You’ve probably heard a lot about blood sugar control, but do you know why it’s so important? Read on to discover why balancing blood glucose is essential to your health, along with six simple ways to do it.
Why Is It Necessary to Balance Blood Sugar Levels?
Here are a few reasons you must regulate glucose levels if you’d like to live a long, healthy, and happy life.
It Lowers Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, is a condition in which your blood glucose is too high. It occurs due to a dysfunction in how your body processes glucose for fuel, resulting in too much glucose circulating in the bloodstream.
According to the CDC, more than 34 million Americans have diabetes, most of whom have type 2. In addition, another 88 million American adults have prediabetes, a condition in which glucose is higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. (1) Unaddressed prediabetes increases the risk of diabetes. Indeed, research shows that approximately 5% to 10% of those with prediabetes develop full-blown type 2 annually.
It Helps Reduce Your Risk of Numerous Health Conditions
Both diabetes and prediabetes increase your risk of developing numerous health conditions, including:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Chronic kidney diseases
- Digestion problems
- Impaired vision/eye damage, i.e., cataracts, glaucoma, retinopathy
- Dental issues
- Erectile dysfunction
Consider these statistics:
- Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney disease and the most common cause of kidney failure in the U.S. (2,3)
- Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. (4)
- In the U.S., diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic amputations. (5)
It Helps You Maintain a Healthy Weight
Keeping your blood glucose levels low is essential for maintaining a healthy weight.
There are a few ways that unregulated blood glucose levels can cause weight gain.
Aggressive Calories Stored as Fat
Aggressive calories — typically from processed carbs, fast foods, and sugars — are those that significantly elevate blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are too high, insulin must clear the excess from your bloodstream quickly to keep it from building up to dangerous levels.
So, it moves most of those calories to your fat stores for later usage. However, due to standard diets of ultra-processed foods and sugars, most people continually add to rather than withdraw from their fat stores.
It Causes Insulin Resistance
When you eat a meal, your body converts the applicable portion into glucose and sends it to your bloodstream. Then, the hormone insulin shuttles excess glucose either to your cells for immediate energy or your fat stores for later usage. Insulin tells your cells to open up and accept glucose.
If you have constantly fluctuating glucose levels, you’ll also have a constant surge of insulin circulating in your bloodstream. If this continues, your cells will build up a tolerance to insulin, meaning more insulin will be necessary to persuade cells to accept insulin. This leads to still more insulin in your bloodstream.
Insulin is the primary fat-storage hormone in the body. If there’s too much insulin in your bloodstream, it will prevent your body from tapping into your fat stores for energy. Thus, it can lead to weight gain and ultimately obesity.
It Leads to Food Cravings
Numerous research studies suggest that “Elevations in insulin produce increased hunger, heightened perceived pleasantness of sweet taste, and increased food intake.” (6)
Carbohydrate consumption — especially snack foods like potato chips and pastries — activates insulin release that triggers a release of serotonin in the brain. This is why you may crave “comfort foods” when stressed. It also encourages eating an excess of those foods to maintain that pleasant feeling. (7)
Unfortunately, consuming these foods causes an increase in blood glucose and insulin, leading to eating more of these foods. If not addressed, it can be a vicious circle that ultimately leads to weight gain.
Natural Ways To Lower Blood Sugar Levels
1. Healthy Eating
Enjoying a well-balanced diet is crucial for health in general, but it’s essential for blood sugar control. You see, everything you eat — types, quantities, and combinations of food — affects blood glucose.
Here are some general dietary guidelines to help you manage your blood sugar levels.
– Manage Carb Intake
Since carb intake has the most significant impact on blood sugar, you’ll need to limit your portion sizes in general. However, the type of carbs you eat is the most critical factor. For example, simple carbs like raw sugar contain no nutritional value and are broken down and converted into glucose quickly, resulting in a quick rise in blood sugar levels.
By contrast, complex carbs like vegetables are nutritious and broken down and converted to glucose slowly, resulting in a gradual rise in blood sugar levels. So, in general, you can eat larger portion sizes of nonstarchy vegetables than other carbs without risking blood sugar surges.
– Eat More Fiber
Dietary fiber is the only carbohydrate that does not negatively affect blood sugar levels because the body does not digest it. There are two main types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fiber moves through the digestive system relatively intact and is eliminated through bowel movements. Insoluble fiber dissolves in water and digestive fluids; It is then changed into a gel-like substance and digested by bacteria in the large intestine. Insoluble fiber slows digestion, thus helping prevent blood sugar spikes.
Most fibrous foods contain both fiber types; however, one type usually predominates. Research shows that eating a high-fiber diet is crucial for blood sugar management in that it can improve blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (8)
Fibrous foods have the added benefit of filling you up fast and keeping you full for a LONG time, thus preventing excess calorie intake. Therefore, these foods can also assist you with your weight control efforts.
