Feeling on edge after a high blood sugar reading? Here are a few lifestyle changes to help you lower your levels, naturally and effectively.
BY: ANNE DANAHY, MS, RD
If your doctor has mentioned that your fasting blood sugar or your A1C (a 3-month blood sugar average) is a bit higher than normal, you may be on your way to developing Type 2 diabetes.
Before you panic, it’s important to know that it’s possible to reduce your blood sugar naturally. If you’re proactive about making changes in your diet and lifestyle, you may be able to prevent diabetes – or at least hold it off for a long time.
Let’s start with a few statistics:
- 30.3 million people (about 9.4% of the U.S. population) have diabetes.
- Another 7.2 million people have it, but haven’t been diagnosed.
- More than 84 million American adults have prediabetes.
- People with diabetes spend 2.3 times more on healthcare compared to those without the disease.
The risk of diabetes increases as you get older, and having it increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It’s also a major cause of nerve damage in your feet, hands or even your stomach, problems with your eyesight, and kidney failure. Diabetes also hits you hard in your wallet because of the added doctor visits, bloodwork, and medications needed to manage and monitor it.
So how do you get diagnosed with diabetes?
A normal blood sugar is defined as fasting glucose less than 100 mg/dl, or an A1C less than 5.7%. A diagnosis of diabetes is made when your fasting glucose is greater than 125 mg/dl, or your A1C is over 6.5%.
If your fasting glucose is between 100 and 125 mg/dl and an A1C between 5.7 and 6.4%, you may have prediabetes. It’s important to have it checked more than once to confirm, but even if it is, know that you’re not alone.
Most of us know a few – or many – friends or family members who are in the same boat. In fact, many people who have a family history of diabetes often assume it will happen to them. But it doesn’t have to.
If you’re mindful about your lifestyle and activities, there are ways to lower your blood sugar naturally and prevent diabetes. Here are a few ways how.
1. Be mindful of what you eat.
If you’re developing diabetes, it means your insulin isn’t working as well as it should, and you’re becoming insulin-resistant. Insulin is the hormone that shuttles glucose (the digested form of carbohydrates) from your blood and into your cells. By controlling the release of glucose from carbohydrate-dense foods into your bloodstream, your insulin won’t have to work as hard.
For many people, their first thought goes to a very low-carb or keto diet. However, many find it hard to stick to, and it’s important to remember that carbs aren’t bad. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole, unprocessed grains provide a wonderful source of carbs that your body loves for slow-burning fuel and long-lasting energy.
Watch for the amount of carbs that are obtained from sweets and refined breads, cereals, and other refined foods, which are often digested too quickly and make your insulin work overtime.
Also consider adding more foods that are high in soluble fiber, which can help balance blood sugar while slowing down your digestion. These include:
- Legumes or pulses (lentils, chickpeas, black, pinto, kidney beans)
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
Healthy fats can also help you feel full and satisfied faster. When eaten with carbs, they also help to slow down your digestion, which balances your blood sugar. Some great choices include:
- Nut butters
2. Increase physical activity.
We all know that exercise is good for us, but did you know that it lowers your blood sugar when you do it? When you get your heart rate up with any type of cardio activity, your muscles use more of that glucose up. In addition, when you build more muscle, your body becomes more sensitive to the effects of insulin – or less insulin-resistant.
Aim for about 200 minutes of cardio activity and 2-3 strength training sessions each week. 200 minutes might sound like a lot, but remember you can spread it out over the week. About 30 minutes a day, or 40 minutes 5 times each week of cardio (such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, biking, hiking, dancing) is great. Adding in those strength training sessions builds muscle, which boosts your metabolism and reduces insulin resistance.
3. Get a good night’s sleep, every night.
Research has shown that people who don’t sleep well – or those who work the overnight shift, have a greater risk of developing diabetes. Loss of even one night’s sleep can have a negative effect on how insulin works.
Most people require 7-8 hours of sleep each night. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, your brain and muscles don’t use glucose as well as they can. Lack of sleep can also disrupt the hormones that control your appetite. If you’re not a good sleeper, make that a priority.
4. Reduce your stress.
Stress impacts your blood sugar in several ways.
- It’s a major reason many people have trouble sleeping.
- When you’re feeling stressed, you tend to crave the types of carbs that won’t help your blood sugar.
- Most importantly, when you’re under persistent stress, your cortisol levels tend to stay too high.
Cortisol is the fight-or-flight hormone that we’ve all experienced when we face something stressful. The stress response is designed to help us fight or run from our stressor.
Unfortunately, we can’t run away from family problems, or a job we hate, or bills that are piling up – so that excess stress can lead to less self-care and more behaviors that can contribute to high blood sugar. Try incorporating meditation, deep-breathing exercises, yoga, and even adaptogenic herbs that can balance your body and mind.
Even if diabetes runs in your family, know that it is still in your control to change the outcome. So do what you can,
And make the most out of life.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: ELLA OLSSON
Anne Danahy, MS, RD is a Scottsdale-AZ-based registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant specializing in women’s health and healthy aging. Anne is passionate about teaching people how to make the science of nutrition more delicious on their plates. Visit her at Craving Something Healthy.