How to bring down blood sugar levels? Living with diabetes, a chronic metabolic disorder in which blood sugar levels can fluctuate easily – requires comprehensive strategy and treatment plan to keep its complications at bay. The good news, it is manageable and there are plenty of ways to deal with!
Of course, consulting with a medical professional first is wise to get more comprehensive information about this. But in general, here are some important pillars to bring down your blood sugar level and keep it into a safe zone!
What’s the best diet for high blood sugar?
A few lifestyle practices would help a lot to prevent and soothe a blood sugar spike. Along with medications (if necessary), implementing certain lifestyle measures is almost always step one of treating diabetes!
It’s very important to follow these lifestyle modifications consistently in long term. And one of primary goals on this is to maintain your healthy weight or bring about weight loss if you’re overweight.
Here your appropriate diet would play a key role! It controls or reduces your dietary carbohydrate so you can keep your weight off and improve your blood sugar control. This may also control your triglycerides (a bad fat linked to the risk of heart problems) .
There is probably no ‘official’ diet for diabetes or high blood sugar. But a variety of approaches on this have been found to be effective, some basic things to remember are as follows:
Limiting certain foods
This is particularly true for foods that cause a dramatic spike in your blood sugar level.
The common culprits are usually foods with high glycemic index (GI) scores. They’re likely to cause quick and unstable release of glucose in the bloodstream, which is bad for blood sugar control in diabetics. These include
- High-sugar sweets such as candy, sugary cookies, and cake.
- Fruit juice high in sugar.
- Highly processed, refines carbohydrates (e.g. pasta and white bread).
- Some snack products like popcorn, potato crisps, and rice crackers.
- Soda and soft drinks.
Other common foods with high GI; rice milk, specialty grain bread, couscous, cornflakes, instant oat porridge, potato (instant mash), and honey!
How about fruits? Typically it’s OK to moderately eat 2 or 3 servings of whole fruit a day. Just strictly restrict fruits very high in GI score such as watermelon .
Consistency in your dietary carb
Carbohydrate gives more impact on your blood sugar level than the other macronutrients (fat and protein) . For this reason, it’s worth a try to go with the same amount of carbohydrates at every meal so you’re likely to have steady glucose levels.
For example for this menu plan: sticking to about 45 g of carbohydrates (breakfast), 45 g of carbohydrates (lunch), 15 g of carbohydrates (between-meal snack), and 60 g (dinner) – do this every day!
Or ask your dietitian /doctor if necessary since energy requirements may vary by individual.
The plate portion method
As the method’s name suggests, it is aimed to help control your meal portions throughout the day.
It can help emphasize more good things in your diet every day by dedicating specific portions (percentages) of your plate to certain healthy foods – the main ones are fiber, lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and whole grains.
You need to keep your body well-nourished. That’s why it’s important to understand on what nutrients you need most. With appropriate portions, you can still satisfy your appetite without causing a dangerous spike in your blood sugar.
The meal plan for this plate portion method may vary from person to person. But in general, this could be ;
- About 50 percent of the plate is non-starchy vegetables (e.g. cauliflower, okra, carrot, yard-long beans, broccoli, etc).
- One quarter to complex carb (e.g. brown rice, sweet potato, barley, or quinoa).
- One quarter to lean protein such as 3-4 ounces of lean red meat, baked /grilled fish, or roasted skinless chicken.
Consuming a bit healthy (unsaturated) fats is also good idea on this. Try olive oil or avocados for examples – still, watch the portion size (eat in moderation)!
‘Super’ foods to bring down sugar levels
Having high blood sugar levels may drive you to confusion or obsession over what you eat. Again, each person is different in responding foods.
The good news, many diabetics are able to find the right balance with foods they enjoy.
Also, there are several ‘super’ foods that may help bring down your sugar levels more quickly and keep the level off. The following are a few examples (they may contain extra-beneficial combos of certain healthful properties to help your glycemic control):
Salmon and cold-water fish
Unlike saturated fats, unsaturated fatty acids are considered as healthy fats since they can help promote better cholesterol levels and could be a health booster for your cardiovascular system. Plus, they may help improve your glycemic control.
Salmon is rich in these healthy fats. Benefits of eating salmon to boost heart health and blood sugar control are better than when you take omega-3 supplements, according to the American Diabetes Association .
Another potential benefit from fish for diabetes is free of carb and harmful things for your overall health. This is particularly true for cold-water fish such as Pollock, cod, or haddock. One study showed that cold fish might work much better to help manage diabetes than other types of meat .
Pumpernickel bread (whole wheat)
The bad thing of most breads; they’re very high in carbs! As a result they have high score in GI.
But the story is completely different for pumpernickel bread. It has low GI score with less processing for the ingredients (relatively high in fiber). Its high fiber content is useful to slow digestion, making your stomach and gut full longer. So it’s relatively safe for diabetics.
Study in 2014 suggests that ancient wheat diet, as well as einkorn and emmer, might effectively delay or reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes .
Beans me up!
Legumes, including beans, are healthy goodies for everything including in diet for diabetes or weight loss. They are rich in fiber and protein, two heroes of nutrients to drive satiety. Bonus – they’re also very low in GI scores.
