Maintaining stable, healthy blood sugar levels can help reduce the risk of a number of health concerns, including weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Glucose (sugar) is the main source of energy in your cells and bodily tissues. When you eat carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches, your body breaks them down, and the sugar enters your bloodstream. From there, sugar enters individual cells to provide energy. Extra sugar is stored in your liver and muscles in a form called glycogen.
Your pancreas produces two hormones to help regulate the levels of blood sugar. Insulin moves sugar from your blood into your cells when your blood sugar level is high. Glucagon helps release the sugar stored in your liver when your blood sugar is low. This process naturally keeps your body fueled and ensures healthy balanced blood sugar levels. We disrupt this natural balance when we consume foods that cause our blood sugar and insulin levels to stay high, or to spike up and then fall rapidly.
Seven Tips to Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
1. Include Dairy
Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) examined the data from a 20 year long study and found that a fatty acid in milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter substantially reduced the risk of type-2 diabetes. This compound, trans-palmitoleic acid, is found in dairy fat. To get the benefits of trans-palmitoleic acid, avoid non-fat or skim versions of dairy, and aim for 2 servings of dairy per day.
2. Move Those Muscles
Another study conducted by HSPH found muscle strengthening and conditioning activities reduced the risk of type-2 diabetes. This study followed over 100,000 women over an 8 year span, and found women who did an average of 30 minutes per day of activities such as resistance exercise, yoga, stretching, and toning, had a 40% lower risk of developing diabetes. In addition, combining muscle strengthening with aerobic exercise reduced this risk even further.
3. Replace Fruit Juice with Whole Fruit
Feeling a craving for citrus or berries? Reach for the whole fruit, instead of the juice version. A study found eating more whole fruits was associated with a lower risk for type-2 diabetes, while consumption of fruit juices was associated with a higher risk. Eating at least two servings per week of certain whole fruits reduced this risk by as much as 23%, while one or more servings of fruit juice per day increased the risk of developing diabetes by as much as 21%. Fruit juice passes much more quickly through the digestive system than fiber-rich whole fruits, which may explain the increased risk. This study identified blueberries, grapes, and apples as particularly helpful in reducing the risk of diabetes.
4. Get More Magnesium
High levels of magnesium have been associated with a 32% lower risk of diabetes. Including magnesium rich foods such as raw spinach, pumpkin seeds, avocados, dried figs, and raw cacao can help reduce your chances of impaired glucose tolerance and hyperinsulinemia that can lead to diabetes.
5. Eat Less, More Often
Most people are accustomed to eating 3 (or less) large meals a day, and many wil skip meals throughout the day. When you skip a meal or wait too long between meals, your blood glucose levels plummit. You may experience headaches and shakiness, but internally, your system is being flooded with glucose, and your pancreas is forced to release more insulin. A dangerous cycle has begun. Instead, maintain a steady level of blood glucose by decreasing the amount of food you eat at each meal, and by eating every few hours.
6. Go Nuts
Walnuts are a great source of healthy mononsaturated fat, which won't raise your blood sugar levels like many other foods do. Researchers who swapped out monounsaturated fats for saturated fats found that a diet high in saturated fats significantly impaired insulin sensitivity in healthy men and women. Sprinkle walnuts onto a spinach salad and you will get a good dose of magnesium, as well!
7. Try Traditional Herbs
Certain herbs and spices have been used for centuries to control blood sugar, and scientific studies can confirm that both cinnamon and Gynostemma can be effective tools at regulating blood sugar and insulin levels.
Researchers in Pakistan asked volunteers with type-2 diabetes to take cinnamon or a placebo for 40 days. Those who consumed cinnamon daily saw their blood-glucose levels drop by between 18% and 29%, depending on the dose (1g, 3g, or 6g). Reap the blood-sugar lowering benefits of sugar by sprinkling it over yogurt (and add some walnuts for meal that is sure to sustain blood sugar levels).
Gynostemma is an herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. A recent study evaulated the effectiveness of this traditional herb on insulin sensitivity in type-2 diabetic patients. For 4 weeks they received either a Gynostemma tea or a placebo tea daily. The results of the study showed that those who received the Gynostemma tea had improved insulin sensitivity over the placebo group. Gynostemma can be found in tea or herbal supplement form.
Melissa Zimmerman, Healthy Goods