Balancing a woman’s blood sugar can be a major key in her fertility puzzle. Fertility is exactly that, a complicated web of internal and external connections that the body is making in order to eventually be at a place where it is ready to take on the major task of growing a human. Now just to understand the body’s priorities – conception and a woman’s reproductive system is literally the LAST priority the body has, because conception is not a matter of life or death, like so many other systems deal with. Removing toxins from our body, dealing with inflammation or an infection, cells regenerating and getting the nutrients they need to do so – those are all processes our body has to preform constantly to keep us alive, those are always the priority. That is why one in eight couples deal with infertility, and that number seems to be on the rise.
Before I jump into the topic of blood sugar, I first wanted to mention that if you are trying to conceive or even if you are thinking about trying in the next year or so, now is the time to start preparing your body. If you can give yourself at least 4 months of preconception planning – including the proper nutrients from food and supplements, and start working on your stress levels, sleep habits, and toxin exposure – then you will give yourself a stronger chance at a healthy pregnancy AND you will give your baby a better start. Now not everyone has the luxury of planning before they get pregnant, but if you do, keep reading.
Why do women spend months or even years planning a wedding, yet they don’t plan at all before getting pregnant?
My goal here is not to scare women, or make them feel like they didn’t do what’s best for the child (if you are currently pregnant or have a little one), it’s just to share what I am learning and help educate them, so next time, they can make more informed decisions. The health and wellness world is so awesome in that it is constantly changing, but there is also a lot out there, so take what works for you and leave the rest!
I’ll start with explaining the basics of insulin and insulin resistance, then I will offer simple steps you can take to help balance your blood sugar.
Insulin is created in the pancreas and it is the bodies response to rising levels of blood sugar. So when you eat a meal, the sugar in your blood rises, and insulin is excreted to help utilize the sugar in the blood and bring it to where it needs to go so that it can be used. Insulin resistance happens when the pancreas can’t create and release enough insulin to shuttle the sugar to where it needs to go, basically, the blood sugar is rising too high, too often, and the insulin cannot keep up to keep those high blood sugar levels within the normal range. An example of this is if someone has a diet really high in sugar and refined carbohydrates – candy, processed foods, soda, etc. The amazing thing is that insulin resistance can usually be reversed with diet changes, but if left unchecked, it can develop into Type 2 diabetes which is becoming a major health emergency in North America.
How does blood sugar affect fertility?
In case you weren’t already aware, every system in our body is connected, so the reproductive system and the metabolic systems are closely tied. Insulin resistance, or even issues with blood sugar that have not been diagnosed (aka subclinical insulin resistance) can negatively impact the hormones that are needed for ovulation. One reason for this could be because there are leptin receptors on the ovaries, and leptin responds to the changes in insulin and blood sugar metabolism.
“Insulin resistance in women with recurrent miscarriages [2 or more miscarriages] is three times higher.”-Ayla Barmmer, Women’s Health Nutrition Academy
How to Balance Blood Sugar:
Eat within 30-60 minutes of waking up and don’t skip meals (especially breakfast).
I know intermittent fasting is all the craze these days, and yes, I also know there are many well researched studies that prove how beneficial it can be, BUT, if you are a woman, are having hormonal imbalances (any irregular cycles), and especially if you are trying to conceive, intermittent fasting is probably not for you. The data suggests that men’s bodies can tolerate skipping a meal a little better than women’s. In many situations, women can exacerbate their hormonal imbalances with fasting, whether it’s intentional intermittent fasting, or unintentional i’m-in-a-rush-and-don’t-have-time-to-eat. So eat your breakfast, make sure you have protein in there, and set your body up for a more balanced day. One more point on this, just incase you need more convincing; in order to get pregnant, your body needs to feel safe. How would you feel if you didn’t know when you were going to get your next meal? Well, that is how your body feels when it fasts or skips meals, it doesn’t know when the next dose of nutrients are coming to keep it running like a well-oiled machine, and so it can go into preservation mode and prioritizes – which, if you remember from above, this prioritization does not include reproduction.
