Addressing your blood sugar health.
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. 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.
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 during the day, 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.
10 ways to manage your blood sugar levels
1. 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 a couple of ways 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!
2. 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
3. Crowd out simple carbohydrates.
One of our core concepts that we teach 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, refined, and high on the glycemic index scale. This means that your body digests the food quickly, causing a sharp rise in your blood sugar in the process. By crowding out simple carbs and adding more complex carbs (fruits, veggies, quinoa, barley, and sweet potatoes) to your plate, you’ll be satisfied, stay full longer, and have a diet that consists of natural, nutritious foods!
4. Exercise regularly.
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!
5. Stay hydrated.
There are many benefits associated with drinking enough water, including fewer cravings, digestive regularity, more energy, and glowing skin. The general recommendation is 2.7 liters (11 cups) per day for women and 3.7 liters (15 cups) 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.
6. Try apple cider vinegar.
You’ve probably heard that a spoonful of apple cider vinegar (ACV) in the morning can help kickstart your digestion, but did you know that it can also be helpful in lowering your blood sugar levels? Studies have shown that ACV is helpful in lowering glucose levels after eating a meal high in carbohydrates. This is due to the acetic acid, which may block enzymes that digest starch in the body—slowing down the digestion process and giving your body time to stabilize its blood sugar level.
Whether you add it to your salad dressing or mix it in warm lemon water, a little ACV can make all the difference for your digestion throughout the day!
7. Take a glutamine supplement.
Glutamine is an amino acid that your body needs to support your intestinal cells and overall immune health. It helps build a barrier between your intestines and the rest of your body, preventing a leaky gut. It also affects blood sugar, as the amino acid has shown to lower ghrelin secretion, the hormone that increases hunger.
People with type 2 diabetes are often lacking glutamine, and a study showed that an added supplement was helpful in reducing the participants’ blood glucose levels, body fat, and blood pressure. As always, it’s important to check with your healthcare provider before trying out any new supplement, since there is a chance that the supplement could interfere with other medications that you are taking.
8. Control your stress levels.
Ah, stress. As one of the prime indicators of one’s health, excess stress can throw off your body’s natural homeostasis, interfering with many of the inner processes that keep your body functioning properly. Stress can cause inflammation, raise your blood pressure, and not to mention—your blood sugar.
While it’s impossible to get rid of stress completely, there are many ways to alleviate the toll that stress takes on the body. This could range from dedicating 20-minutes to a yoga or meditation practice, or setting aside time at the end of your day to relax in a warm bubble bath. Don’t forget to take the time you need to support your emotional health, because it ultimately connects to your physical health and well-being.
9. Get more sleep.
A good night’s sleep has the ability to shift your health in more ways than one! When the body is sleep deprived, your hormones levels are thrown into a frenzy, and it becomes more difficult to regulate and metabolize glucose. Lack of sleep can raise levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), cause you to eat more calories throughout the day, increase insulin resistance, and contribute to higher levels of A1c and blood glucose.
If you’re looking to improve your sleep health (and in turn your blood sugar health!) it’s important to make sure you get more slow-wave sleep, a deep state of rest following REM when your nervous system activity goes down. This is a period where your brain uses less glucose and has time to recuperate, decreasing your secretion of cortisol throughout the day.
10. 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 are easily accessible, but you can check with your healthcare practitioner or doctor for resources and medical advice.
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.
Putting these blood sugar-balancing tips into practice.
Your health and well-being are going to fluctuate throughout you’re the different phases of your life, so it’s important to take the reins on the things that you can control. Try choosing three or more of the lifestyle or nutritional changes above, and see how you feel over time. You’ll find that it’s easier to make the “healthier choice” when it becomes a lifestyle habit, whether you commit to drinking a certain amount of water each day or choosing whole-wheat over white bread at the grocery store.
Interested in taking the next step? Check out our Sample Class to learn more about how you can transform your health (and inspire others to do the same) by becoming an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.