Simple Strategies for Managing Blood Sugar
Whether you are looking to manage a condition like diabetes, prevent disease, lose weight or simply improve energy throughout the day— controlling your blood sugar levels is key!
First, a quick (and overly simplified) snapshot of what blood sugar is, why it’s so important and how levels can affect us. Everyone has an essential type of sugar called glucose in their blood that comes from the digestion of food. It is the human body’s main source of energy. We need it to energize our cells, keep our muscles moving and brain thinking. Blood glucose regulation requires the cooperation of many body parts including fat tissue, muscles, the brain, the liver, and the pancreas as well as a host of hormones, including insulin. Through a somewhat complicated process, that we won’t get into here, your body works to maintain your blood glucose in a healthy range but our nutrition and lifestyle choices can push glucose levels too high and too low making it harder for our bodies to manage it which results in issues that range from fatigue to serious health problems over time.
Below are a few simple ways to keep your blood glucose levels steady throughout the day.
Limit Added Sugars. Most of us are taking in more sugar from our daily diets than we realize. Added sugars sneak into foods you may not even consider sweet like marinara sauce and salad dressing. In addition to spiking blood sugar levels, added sugar also provides empty calories which contribute to weight gain and excess fat storage. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting daily intake of added sugars to 25 grams for women and about 37 grams for men. To put this in perspective, one teaspoon or packet of sugar has 4 grams and a regular 12 oz. can of soda has a whopping 40 grams of sugar! The simplest way to limit added sugars is to build your meals and mini-meals around fresh whole foods like lean proteins, vegetables, whole grains and fruit. If a food item comes in a box, bag or bottle it is more likely to contain added ingredients including varying sources of sugar.
Fill up with Fiber. Dietary fiber has many health benefits including helping to manage healthy blood glucose. That’s because fiber slows the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and can help delay the rise of blood sugar levels. Whole foods that naturally contain sugar and fiber, like fruit, will not cause a spik ein your blood sugar the way a candy bar will (even if it contains the same grams of sugar)! Fiber also increases satiation meaning it will keep you feeling full for longer which helps manage appetite and assist in healthy weight loss. A 5-10 percent reduction in weight increases insulin sensitivity and helps lower blood sugar so it’s a win win scenario!
Eat at Regular Intervals. Scheduling nutrient dense meals and mini-meals every 3-4 hours has multiple benefits-- one of which is preventing major fluctuations in blood glucose levels throughout the day. When you go too many hours without eating your blood sugar drops which may signal your body to release extra, stored glucose into the bloodstream. Some signs of low blood sugar are fatigue, headaches and brain fog. Skipping meals also leads to more severe hunger which can result in overeating and binges.
Get Moving! Physical activity lowers blood glucose levels by making your body more sensitive to the hormone insulin. Muscle contractions during exercise also enables cells to use glucose for energy with or without available insulin. There are many small ways to increase your current activity level whether it means walking to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or scheduling an after-dinner walk and talk date with a friend. If you use insulin, be sure to measure your blood glucose before working out and take the appropriate actions to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Sweeten with Cinnamon. Cinnamon is a spice that has been coveted for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. While modern science continues to research its role in blood sugar control there is promising preliminary evidence that cinnamon lowers blood sugar. It appears to do so through multiple mechanisms including increasing insulin sensitivity. How much do you need to reap the benefits? The dosage of cinnamon used in studies is typically around ½-2 teaspoons which is totally doable! Sprinkle some on top of oatmeal, throw into protein smoothies and use in coffee in place of sugar for a natural hint of sweetness.
If you are feeling overwhelmed start off with just one of the above strategies. After a 2-4 weeks of incorporating a new habit (for example replacing sugar with cinnamon in your AM coffee) it will feel like a habit and you can pick something else from the list!
In Health & Harmony