Improved blood sugar balance can be achieved with proper nutrition and lifestyle! What you eat, how you eat it, how much exercise and sleep you get, and how you handle stress are all factors that you can improve.
Here are my 11 best tips to help you better balance your blood sugar with diet and lifestyle upgrades:
1. Avoid food and drinks that are mostly sugar
First things first. If a food or drink is mostly sugar, please try to reduce, or even cut it out of your diet. I’m talking about sweetened beverages (e.g. soda pop, juice, energy drinks, candy, etc.). Many desserts, breakfasts, and even seemingly-healthy choices like some granola bars often have a lot of sugar. Significantly reducing these will give you the quickest results when it comes to better blood sugar levels. That’s why it’s my number one recommendation.
2. Eat fewer carbohydrates
Your body digests starches by breaking them down into sugar. By reducing the amount of sugars and starches (carbohydrates) you eat, you can reduce that blood sugar spike that happens right after you eat. This has been shown in many studies. It’s been said that one of the strongest predictors of blood sugar response is the total amount of carbohydrates in a meal. Reducing your overall carbohydrate intake can help to reduce your blood sugar levels.
3. Choose “low glycemic” starches
If you’ve already cut out a lot of sugary foods and want to reduce your starch intake, then start by ditching the “high glycemic” (i.e. ones that raise your blood sugar too high) starches. As you can imagine, researchers have measured how fast and how high blood sugar increases with different foods. Foods that are “high glycemic” quickly raise blood sugar quite high. “Low glycemic” foods raise blood slower and to a smaller extent.
This “glycemic effect” is the result of the components in the food itself. Things like the amount of carbohydrate, the type of carbohydrate (i.e. sugar vs starch), and what other nutrients are in the food (i.e. protein, fiber, etc.) as well. The fiber, fat and protein in a food slows down the digestion and absorption of the carbohydrates, so the blood sugar rise slows down too. This results in a lower “glycemic effect.”
High glycemic foods (i.e. ones to avoid) include sugary foods, as well as starchy foods like white bread, many pastas, and rice. Low glycemic foods include ones that are higher in fiber, fat and protein. Examples are meat, seafood, eggs, legumes, sweet potatoes, and most fruit and non-starchy vegetables.
4. Eat more fiber
You’ve heard that “fiber makes you regular,” right? It’s so healthy. Most people don’t eat nearly enough. The recommended daily intake of fiber for adults is 21 g – 38 g per day. This nutrient is not just for “regularity” and gut health, but also for blood sugar balance too. It works by mixing with the carbohydrates in your meal, and slowing down the absorption of the sugars from those carbohydrates.
Some of the highest fiber foods include cocoa powder, flaxseeds, & legumes.
Feel free to add a spoon of cocoa powder to your smoothie, sprinkle flax seeds on your cereal, and/or add some legumes to your soup or salad.
5. Eat protein and fibrous vegetables first
Since blood sugar is affected by the amount of carbohydrates you eat, studies have also looked at the order in which you eat different foods. A few small studies looked at adults with type 2 diabetes. They all had the same meal, but some were asked to eat their protein and fibrous (i.e. non-starchy) vegetables first, while others ate their carbohydrates first. They found that people who ate the protein and vegetables first had better blood sugar control. One of the studies also showed lower levels of post-meal insulin when the carbohydrates were eaten last.
Another study found these blood sugar benefits to be true even in people without type 2 diabetes. It’s thought that when we eat carbohydrates first, we start digesting them right away. But, if we eat them after our protein and fibrous vegetables, they have a chance to mix in with the rest of the food in your stomach. This can slow down their absorption, which slows down how fast and high our blood sugar gets after we eat.
The effects of changing food order haven’t been tested in many big studies, but it seems to be a simple and safe habit to get into to help our bodies better regulate blood sugar levels. Try to eat your protein and fibrous vegetables first, and starches last.
6. Enjoy fruit, especially dark berries
Unless your doctor or health practitioner has said otherwise, or you have an intolerance to them, fruit and the fruit sugar “fructose” are generally ok. Fructose has a low glycemic index. Having fructose instead of glucose (regular sugar) can reduce a measure of the average levels of blood sugar over the past two to three months (e.g. HbA1c – a blood test for blood sugar control).
A diet high in fruits and vegetables is great for your health. They contain phytochemicals (phyto=plant), vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eating whole (not processed or juiced) fruits can help with blood sugar balance. Berries are particularly good, as they contain a lot of fiber and not a lot of sugar. Not to mention that they’re delicious!
Berries, especially dark berries, contain pigments known as “anthocyanins.” These dark-coloured pigments have lots of health benefits including helping sugar metabolism in people with insulin resistance. They can also improve ability to think, and their antioxidant effects are linked to reduced DNA damage. You can get enough anthocyanins from a regular serving of dark berries, so give them a try.
7. Add vinegar & cinnamon to your diet
Try having two tablespoons of vinegar shortly before or with a meal that contains sugars or starches. Why? A recent analysis of several studies (a meta-analysis) showed that vinegar can lower blood sugar by up to 60% and insulin by up to 130% compared to the same meal without vinegar. This worked for insulin-resistant people. Even healthy people had a significant benefit.
Cinnamon can help to lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This effect can happen with even less than one teaspoon per day. It’s thought that cinnamon works by slowing the emptying of the stomach. Slower emptying means slower absorption and slower blood sugar rise after a meal. Cinnamon also contains antioxidant polyphenols (plant chemicals) that may improve insulin sensitivity.
8. Get enough good quality sleep
Our bodies are wired to work along the sun’s schedule. The objective is to wake up when the sun comes up and get tired when it goes down. Not enough sleep can affect many of our body’s systems, including negatively affecting our blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. It can also increase appetite and promote weight gain. Sleep can also affect our mood and mental health. Even one or two nights of poor sleep can affect our blood sugar levels so regularly getting enough good quality sleep is a great step toward helping our bodies manage blood sugar.
By exercising and burning that stored sugar, you not only improve your blood sugar levels, and your physical and mental health in many ways, but also can reduce insulin resistance.
This means your muscle cells, especially when they’re moving, absorb and burn more sugar from the blood. This goes for both medium- and high-intensity exercise
10. Reduce your stress
Remember we talked about a couple of those things that release sugar stored in the liver and muscles, and deliver them back to the blood? Things like not eating for a few hours, and when we’re under stress. Let’s talk about the blood sugar effect of stress hormones like cortisol.
The reason stress hormones release stored sugar is to prepare for the “fight or flight” reaction. Your body becomes physically ready to fight or run. And to do this, you need fuel in your blood, i.e. sugar.
Quick-glance guide to balancing your blood sugar naturally.
If your blood sugar is creeping up, these are the nutrition and lifestyle upgrades I suggest you make for better health.
- Avoid foods and drinks that are mostly sugar
- Eat fewer carbohydrates
- Choose “low glycemic” starches
- Eat more fiber
- Eat your protein and fibrous vegetables first
- Enjoy fruit, especially dark berries
- Add blood-sugar balancing flavorings of vinegar & cinnamon
- Get enough good quality sleep
- Reduce your stress
Every health change will work better if implemented in small, incremental ways. Which of these strategies can you start with to help you to better control your blood sugar levels? By implementing these choices incrementally, you will start to greatly improve your blood sugar balance, and you will notice improvements to your daily base-line mood, and your overall health!