produce irresistible cravings for drugs and alcohol, which produce the greatest and most immediate effect on blood glucose.
To promote physical, psychological, and spiritual health, a recovering addict or alcoholic must incorporate more fiber-rich vegetables, complete protein, and essential fatty acids. I think we all intuitively know what this means, but for simplicity’s sake:
- Consume the highest quality proteins available, which include: organic, free range, antibiotic- and hormone-free meat and meat products; wild, sustainably caught fish; and organic beans and legumes.
- Eat every color of the rainbow at every meal.
- Enjoy high fiber, low sugar fruits like raspberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.
- Integrate plenty of healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut and extra virgin olive oil.
- Eat three solid meals a day, the first within an hour of rising, and snack in between according to hunger.
- Refrain from eating gluten grains, dairy, high-glycemic fruits and vegetables.
- Eliminate all food and drink that contain added sugars, highly refined carbohydrates, or caffeine.
From the perspective of habit formation, here are suggestions for ways in which to run your diet and life in order to promote blood sugar management:
- Eat a breakfast rich in protein and healthy fats. Protein and fat are more satiating than carbohydrate heave foods and stabilize blood sugar so that we are less likely to reach for a sweet treat when our energy levels dip.
- Eat early and often. Better manage blood sugar by eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
- Favor whole, unprocessed foods. Real foods that are consumed in a form close to that which it is grown or raised contain a complex array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which keep blood sugar steady and promote proper organ function.
- Get the right amount of sleep. Getting an ample amount of sleep revitalizes the body and will help prevent cravings for food that stimulate the body and mind.
- Eliminate stress. Stress (http://twelvewellness.com/the-science-of-stress-and-addiction/) is known to contribute to poor dietary decision making and makes the body more susceptible to cravings for foods that stimulate the body or comfort the soul.
As the first bullet point suggest, breakfast is probably the most important meal to fully incorporate these suggestions. Breakfast sets the tone for the day both in the body and in our habits and one of my favorite ways to do as much is with my Baked Avocado Eggs. This recipe is super simple to prepare, heavy in complete protein and healthy fat, and is unbelievably delicious. Enjoy!
Baked Avocado Eggs
2 ripe avocados
Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425.
- Slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop out approximately 2 tablespoons of flesh. Place avocados snugly in baking dish.
- Crack an egg into each avocado half trying to get all the yolk in first and then letting the egg white spill over.
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until egg is firm and cooked through.
Matthew Lovitt is a holistic nutritionist specializing in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction with food and fitness. He is the staff nutritionist for an all men’s long-term treatment facility in Prescott, Arizona and maintains a private practice where he helps addicts, alcoholics, children, families, and those suffering from specific, often acute, conditions restore health and well being through dietary and lifestyle modification. Matthew is a recovery alcoholic and drug addict with over 6 years of sobriety. You can learn more about him and his diet and lifestyle philosophy at twelvewellness.com, on Facebook and Twitter.