Hi Three to Five Tribe! As some of you may remember, I recently gave up meat and went pescatarian for 50+ days. I also participated in a Whole30.Although I have completed countless Whole30’s in the past, I have not incorporated a proper reintroduction in quite some time, which is why I have recently been reincorporating foods I have not eaten in years back into my diet.
Think of foods like black beans, corn and peanut butter. Although these were foods I enjoyed eating in the past, I have completely omitted these foods from my diet for years due to Whole30 guidelines. (Black beans and peanut butter are legumes and corn is a gluten-free grain, all of which can cause digestive upset for some individuals).
I always thought the Whole30 “off limit foods” were off limits because of their, sometimes, negative side effects, which is true. However, until quite recently, I realized the Whole30 off limit foods are off limits because they can sometimes cause unpleasant side effects for some people.
It took me seven years to come to the realization and actually take my own advice that I so often tout to others, “Everybody and every body is different.” Yes, that’s right people, it took me seven years until I applied this self-proclaimed concept to the Whole30. If you know me, you know this is precisely on brand with me. Needless to say, I am slower than the average bear with certain things.
As I began the Whole reintroduction protocol, I systematical reintroduced off limit foods and really tuned into my body to see how these foods affected me and I was surprised to discover what I found.
When reintroducing legumes, I chose to reintroduce one of my favorite foods, peanut butter and a food I liked, but didn’t love – black beans. I have read countless articles praising the positive effects of a plant-based diet, which includes an array of plant-based foods like beans, fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Take for instance individuals who live in Blue Zones and live to be centurions. They eat the Mediterranean diet, which includes an array of plant-based foods that include beans. If these people can live to be 100+ years old, then maybe there is something to eating beans, so I gave it a whirl.
I whipped together a homemade burrito bowl complete with avocado, black beans, cauliflower rice, chopped bell peppers, lettuce, roasted corn and salsa. I enjoyed my dinner and paid close attention to see if anything crazy happened with my body after I finished my meal. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized black beans are not only delicious, but they help me sleep better. That night, I slept the entire night not waking up once. I am talking six hours of quality sleep from 11pm-5am. If you know me, then you know a solid night of uninterrupted sleep is no small feat. I realized in the morning that I had tapped into an amazing combination of fat (from the avocado) and fiber (from the black beans) that kept my blood sugar levels steady throughout the night.
The Importance of Balanced Blood Sugar
We are all familiar with being hangry. It’s the absolute worst. One minute we are feeling absolutely fine and the next we can’t seem to focus, we feel dizzy, light headed and even nauseous at times. These natural cues are all clear signs our blood sugar is dropping and we need food for energy, but what if we can’t reach for a quick snack or meal? Well, luckily for us, our bodies are pretty darn smart and they know exactly what to do to keep us alive.
When our blood sugar dips and we cannot consume food to refuel, our adrenal glands release the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. Many of us associate cortisol with being a bad thing, but cortisol on its own is not inherently a bad thing. It’s when we have consistently high levels of cortisol where problems can begin and lead to some pretty gnarly side effects, but many of us forget cortisol (like inflammation) are natural levels of defense the body uses to protect us.
Side note: Inflammation can be a good thing, when it’s acute inflammation. Think of when you get a paper cut. The area around the cut gets inflamed as your body rushes white blood cells to the damaged area to promote healing. It’s when you have chronic inflammation that health can negatively be impacted. Think of things like consistently eating inflammatory foods like alcohol, dairy, gluten and sugar or stressing your body by overdoing it at the gym with too many back to back workouts.
Okay, back to blood sugar. What many people do not realize about blood sugar is that we need the same amount of fuel to maintain a balanced blood sugar throughout the night as we do during the day. That means, when we do not have a blood sugar balancing dinner that is full of adequate macronutrients like protein, quality fat and slow digesting carbohydrates, our blood sugar will dip in the middle of the night and cause our cortisol levels to spike. Since cortisol is the stress hormone, a rise in cortisol will cause us to wake up in the middle of the night. Ever wonder why you are in a deep sleep and all of a sudden you wake up out of nowhere, sit straight up in bed and realize you are wide awake despite it only being 2am? Yep! That’s due to a cortisol spike due caused by low blood sugar levels. Crazy, right? (This concept was totally mind blowing for me when I first learned about it too, so you aren’t alone).
The Best Blood Sugar Balancing Meals
If you are looking to get a solid night of quality sleep, try pairing a protein, a quality fat and a slow digesting carbohydrate together for dinner. Some of my favorite combinations include:
- 1/2 cup to 1 cup black beans + 1/2 avocado
- 1/2 cup gluten-free oatmeal + 1-2 tablespoons of nut or seed butter
- 1/2 sweet potato + 1-2 tablespoons of nut or seed butter + cinnamon (This is a great snack option post workout too)
- Wild caught salmon + Roasted Broccoli or Roasted Brussel sprouts
The next time you want to clock some quality zzz’s, create a blood sugar balancing meal with my new favorite combination – avocado and black beans.
Enjoying balanced blood sugar with black beans three to five days a week,