A clinical research in 2012 showed that eating beans in moderation might help reduce HbA1c by about 0.5 percent. HbA1c is one of variables to calculate diabetes risk! Your dietary beans might also reduce the risk of coronary heart diseases .
If you’re not a fan of beans, try other legumes such as peas, lentils, and chickpeas – they are also quite magical to help your glycemic control.
Flaxseed meal and oats
Antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can help boost the health of cardiovascular system. Here flaxseeds are great idea for this.
Flaxseeds are also rich in fiber but low in carbohydrate, making a blood sugar spike less likely. Plus, it’s easy to combine them with your favorite meal to get an extra nutritional boost. For instances, add them to salads, baked goods, or smoothies.
Try also oats – or combine them with flaxseeds! Oats are healthy choice for everyone, they’re low in GI score (55 or probably lower). They may carry strong positive effects in people with type 2 diabetes for glucose control and improve lipid profile .
Moreover oats have a powerful thing called B-glucancs which may help; maintain insulin sensitivity, improve glycemic control, and maintain healthy blood lipids (fats).
However, it’s still important to consume oats in moderation since they also have carbs. One cup of oats has about 28 g of carb!
Cinnamon, garlic, and ginger
It’s not clear yet whether cinnamon has a beneficial effect to help bring down blood sugar levels. But some experts say that it might carry improvement in insulin sensitivity and glucose control.
To keep safe, enjoy it by sprinkling powdered cinnamon on oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt. Cinnamon supplements are also available (but ask your doctor first)!
Try also garlic, another promising thing found in your kitchen for blood sugar control. This popular kitchen ingredient is thought as ‘super’ herb for a wide variety of different medical conditions.
Consumption of garlic in moderation might induce a decline in both post-meal and fasting blood glucose levels – one study in 2013 showed . People usually use it to expand the food flavor (in cooked meals) or add it to salads.
How about ginger? This spice is a popular spicy thing in the culinary world. Since it’s also loaded with bioactive compounds, it’s commonly considered as herb. And ‘yes’ it might help control or lower blood sugar levels.
Ginger might have potent properties to block certain enzymes that cause a blood sugar spike when we eat carbohydrates – one mini-review suggests . So it’s worth a try to include it in diet for diabetes, but again do this in moderation!
Geek out yourself over low-fat yogurt!
Yogurt is a fermented food high in healthy boosters especially probiotics (good bacteria). It’s a good thing for your healthy digestion. Also, it’s probably helpful to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
A moderate consumption of yogurt (three to five ounces per day) might decrease the risk by about 14 percent, according to one study published on the Oxford Academic . Unfortunately it’s not clear yet why and how yogurt provides this beneficial effect.
Since yogurt is a dairy product, it’s much better to choose plain (unsweetened) yogurt to gain the benefits most. For example, choose plain Greek yogurt since it has low GI score.
On the other hand, don’t choose flavored or sweetened yogurts since they are quite high in sugar!
It’s hard to completely list all good foods for diabetes in this article. What to remember, each food has unique things (including nutritional values). So eating a wide variety of healthy foods every day is the best idea for everyone!
Besides ‘super’ foods mentioned earlier, the following foods are also probably helpful to improve your glycemic control:
- Again, most fruits (in moderate consumption) are OK for diabetics. Fruits are good source for fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and other important nutrients. Just make sure to avoid fruits high in GI scores such as melons and pineapples!
- Sweet potatoes, another alternative for complex carbohydrates. Unlike regular potatoes, they are not only great source for energy but also high in fiber (low GI scores).
- Smashing pumpkins! Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium which might help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Spinach, particular true if you have potassium deficiency. Lack of potassium might contribute to increase the risk of diabetes.
- Turmeric. Curcumin found in turmeric might have potential benefit in improving insulin resistance. In fact, turmeric has been used in traditional medicines (Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines for examples) as a diabetes remedy.
Also, the way of how you eat your meals may help too. To keep blood sugar stable, avoid eating huge meal at one time. Instead, go with small meals and spread these out over the day. Never skip your meals, so eat them regularly!
If necessary, ask your healthcare team or doctor about your carb counts! The appropriate amount of carbs per meal is tailored to each individual.
In addition, always keep hydrated! This is critical for everything, including for your glycemic control. With adequate fluid in the body, your kidneys will work more optimally to help flush out the unnecessary excess glucose from the bloodstream through urine.
Exercise plays a key role in glycemic control
Lifestyle changes do have a role. But lowering the level is not just short-term goal. You need to keep the level stable in long term to reduce the risk of diabetes complications!
Along with healthy-balanced diet, regular exercise will bring more beneficial effects to manage or bring down your blood sugar level.
People with adequate physical activity are likely to have better insulin sensitivity . Exercise is also a booster to keep your weight off.
What to remember, make sure you’re ready for exercise since this could be counterproductive when you push yourself too hard and if your body is not ready yet. To keep safe, talk with your diabetes care team before trying a new exercise program.