– Eat More Protein
It takes your body longer to digest protein than carbs, making protein an excellent food for lowering blood sugar. Even though the body can convert protein into glucose, it’s a slow and inefficient process. Thus, protein consumption generally has minimal effect on blood sugar levels.
Studies also show that protein is the most satiating macronutrient, so increasing your protein intake can curb hunger and prevent overeating.
– Foods To Lower Blood Sugar
Keeping the above principles in mind, foods that can help lower or regulate blood sugar levels include:
- Chia seeds
- Salmon and other fish
- Flax seeds
2. Keep a Regular Eating Schedule
Research suggests that a consistent eating schedule will help prevent significant peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels, thus improving blood sugar control. Therefore, experts recommend eating healthy meals every three to four hours to enjoy healthy blood sugar levels. The key is to eat something that has a minor impact on your blood sugar several times a day. Many people with type 2 diabetes or others who simply want to regulate blood glucose levels either have three healthy meals per day with a small snack in between or six small meals.
3. Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is an excellent way to help regulate blood sugar. There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first reason is that regular physical activity helps make your muscle cells more sensitive to insulin, meaning that they’ll take up more glucose from your bloodstream. And here’s another fantastic benefit: according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), “When your muscles contract during activity, your cells can take up glucose and use it for energy whether insulin is available or not.” (9) Further, if you exercise regularly, it can also lower A1C, your average 3-month blood sugar levels.
What type of physical activity should you do? Research suggests that moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercises — i.e., jogging, Zumba, kickboxing — can significantly decrease insulin resistance and reduce A1C. (10, 11) It can also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.
Plus, researchers have found that a single bout of moderate- to high-intensity exercise increases insulin sensitivity over the entire body for 12 to 48 hours post-exercise. (12) It’s important to note that resistance exercises — i.e., free weights, resistance bands, push-ups — can also decrease insulin resistance (13) and should be a part of your exercise routine.
4. Reduce Stress
If you think stress does not affect blood sugar levels, think again. Research suggests that stress leads to high blood sugar levels, or at least higher than they were before the stressful situation. The culprit appears to be the stress hormone cortisol.
For example, recent research on type 2 diabetes patients from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that those with flatter cortisol levels– i.e., cortisol that remains steady rather than naturally fluctuating during the day — also had higher blood sugar levels.
From the study:
“Previous research has shown that stress and depression are two of the major causes of a flatter cortisol profile. These sustained levels of cortisol make it much more difficult to control blood sugar and manage the disease.” (14)
Though this study involved only those with type 2 diabetes, other research shows a link between stress and glucose levels in non-diabetic subjects. For instance, in a 2017 Italian study, researchers discovered a statistically significant association between perceived work stress and glucose levels. (15)
So, whether you have type 2 diabetes or just want to regulate your glucose levels, it’s a good idea to reduce your stress levels. Here are a few suggestions to help you do so.
- Meditate for at least 10-15 minutes each day
- Practice deep-breathing exercises
- Take leisurely walks around the block.
- Get a pet, especially a dog or a cat
- Do yoga
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation
5. Get More Quality Sleep
Multiple research studies show a link between chronic lack of sleep and high blood sugar levels. It appears sleep deprivation can lead to insulin resistance, thereby elevating glucose levels. And it doesn’t have to be a chronic sleep issue, either.
In another study, researchers studied nine healthy subjects after one night of 7.5 hours of sleep, and after one night of 4 hours of sleep. The results? A partial night of sleep deprivation triggered insulin resistance in these subjects. Just one night!!!
Just think about it for a minute: improving your sleep habits may go a long way toward regulating your glucose levels. How great is that?
Here are a few tips to help you get more and better sleep:
- Adhere to a strict sleep schedule, even on the weekends
- Do not eat anything at least three hours before bedtime
- Relax before bed by reading a book, meditating, or practicing deep breathing exercises.
- Turn off your devices at least one hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted from your TV, smartphone, computer screen, and tablet interferes with your brain’s melatonin production.
You may also want to limit your fluid intake before bedtime to help prevent having to go to the bathroom several times. As a general rule of thumb, try not to drink anything three to four hours before bedtime.
6. Monitor Your Blood Sugar
You can also better manage your blood sugar by using a blood sugar meter. (This is an absolute must if you have diabetes.) This meter measures the amount of glucose in a pinprick of blood, usually from your finger.
If you go this route, you should measure your blood sugar before and two hours after a meal.
You’ll want to check your glucose level against these blood sugar targets. (17)
- Before a meal: 80 to 130 mg/dL.
- Two hours after the start of a meal: Less than 180 mg/dL.
Please check with your doctor regarding your blood sugar targets, as they can vary depending upon age, any health issues, and other factors.
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