Eat enough calories to meet your body’s needs
This one seems like a no brainer, but so many women are under-eating. If you are the type to forget meals, skip breakfast, and seem to need to snack a lot in the evening, you are probably not getting enough calories throughout the day, which leads to snacking in the evening. Stick to the basics, with 3 meals a day and 2-3 snacks in between. A sample day can look like this:
7am wakeup – large glass of water
7:30 – handful of almonds with an apple, tea or coffee
9:00 – BREAKFAST: 2-3 eggs, 1 avocado, sautéed kale with garlic, sauerkraut
11:30 – LUNCH: large salad with mixed greens, chickpeas, can of oysters, hemp seeds, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar dressing, s+p
2:00 – Plain greek yogourt, berries, nuts and seeds (chopped almonds, hemp seeds, walnuts, etc)
5:30 – DINNER: Roasted chicken thighs, cubed butternut squash, broccoli
8:00 – If you’re hungry for an evening snack: apple or banana with almond butter (carbs and fat before bed can help mitigate sleep issues)
Try to get more in tuned with your body’s hunger and fullness cues, if you’re like me, and usually aren’t very hungry first thing in the morning, just have some nuts on these days and a full breakfast later, but then other days you may wakeup starving – on these days, have your full breakfast first thing.
Don’t rely on quick carbs for your meals
Have you ever had a massive bowl of pasta for dinner, to only feel sugar cravings immediately after and then somehow hungry again soon after that? That my friend is your blood sugar roller coaster. When we eat quick carbs (most grains, refined food, fried food, bakery goods, starchy foods like bread, pasta, etc), our body gets a quick spike of blood sugar, only to come crashing down soon after. When we eat protein and fat (which are more satiating) and keep you feeling fuller for longer, our blood sugar sustains a plateau which is less stressful on the body. To avoid this up and down, focus your meals to be more nutrient dense; real food, plenty of fruits, vegetables and animal protein. And don’t stress when you eat that carb-heavy meal every now and then, if you give yourself enough fat and protein most of the time, then it can sustain some occasional blood sugar hits. Use the 80/20 rule and don’t stress over the 20%! It’s all about the balance baby.
High protein and fat meals and snacks
Most women are under-eating protein for their body’s needs. If you want to calculate a rough amount (in grams) to meet your protein needs, take your body weight in lbs, and multiply that by 0.8. That will give you (roughly) what your body needs to thrive. For example: 160 lbs x 0.8 = 128g of protein per day. To get an idea of how much protein you are currently eating – keep a daily log of the food you eat and do a simple google search for protein amounts (ex: “how much protein does a large egg have?”), add it all up and see where you are. This will give you a good idea of how much more protein you need to try and add in. And remember, every body is different in terms of their needs, like women in pregnancy, postpartum or someone who exercises a lot will need more. Here are some examples of easy snacks that are high in protein:
Pair your fruit with protein or fat
It’s called “naked carbs” when you eat a fruit on it’s own, because of the sugar, it will spike your blood sugar levels and not be sustainable (like with other carb-heavy meals). So while it is important to include fruit as your whole-foods diet, eat your fruit with fat and/or protein. That could look like: a handful of nuts, 1-2 spoonfuls of nut butter, cheese, plain greek yogourt (greek yogourt is extra high in protein), a meat stick. Remember this too if you have kids. Get them used to eating some protein and/or fat with their fruit, so they can have more sustained energy and don’t experience the crash.
Who should eat to balance their blood sugar?
So while eating to balance your blood sugar can help you and your partner’s body get ready for conception, it is also wonderful for anyone who is postpartum and breastfeeding, has hormonal imbalances (including thyroid and/or adrenal over or under-activity), insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, looking to drop a few extra pounds, or dealing with inflammatory issues.