The Connection Between Blood Sugar Balance and Anxiety: How Diet Plays a Crucial Role

women's health Jun 14, 2024

One of the most life-changing moments for me was learning and understanding how my blood sugar, aka, my eating, was impacting my day-to-day life. One often overlooked aspect if you have anxiety is the significant role that blood sugar balance plays in your emotional well-being. I used to have chronic, debilitating anxiety when I was a kid and teenager. It wasn't until I started my dietitics degree that I suddenly was exposed to all the significant ways our bodies can have life-changing habits implemented, that can change everything. 

Managing anxiety is so multi-faceted! Everyting from learning new ways to think and react, regulating the nervous system, supporting neurotransmitters through physical activity, diet, supplements or medication, maintaining daily movement, and adopting healthy eating habits will all make a difference. This is not an exhaustive list, but so many people I meet are unaware that these are some of the most important changes they can make to significantly reduce or even stop anxiety.

For me, learning how to fuel myself changed my life. What I learned was that consistent eating habits, high-protein intake, and optimal fiber consumption can dramatically impact how we feel and function. Here’s a closer look at the science behind how these dietary elements can help manage or stop anxiety and why imbalances might contribute to increased anxiousness.

The Blood Sugar-Anxiety Connection

Blood sugar, or glucose, is the body’s primary source of energy. When your blood sugar levels fluctuate wildly, it can make you feel irritable, confused, or anxious. Stable blood sugar levels, on the other hand, help you maintain a balanced mood and steady energy levels. Let’s explore how diet can influence this balance.

Consistent Eating: The Foundation of Stability

Irregular eating patterns can cause significant dips and spikes in blood sugar levels. These fluctuations can trigger the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can increase feelings of anxiety.

Actionable Tips:

  • Regular Meals and Snacks: Aim to eat balanced meals every 3-4 hours. This helps keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.
  • Balanced Breakfast: Start your day with a nutritious breakfast that includes protein, healthy fats, and fiber to set a stable foundation for your blood sugar levels.

High-Protein Intake: Building Blocks for Stability

Protein plays a crucial role in maintaining blood sugar levels. It slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, preventing spikes and crashes that can contribute to anxiety.

Actionable Tips:

  • Include Protein in Every Meal: Incorporate sources sources such as lean meats, eggs, dairy, beans, and nuts into your meals. And get enough! You won't feel the effects if you're undereating protein. Most people think eating one egg, a few nuts, etc is eating enough protein. It is not. It's essential to get at least 20 grams of protein at each meal. Ideally if you have anxiety, it is better to aim for 25-40 grams of protein at each meal that you know your body likes. Try it and feel the difference. 
  • Healthy Snacks: Choose protein-rich snacks such as Greek yogurt, cheese, or a handful of nuts to maintain energy levels between meals.

Optimal Fiber: Slowing Down Sugar Absorption

Fiber is essential for digestive health and plays a significant role in blood sugar management. It slows the absorption of sugar, preventing rapid spikes and subsequent crashes that can affect your mood. Most people do not meet the minimum requirements for fiber in their meals. It's easily overlooked! Many individuals with anxiety tend to have poor diets low in complex carbohydrates. Instead, they often consume a lot of sugar and simple carbohydrates, not realizing that they reach for these foods because, without consistent sugar intake, they feel very tired, irritable, and anxious. They subconsciously mask their poor blood sugar control with chronic sugar consumption that just keeps them on the up-and-down roller coaster.

Actionable Tips:

  • Whole Foods: Focus on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. These foods are rich in fiber and help stabilize blood sugar levels.
  • Fiber-Rich Meals: Aim to include fiber in each meal by adding vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

How Imbalances Cause Increased Anxiousness

When blood sugar levels are not stable, it can lead to symptoms that mimic or exacerbate anxiety. For example:

  • Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar): You'll feel symptoms such as shaking, sweating, dizziness, and palpitations, which can be mistaken for anxiety attacks.
  • Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar): You'll feel symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and irritability, which can contribute to those famliar feelings of anxiousness.

Maintaining a balanced diet with consistent eating patterns, sufficient protein, and optimal fiber can help mitigate these effects and support your overall mental well-being.

Practical Steps for a Balanced Diet

  1. Meal Planning: Plan your meals to ensure they include protein, fiber, and healthy fats. You'll learn your favorites and it will get easier after some initial effort! 
  2. Healthy Snacking: Keep healthy snacks on hand to avoid blood sugar crashes.
  3. Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can also affect mood and energy levels, so drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  4. Mindful Eating: Pay attention to how different foods make you feel and adjust your diet accordingly.

Balancing blood sugar through consistent eating habits, high-protein intake, and optimal fiber consumption is a powerful strategy for managing anxiety. By stabilizing blood sugar levels, you can reduce a contributing physiological trigger that can contribute to anxious feelings and improve your overall emotional resilience. Remember, small, consistent changes in your diet can make a significant difference in your mental health. I'm so grateful I learned this myself and was able to make changes. It can be so grounding and freeing. Start small today by planning one balanced meal or snack and keep adding from there. Notice how these continuing adjustments can lead to a calmer, more stable you.

Be well,