According to a recent survey, half of Americans suffer from high blood sugar.1 This can lead to all sorts of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and kidney and vision problems. While there are medications out there to help manage blood sugar levels, they often come with side effects, not to mention a high price tag.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to manage your blood sugar levels without a prescription. We’ve outlined some of the simplest diet and lifestyle changes below.
The first step to controlling your blood sugar levels is by watching the foods that you eat. Here are some to consider and others to avoid.
Foods to Try
Low glycemic index foods. The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the effect that carbohydrate-containing foods have on blood sugar. A high GI score (70 or above) will cause your blood sugar to spike severely while low GI foods only cause a slight rise. Some common low GI foods worth introducing into your diet include:
- Most fibrous fruits
- Non-starchy vegetables
You’ll notice that there are no meats on this list. That’s because meats don’t contain carbohydrates, so they aren’t a part of the glycemic index.
Fiber. Diets rich in fiber, especially soluble fiber, has been shown to help those with high blood pressure by slowing the digestion of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar into the body.2 High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
Omega-3s. Omega-3s do many wonderful things for your body, including improving your heart health. But one of their main benefits to those with high blood sugar is that they help keep you feeling fuller for longer. Your body uses the slow-burning omega-3s in place of sugars, so you’ll be less likely to reach for a high-carb snack. Try some of these foods:
- Coconut oil
- Oily fish (salmon, tuna, herring, etc.)
- Olive oil
Foods to Avoid
High glycemic index foods. For the reasons mentioned above, avoid foods that score over 70 on the glycemic index. Some common examples are:
- White bread
- Short-grain rice
- Instant oatmeal
- Sugary desserts
- Many breakfast cereals (puffed rice, corn flakes, etc.)
Essentially, you want to stay away from highly processed grains and anything very starchy or sugary as these foods will make your blood sugar rise quickly and it will take longer for your body to process all the extra sugar.
There are a number of herbs that can help with managing blood sugar as well. Consider adding these into your meals. You can also look for them in supplement form, but it’s generally best to consume them in their natural state whenever possible.
Fenugreek. Fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water have been shown to lower blood sugar levels by slowing the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates.3 You can also achieve a similar effect with fenugreek seed powder.
Cinnamon. Some studies have indicated that cinnamon helps improve your body’s insulin sensitivity, which means that your body will more efficiently use the sugar in your body, resulting in lower amounts left in your bloodstream.4
Garlic. Garlic helps to lower fasting glucose levels, and it can also be useful for the management of high cholesterol, a common side effect of diabetes.5
Some other herbs you may want to look into for blood sugar management are:
Many of the herbs we mentioned can also be taken in supplement form, but you may want to consider some of these other supplements as well.
Multivitamins. Apart from being good for your all-around health, certain vitamins, including niacin (Vitamin B3) and Vitamins B6, B12, C, D, E and K have been shown to be helpful to those with diabetes in managing blood sugar. Multivitamins typically contain magnesium and chromium as well (see below).
Magnesium. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to an increased risk for diabetes, and magnesium supplementation has been shown to help regulate insulin action and increase glucose uptake by the body.6
Chromium. Chromium has also been shown to help with glucose intolerance.7 It increases your insulin sensitivity, so your body is able to better remove the sugar from your blood. It may also reduce cholesterol levels.
Apple Cider Vinegar. While not technically a supplement, many people take apple cider vinegar regularly for its many health benefits, and studies suggest that it can help to lower blood glucose levels by improving insulin action and increasing glucose uptake.8
Probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that help in maintaining your digestive health. Studies have shown that taking probiotics may also help to increase glucose metabolism, which helps to lower the amount that’s left in your blood.9 Probiotics can also be found in foods like yogurt, kefir and fermented vegetables if you prefer not to take a supplement.
Other supplements you may want to look into include:
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
- Green tea extract
- Pomegranate extract
It might surprise you to know that how you eat can have almost as big of an impact on your overall health as what you eat. Consider introducing some of these techniques to help moderate your blood sugar. They’re also great if you’re trying to lose weight.
Watch your portion sizes. Determine how many calories you ought to be consuming each day, and regulate your portion sizes at meals to ensure you are not overeating. This will not only lessen the blood sugar spike that follows your meals, but it will also help you to eliminate any unnecessary calorie intake. Reducing your caloric intake is a key part of losing weight, and weight loss is one of the best-known ways to lower your risk for diabetes.
Eat slowly. Going hand in hand with portion control is controlling the pace at which you eat. Eating slowly has been shown to improve digestion and to help individuals lose weight because it gives your body the time it needs to recognize that it’s full before you eat more than you need. It’s common for fast eaters to eat far beyond the point of satiety without recognizing it because it takes the brain several minutes to send out the signal that it’s had enough. This can also result in higher blood sugar spikes that your body may not be prepared to cope with.
Intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is where you set a designated time, usually a range of several hours, for eating, and you don’t consume any foods outside of this window. Studies have suggested that maintaining an intermittent fasting schedule could help to manage blood sugar levels.10 However, not everyone can get accustomed to eating in this way, so this strategy may not work for you.
Spread out your carbs. Spreading out your carbohydrate intake throughout the day will help to avoid the large blood sugar spikes that come with excessive carb consumption. This technique can be used on its own or in combination with intermittent fasting.
Food is only one part of the equation. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels often involves making some lifestyle changes as well.
Exercise. Regular exercise has been shown to help increase insulin sensitivity, which enables your body to more easily handle the sugars you are consuming. Exercise can also help you lose weight, and as any doctor will tell you, losing weight is one of the best things you can do to lower your blood sugar and your risk of diabetes.
Stay hydrated. Proper hydration has numerous health benefits. One of the most obvious is that it helps your body flush out toxins. It also works with the kidneys to remove excessive sugars from your blood. Try to stick to water and unsweetened beverages, though. Sugary drinks will only add to the problem.
Get enough rest. Quality sleep has been linked to the regulation of blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity and cortisol production. Not getting enough sleep has also been shown to cause increased appetite and this often leads to weight gain.11
Limit your alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to worsening blood sugar control in diabetics.12 This can result in excessively high or low blood sugar levels.
Quit smoking. Nicotine causes insulin resistance, which means that your body’s insulin is unable to remove sugars from the blood as effectively as it should.13 And, of course, smoking causes a host of other health problems as well.
Try to relax. Stress is a major contributing factor to all types of diseases, including diabetes. Consider taking up some type of stress-relieving hobby, like meditation, if you aren’t already doing so.
These are just a few examples of things you can do to improve your health and keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range. Try one, a few or all of them. Let us know which ones work the best for you.
1 Fox, Maggie. (2015, Sept. 8). Half of Americans Have Diabetes or High Blood Sugar, Survey Finds. NBC News. Retrieved from nbcnews.com.
2 Riccardi G., Rivellese, A.A. (1991, Dec.). Effects of dietary fiber and carbohydrate on glucose and lipoprotein metabolism in diabetic patients. Diabetes Care. 14(12):1115-25.
3 Kassaian, N., Azadbakht, L., Forghani, B., Amini, M., (2009, Jan.). Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and lipid profiles in type 2 diabetic patients. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 79(1): 34-9.
4 Khan, A., Safdar, M., Khan, M.M.A., Khattak, K.N., Anderson, R.A. (2003, Dec.). Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People with Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 26(12): 3215-3218.
5 Wang, J., Zhang, X., Lan, H., Wang, W. (2017, Sept. 27). Effect of garlic supplement in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM): a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Food & Nutrition Research. 61(1): 1377571.
6 Barbagallo, M., Dominguez, L.J. (2015, Aug. 25). Magnesium and type 2 diabetes. World Journal of Diabetes. 6(10): 1152–1157.
7 Rabinovitz, H., Friedensohn, A., Leibovitz, A., Gabay, G., Rocas, C., Habot, B. (2004, May). Effect of chromium supplementation on blood glucose and lipid levels in type 2 diabetes mellitus elderly patients. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 74(3): 178-82.
8 Mitrou, P., Petsiou, E., Papakonstantinou, E., Maratou, E., Lambadiari, V., Dimitriadis, P., Spanoudi, F., Raptis, S.A., Dimitriadis, G. (2015). Vinegar Consumption Increases Insulin-Stimulated Glucose Uptake by the Forearm Muscle in Humans with Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of Diabetes Research. 175204.
9 Zhang, Q., Wu, Y., Fei, X. (2016). Effect of probiotics on glucose metabolism in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Medicina. 52(1): 28-34.
10 Arnason, T., Bowen, M.W., Mansell, K.D. (2017, Apr. 15). Effects of intermittent fasting on health markers in those with type 2 diabetes: A pilot study. World Journal of Diabetes. 8(4): 154–164.
11 Tasali, E., Leproult, R., Ehrmann, D.A., Van Cauter, E. (2008, Jan. 22). Slow-wave sleep and the risk of type 2 diabetes in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 105(3): 1044–1049.
12 Emanuele, N.V., Swade, T.F., Emanuele, M.A. (1998). Consequences of Alcohol Use in Diabetics. Alcohol Health & Research World. 22(3): 211-219.
13 Bajaj, M. (2012, Dec.) Nicotine and Insulin Resistance: When the Smoke Clears. Diabetes. 61(12): 3078–3080.