How to Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels Naturally
Alexa Paolella, IIN Content Editor, Class of January 2018
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and World Diabetes Day is celebrated globally on November 14. We here at IIN want to raise awareness and encourage our community to make lifestyle changes that help prevent diabetes and other health conditions and ultimately lead to a better quality of life.
Blood sugar problems are on the rise, with over 100 million Americans living with diabetes or prediabetes. And because we can’t ignore these staggering numbers, many are becoming more aware of their sugar intake and other factors that might contribute to blood sugar imbalances.
Insulin, an essential hormone in the body, is a key piece of the equation. People who have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, produce little to no insulin. In type 2, the most common form of diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin and responds by producing too much of it – causing blood sugar levels to rise.
While genetics and viruses have a significant impact on type 1 diabetes, type 2 is largely influenced by lifestyle factors – obesity being the leading risk factor.
Other major causes of blood sugar imbalances contributing to type 2 diabetes include:
- Sleep deprivation
- Lack of exercise
- Pregnancy (more often in the third trimester)
In some cases, these factors coincide with each other. For instance, you might be dealing with chronic stress, which negatively impacts how you sleep at night. Then, because you’re overtired, you make unhelpful food choices, which causes you to gain weight. Ultimately, your blood sugar levels rise, which can bring about diabetes and other more serious health issues over time.
Even still, we can’t ignore the impact that our diet has on our health as poor diet contributes to nearly 11 million deaths each year. Soda, cereal, and white bread have become staples of the American diet. Moreover, we’re living in an era of fast food, with an estimated 84.8 million adults consuming fast food on any given day in the United States. Foods that tend to be high in saturated fat, salt, and artificial ingredients are associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to stabilize your blood sugar levels and, in turn, improve your health. As many of you know, your body is a delicate system that needs plenty of TLC! To help prevent diabetes and other health issues, it’s important to make long-term modifications that prioritize both diet and exercise – two areas that the American Diabetes Association emphasizes as well.
Choosing a healthy, balanced life for yourself will only help instill better habits for your family, friends, and loved ones for generations to come.
Here are some of the best ways to manage your blood sugar levels with diet and exercise:
Time your meals.
Establishing a routine is beneficial in many areas of life – from exercise to meal prep to plans with friends. The same goes for meal timing, which is something you can do every day to help stabilize blood sugar levels and regulate your appetite. By planning your meals ahead of time, you’re less likely to snack and more likely to make mindful food choices. Meal timing is about listening to your body, knowing when you’re hungry, and understanding what you need to feel energized and content.
Here are five simple tips to get started:
- Eat within two hours of waking up to squash cravings and boost energy levels throughout the day.
- Try to eat every 5–6 hours by focusing more on your body’s hunger signals! Don’t eat just because you’re bored or other people are eating around you.
- No snacking before bedtime. Instead, stay busy by unwinding or doing activities you love.
- Fast between dinner and breakfast to give yourself some time to digest before bed.
- Drink plenty of water between meals to aid digestion, stay hydrated, and remain full for longer periods of time!
Eat more high-fiber foods.
Growing up, your parents probably told you to eat your veggies. And that was one thing you should have listened to! Veggies are a great source of fiber, which helps keep your blood sugar levels in check, lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Plus, fiber regulates your digestive system, helping you maintain a healthy gut. High-fiber foods also tend to be more filling, so they aid in achieving a balanced weight. Need we say more?
Here are some of our favorite foods and tips on how to add fiber to every meal!
- Whole grains: quinoa, oats, brown rice, and buckwheat
- Veggies: spinach, swiss chard, broccoli, and brussels sprouts
- Fruits: apples, avocado, bananas, blueberries, and melon
- Nuts and seeds: chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and cashews
- Beans: navy beans, black beans, pinto beans, and lentils
- Swap traditional pasta for red lentil pasta.
- Add some color to your plate with this butternut squash and chickpea curry.
- Try this delicious green smoothie to jump-start your morning.
Crowd out simple carbohydrates.
One of our core concepts at Integrative Nutrition is “crowding out,” which encourages you to add more nourishing foods to your diet (like high-fiber foods!), which will then drive out less-nourishing foods.
Simple carbohydrates, like white bread, candy, soda, and cookies, are often processed and refined. They also often include added and artificial ingredients, which contribute to higher blood sugar levels when consumed regularly. By crowding out simple carbs and adding more complex carbs (fruits, veggies, and whole grains) to your plate, you’ll be satisfied, stay full longer, and have a diet that consists of natural, nutritious foods!
Whether you prefer HIIT workouts or yoga, exercise is one of the best ways to increase insulin sensitivity, stay heart healthy, and maintain a balanced weight. It also helps prevent obesity, one of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes. The current recommendation is 2.5 hours a week, or about 30 minutes a day for five days a week, of moderate exercise. And while that might seem like a lot for some, 30 minutes a day only requires you to make minor lifestyle adjustments. Can you walk to work? Can you step out at lunch instead of sitting at your desk? Can you meet a friend after work and chat as you move? Think about your daily schedule and try to carve out time for exercise. Even if you start small and gradually work up to 30 minutes a day, it’s the change that matters most!
There are many benefits associated with drinking more water, including fewer cravings, digestive regularity, more energy, and glowing skin. The general recommendation is 2.7 liters per day for women and 3.7 liters per day for men. However, water needs are highly bio-individual, and everything from age to activity level affects the amount of water needed each day. The first step is to be aware of your habits. Do you normally hydrate with sweetened beverages, like juice or soda? If so, you’ll also crowd out sugar and cut calories by making this simple change! You can always start by adding one extra glass of water each day, then increasing from there.
Plus, here are three ways to make staying hydrated more fun:
- Add lemon, cucumber, or berries for a little extra flavor!
- Invest in a reusable water bottle, so you can fill it up multiple times a day.
- Drink a full glass of warm water first thing in the morning to hydrate and stimulate digestion.
Only you know your body and what you need to feel and look your best. Diet and lifestyle modifications take time, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a few weeks to start feeling (or seeing!) results.
Monitor your blood sugar.
You can test your blood sugar at home using a glucose testing meter. This is a great way to discover what your fasting blood sugar actually is and whether your blood sugar is balanced after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At-home kits, like the Easy Touch Testing Kit, are easily accessible, but you can check with your healthcare practitioner or doctor for additional resources.
At-home blood sugar monitoring is a great tool for preventive health. Since you’re your own best advocate, we always encourage you to stay informed. If you’ve ever had high blood sugar or are concerned that you may be at risk, monitoring your blood sugar levels might make sense. That way, you can track changes and see what happens to your levels after you’ve exercised or consumed a lunch consisting of veggies and whole grains. As always, we recommend talking to and sharing your results with your doctor.
Take our Sample Class to learn more about how YOU can take control of your health and inspire others to do the same by becoming an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. For information on how to get involved in Diabetes Awareness Month, head to the American Diabetes Association.