A number of factors may be taken into consideration for diabetics before following an exercise program, some are as follow:
- Whether or not you’re taking diabetic medications.
- The type of diabetes. You may need more intensive care of medications if you have type-1 diabetes.
- Your current fitness status.
- The status of your current blood glucose level. Exercise could be dangerous when you have too high or too low glucose levels.
Start off gradually
It’s not necessary to start off immediately with long or heavy exercise, particularly if you’re not in a good shape or hasn’t exercised for a while. Instead, start off slowly so you can minimize the risk of injuries and prevent other counterproductive effects!
Begin with a moderate duration, 5 to 15 minutes are probably enough (just make sure it’s comfortable to your situation). Then increase this gradually!
When you’re ready, try to regularly have a moderate physical activity (brisk walking for example) for about 30 minutes (5 to 7 times per week) .
What to expect
If you’re overweight and just starting up a program of exercise, you will usually lose a few extra pounds of your weight. And losing weight in obese people is essential to help improve glycemic control.
Even if you don’t lose weight, your exercise can still bring beneficial effects. Besides weight control benefit and improving insulin sensitivity – regular exercise in diabetics would help; improve sleep, provide a good mood booster, carry them more energy, or ease minor health problems (e.g. aches and pains) .
Adequate level of physical activity is also necessary to encourage your muscles in using glucose for energy more effectively. So keep active, don’t become a sedentary individual!
Exercise to bring down sugar levels, what else?
Try also exercise alternatives to boost your physical activity level with fun. Do mild aerobic physical activities such a pushing a stroller, daily chores of housework, or even dancing!
Your physical activity will affect your blood glucose levels. The next question, how much? Well, this varies by individual since everyone’s situation is different. Talk more with your healthcare team (if necessary) about this.
Sometimes you may need to check the level before and after exercise. A golden rule, listen your body! Stop right away when you have injury or experience abnormal symptoms (breathing trouble for example).
Don’t panic, keep stress at bay!
There is no instant thing to deal with diabetes, it’s a lifelong process. Here your stress management plays a role!
Unfortunately, chronic condition like diabetes can add more stress tension in life. And if you’re not able to control your stress, you have a major extra barrier to control your blood glucose level.
Uncontrolled stress would make a blood sugar spike more likely.
Actually, your stress is fight-or-flight response which is necessary when your body need quick response to respond emergency situation. It drives nerve cells to fire and boosts hormone levels.
During this response, stress hormones are released and your heart beats increase so your body is ready to respond emergency situation. This also boosts more glucose into the bloodstream for energy!
With diabetes, the body is poor in converting glucose (in the bloodstream) to become energy. As a result, blood glucose levels can rise easily during stress. That’s why good stress management is important!
While stress in our daily life is often inevitable, we can manage it. For examples, the following ideas may help:
- Try mediation. Mediating is a good way to get rid of negative thoughts, reducing your mental stress. Sit in a sofa or chair, close your eyes for a while and then say a ‘magic mantra’ to keep motivated like “everything is going OK”
- Yoga, another good idea. Adding this India traditional therapy to your daily routine may provide relief for your physical stress.
- When you’re caught in high emotional state, keep calm. If possible, go away from the current environment and find a quiet space. Inhale deep breaths, and then release slowly & loudly so you can drive yourself to your stable emotional state, slowing your heartbeat down!
If necessary, join into in-person support group (check this diabetes foundation) to help manage and relieve your diabetes-related stress more comprehensively!
Home remedies for diabetes, what’s more?
Do also the following glycemic control do’s list in your lifestyle management for more stable blood sugar level:
- Get enough high-quality Zzz’s! Lack of slumber at night is bad for your glycemic and blood glucose control. Because your sleep is important for lots of things associated with your body chemistry. Sleep deprivation may also increase your risk of heart disease, a common complication of diabetes!
- Tobacco smoke contains countless harmful chemicals and toxins, which some might have a role in provoking high blood sugar especially for people with type 2 diabetes . So quit smoking if you’re a smoker!
- Never skip your breakfast. After long hours of fasting at night, you need to restore the balance of your energy, and here breakfast plays a key role. Breakfast is also the starting point to make sure you eat your meals regularly throughout the day.
How about cinnamon and apple cider vinegar?
It’s not clear yet to if and how cinnamon has an effect to lower blood glucose level. Studies on this show mixed results, some find that cinnamon might help while others don’t!
But as a spice, it’s not bad idea to add a sprinkle cinnamon since there’s no harmful side effect in diabetes as long as you take it in moderation.
The similar thing goes for apple cider vinegar. The jury is still out as to if this vinegar has an effect to bring down blood sugar levels. But many studies suggest that it might help. One study released in the Journal of Functional Foods showed that apple cider vinegar might help reduce fasting blood glucose level .
High blood sugar medications (prescriptions)
Depending on your situation, a few medications may be necessary to bring down your blood sugar level more effectively and keep it off.
A number of medications for treating diabetes have been developed to boost better prognosis and outcome of patients. These medications are particularly necessary when lifestyle modifications are not enough to control blood glucose levels.
Some common medications to bring down or control blood glucose levels are as follows: