Having blood sugar imbalances can lead to many health issues, such as type 2 diabetes, excess body fat around the mid section, mood disturbances and fatigue.
Even when you’re already suffering from type-2 diabetes, it's known that the right food choices can help control your blood sugar levels and may even reverse diabetes.
What are blood sugar levels?
The blood sugar level is the amount of glucose circulating in your bloodstream. The purpose of glucose is to provide your cells with energy. All carbohydrates get converted into glucose in our bodies.
You need a well-balanced blood sugar level for your overall wellbeing, regulating hormones, to burn stored body fat and to increase your metabolism.
In order to regulate blood sugar levels, our bodies release insulin after a carb-rich meal to bring down the levels. The more and higher you spike your blood sugar levels, the higher the chances are for chronically elevated levels and insulin resistance.
Symptoms of too high blood sugar levels
Common symptoms are excessive thirst and an abnormally high urine production, a worsening vision, fatigue and your breath may have a smell of acetone (like nail polish remover).
You can check your blood test with your own inexpensive blood glucose meter. Simply pin your finger and a drop of blood is all it takes.
A normal blood sugar level is up to 6mmol/l if you’re fasted, or up to 8.7 after you ate something.
Above 7.0 mmol/l fasted, or 12.2 after a meal indicates that your blood sugar levels are too high.
You can get this test at every pharmacy or drugstore, or make a check up at your GP. Some websites send them for free to you as well.
So carbs are evil, then?
Definitely not! Carbohydrates are not bad, but you have to know how to balance them and which carbohydrates are better for your body. It doesn’t matter how your current health looks like, everybody benefits from knowing how to balance blood sugar levels.
Here's the best case scenario: Our diet consists of healthy sources of carbohydrates (such as oats, rice, sweet potatoes, fruits and whole grains), with a decent amount of good fats (such as avocados, nuts, seeds and salmon) and protein (chicken, tofu, cottage cheese and eggs).
The decent amount of good fats and protein will cause a slower release of glucose to your bloodstream. Your pancreas will respond to this slow release of glucose, by secreting a smaller amount of insulin.
We need insulin to bring the glucose into our cells, where the glucose is used as energy. A stable blood sugar also means no sugar or carb cravings.
Glycemic index (GI)
The GI is a number, that gives you a way to distinguish slower-acting carbs from the faster-acting carbs. Two foods with the same amount of carbohydrates can have a different GI.
Basically, the smaller the number, the slower your body converts the carbs into glucose and the less impact the food has on your blood sugar.
- 55 or less = Low (very good)
- 56-69 = Medium
- 70 or higher = High (bad)
Mind, that the GI can change. For example, because of ripeness. The GI of a banana goes up as they ripen. Plus, fat, fiber and acid (found in lemon juice or vinegar) lower the GI. The longer you cook starches like pasta, the higher their GI will be.
Here is a food list to check the GI of the most common foods.
How to maintain healthy blood sugar levels
Fat is also not the enemy
Healthy fats take longer to digest. Hence, they help our body by slowing down the absorption of sugar.
Plus, fat doesn’t cause an insulin spike. But trans fats and several saturated fats may alter the structures of cell membranes to inhibit insulin binding and lead to an increase in insulin levels.
Don't believe that "Too much dietary fat will clog my arteries"-nonsense! Nope, elevated blood sugar will. A very low-fat diet most likely will increase triglycerides and lower HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol. Therefore, a decent amount of fat is crucial for a healthy lifestyle.
Oatmeal for breakfast
Even though oats are a carbohydrate, they are a high-quality one. It’s slower to digest, because of the high content of soluble fibre. Hence, it won’t raise your blood sugar as much or as quickly as simple sugars would.
Fiber also takes longer to digest. Furthermore, the high-quality carbs will offer a steadier source of energy, than for example white bread.
Generally speaking, low GI foods take more time to metabolise, which keeps your blood sugar steady for hours. Avoid high-glycemic carbs like white potatoes, white and whole-wheat breads, corn flakes, granola bars, sweets and sugary baked goods.
Move your body
You already know that exercise makes you feel great. Besides that, it drastically improves the way your body responds to sugar.
Regular exercise will improve your insulin resistance, especially if you’re already suffering from diabetes or blood sugar issues.
When you are stressed the body produces a hormone called cortisol.
Basically, cortisol is used to flee from wild animals back in caveman times. Feeling stressed can also lead to sugar cravings and binge eating. I know it's easier said than done, but keeping your stress levels down is crucial for healthy blood sugar levels and losing weight.
Try meditation, take a walk, drink a warm cup of tea or talk to a friend, when you feel stressed out.
Spice it up with cinnamon
Cinnamon is very effective in reducing your fasted blood sugar and reducing the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, by stimulating insulin secretions from the pancreas.
And it's really delicious. Add it to your smoothie, yogurt, fruits or even chicken (yes, that's a thing!).
Vinegar is known to moderate post meal blood sugar and stabilise insulin fluctuations, by blocking the absorption of sugar and starchy food from the intestines.
Simply add a spoonful to your meal, you don't need more.
Eat more garlic
Wrinkle up your nose as much as you want, but garlic has been used for years to reduce LDL ("bad cholesterol") and it also may lower blood sugar.
In general, the allium family, which also includes onions, shallots, leeks and scallion, acts like antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from the damaging effects of high blood sugar.
Enjoy deeply coloured veggies and fruits
Foods like red cabbage, purple potatoes, red radish, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries support healthy post-meal blood sugar levels, because they are rich in flavonoids.
As potent antioxidants they also preserve insulin function by protecting the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas from damage.
Mind your chromium and magnesium intake
The mineral chromium is needed for proper insulin management. If you suffer from a chromium deficiency your glucose and insulin levels will be increased. Get the chromium you need by adding broccoli, mushrooms, romain lettuce and grass-fed beef to your diet.
Magnesium also plays an essential role in the usage of insulin and helps also to maintain proper blood sugar levels. Leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, avocados and plain yogurt are high in magnesium. Isn't that complicated to stock up on these, is it?
Consider supplements if you have a problem to get all your minerals and vitamins in, but do your research and get your blood work done before you buy it.
Watch your alcohol intake
Drinking alcohol in excess has been shown to have a negative effect on blood sugar. Imagine you're drinking a cocktail. Your body reacts to it as a toxin, and channels all energy into expelling it. Therefore, all other processes are interrupted, including the production of glucose and the hormones needed to regulate it.
The consumption of alcohol also causes an increase in insulin secretion, which leads to low blood sugar (known as hypoglycaemia).
This is one of the most noticeable things in people who drink alcohol on a regularly basis: Drinking alcohol over time decreases the effectiveness of insulin, which leads to high blood sugar levels.
If you want to have a few drinks with your friends, stay away from syrups, juices or sweet mixes. Rather choose sprits, such as tequila, vodka or gin.
Gain the upper hand on your blood sugar and you’ll feel full of energy, your weight management will be improved, your mood will be better, cravings will subside and you lower the risk of blood sugar-related diseases.