How Intermittent Fasting Affects Your Blood Sugar Levels
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Over the past years, intermittent fasting (IF) has slowly become a mainstream diet. One that many are surprised to find feels more liveable and much less restrictive than traditional diets such as keto, calorie-counting, and many others.
Because of IF’s wellness benefits, which improve overall health, reduce disease risks, and increase metabolic health, IF is also appealing to those who are not necessarily looking to lose weight.
For us at Hello Inside Intermittent fasting is particularly interesting because there’s substantial research available suggesting that IF can improve glucose management and insulin sensitivity.
Whatever the approach, IF involves restricting the window of time when you eat. The most popular approaches are 16:8, 20:4 and 5:2. The numbers refer to “fasting to eating” hours in a day (16 to 8 and 20 to 4) or to “eating to fasting” days in a week (5 to 2).
The Key Tenet of Intermittent Fasting
So how, exactly does IF work to promote health and longevity?
There isn’t one standard protocol for IF. But many plans limit the total calorie intake. This makes the food quality a top priority.
We recommend squeezing in the most nutritious meals and snacks. That means mixing processed foods and focusing on fresh, healthy, colorful foods. Yes, you can eat cake, but eating it as a snack after a meal rich in fiber, protein and fat, instead of on an empty stomach when breaking a fast makes it so much better. You will see this in your blood sugar balance and feel better overall.
Besides the limited calorie intake, the idea is that when you’re not eating, your insulin levels will go down and your fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy to maintain steady glucose levels. You could say that your body flips a metabolic switch.
If you’re constantly eating your body won’t need to access this storage, because it has energy in the form of glucose floating around – its preferred fuel. You can read more about this in our blog post on weight control and blood glucose.
Eating less frequently can also help to reduce inflammation, which is great because it also decreases insulin resistance. Here’s why:
If you’re constantly eating, especially a diet high in carbs, your body releases insulin constantly triggered by the glucose intake. Over time, as insulin builds up in the body cells can’t use it effectively as before- a phenomenon also known as insulin resistance. The cells get “numb” in using insulin which is important to store the glucose away. This in turn leads to higher blood glucose levels and inflammation.
So squeezing calories intake into a smaller window AND eating healthier foods can decrease the risk of developing diseases.
Your First Meal of the Day Counts
The way you break your fast matters.
A “breakfast” rich in carbs can put you on the glucose roller coaster for the remainder of the day. It really sets the tone. If your first meal contains fat and protein (before your carbs) your blood sugar will be more stable,
A Note About Women’s Health
As mentioned above, intermittent fasting has become extremely popular. Particularly skipping breakfast and eating two more-substantial meals. However intermittent fasting may not be the best diet for every woman.
Firstly, in women with hormonal imbalances, especially PCOS, a good breakfast is really important for bringing down insulin and testosterone and improving ovulation. This is important not only for fertility but also for long-term health.
Secondly, intermittent fasting can trigger disordered eating as women may tend to overeat during the eating window. Which deserves special attention, since studies found that up to 23 percent of women with PCOS tend to suffer from disordered eating.
Along with having a savoury and substantial breakfast a gap of at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast the following morning, can improve the insulin sensitivity.
How can this look like in real life? A 12- hour gap shouldn’t be too hard to achieve. For example, a woman could choose to fast between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. She would need to finish her dinner before 7 p.m. and wait until 7 a.m. to eat breakfast but would be asleep for much of the time in between.
And since we’re already talking about women. IF is probably not a good idea for pregnant and breastfeeding women as well. The natural calorie restriction that happens because of IF can have a negative impact on fetal development. Also, since the mother’s diet is largely dependent on what the mother eats, a restricted diet during breastfeeding may result in less nutritious milk and thus influence a newborns development.
Boosts Our Circadian Rhythm
One other benefit of IF worth mentioning is that it boosts our natural circadian rhythm. Deep in everyone’s brain there is a master clock that, taking into account external data such as sunlight, stimulates our bodies to perform certain activities.
This so-called circadian rhythm is comparable to a smartphone that has a whole day of alarms preset – get up, eat lunch, etc. – only much less annoying. Our circadian rhythm also includes a glucose/insulin timer. Sensitivity to insulin decreases throughout the day.
It takes our bodies longer to process a piece of bread at 9pm than it does at lunchtime. So having your dinner earlier in the day (for example, by sticking to a 16:8 schedule and eating only between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.) increases the circadian effectiveness of insulin.
This circadian rhythm also explains why someone’s blood sugar goes up and down during the night. Even though they’re not eating. Besides the circadian rhythm, other factors may impact our blood sugar over night:
- Dreams and REM sleep: Non-REM sleep is associated with an increase in glucose levels while REM sleep associated with stable levels of glucose. So the glucose levels can depend on the sleep stage.
- Meals that have been eaten during the day: If these meals are very carb heavy, it will result in higher fluctuation during the day. That’s why we at Hello Inside consider the food quality and meal order as crucial to avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster, that will continue into the night.
Long Term Impact
IF can be a feasible, consistent way to increase insulin sensitivity and decrease the average glucose level decreases. By shifting our eating window to earlier in the day, we align our food intake with the time when our bodies are naturally most sensitive to insulin, thus lowering peak insulin and blood glucose levels.
Your blood sugar levels can have a significant impact on how your body feels and functions. Therefore, a stable blood sugar level can be an important factor in your overall well-being and guide you through your own eating regime. So let’s have one final look at some ways how you can make IF work for you.
5 Ways to Practice Intermittent Fasting For Better Blood Sugar Balance
- Opt for a savory meal to break your fast. E.g Eggs, Tofu, Avocado, Cheese, …
- Ensure your meals are colorful and rich in fiber to get all the nurturing nutrients and feel full for longer.
- Eat sugars and refined grains last or as dessert.
- Let your body burn fat between meals. Don’t snack. Be active throughout your day. Build muscle tone.
- Consider a simple form of intermittent fasting. Limit the hours of the day when you eat, and for best effect, make it earlier in the day (between 7 am to 3 pm, or even 10 am to 6 pm, but definitely not in the evening before bed).
With Hello Inside, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can see if your lifestyle choices support healthy living.
Ready to take the first step? Sign up for the Hello Sugar Program today and look inside.