Blood sugar isn’t just something that diabetics should be thinking about. Given the availability and convenience of highly processed food and people’s busy schedules, practically everyone is at risk for high blood sugar levels. Read on to find how to maintain blood sugar levels naturally through your diet.
Blood Sugar Basics
Why is it so important to maintain healthy blood sugar levels? It’s because having consistently high blood sugar may lead to diabetes and a host of other health issues.
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is generally diagnosed in childhood and those who suffer from it are insulin dependent. This means that they have to inject themselves with insulin, the hormone that enables the body to convert sugar in the blood into energy.
Type 2 is usually diagnosed later in life and is generally caused by a poor diet that causes consistent spikes in blood sugar. Those with type 2 diabetes are typically insulin resistant. Those who have prediabetes are in danger of developing type 2 diabetes. Pregnant women may develop gestational diabetes.
What’s so bad about having high blood sugar? It can lead to more serious health problems that damage your eyes, kidneys, and nerves; in severe cases, a limb may have to be amputated. Having high blood sugar is also a contributing factor in heart disease and stroke.
What to Eat
A holistic approach to managing or preventing diabetes involves eating the right food, staying active, and possibly taking medication as directed by your physician. Whether you have diabetes or not, it’s still important to monitor what you eat to keep health problems at bay. Some of the blood sugar-regulating foods are:
1. Fatty fish. Protein has no effect on blood sugar so load up on lean versions or those with the good kind of fat. Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and halibut, are a great source of protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Just make sure you also cook them using healthy methods like steaming or baking—frying can load them with saturated fat. Bonus: Fish are easy to prepare. You can just sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lemon then pop in the oven.
2. Green vegetables. Leafy greens are rich in nutrients such as magnesium and Vitamin A. They’re also very good for eye health, which may be affected by diabetes. Bonus: They’ve got lots of fiber, which slows down the absorption of blood sugar from other food sources.
If you’re tired of the same old lettuce, you can check out a wide variety of greens, from spinach to kangkong to kale. And while you’re at the vegetable aisle, you might as well grab some nutrient-dense, low-carb, low-calorie broccoli.
3 Whole grains. Refined carbs bring about a blood sugar spike so opt for whole grains instead. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that whole-grain foods have favorable effects on insulin sensitivity.
Though more tests need to be done, the study notes that these effects “may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease” and the evidence is “sufficient to encourage increased consumption of whole-grain foods.”
Avoid the white stuff and instead go for those labeled “whole grain.” There are also many possibilities beyond wheat such as oats (just make sure you don’t get the flavored kind), buckwheat groats, millet, amaranth, teff, adlai, and other ancient grains (available at Healthy Options).
4. Eggs. Over the years, the egg’s reputation has swung back and forth between good and bad. Confused? When it comes to diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends whole eggs (meaning, including the yolk) as an excellent source of protein. Just make sure to consume them in moderation.
5. Coffee. Coffee lovers, rejoice! Aside from waking you up in the morning and giving you a jolt in the afternoon, coffee also has compounds that have been found to help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Just don’t add sugar, syrups, and other flavorings to your coffee that may offset these benefits.
…and What to Avoid
Some foods are obviously not going to be doing your blood sugar any flavors: processed food, those with lots of added sugar, refined carbs. But some foods that raise blood sugar are a bit sneakier—you may not even realize that they’re sabotaging your healthy-eating efforts:
1. Dried fruit. You might be gobbling dried fruit by the handful, thinking that they’re healthy. But these may contain plenty of added sugar. Instead of going for the dried version, reach for whole fruits that are naturally low in sugar, such as berries.
2. Sugary drinks. Soda and artificial fruit juices can be more damaging to your health than you realize. Need a flavorful way to wash down your lunch? Opt for flavored water. (Try Good Idea Sparkling, available at Healthy Options.)
3. Fat-free products. “Fat-free” isn’t synonymous with healthy. Check the ingredients list to make sure your fat-free foods don’t contain added sugars (which are normally used to give these offerings more flavor). Also keep in mind that fat isn’t necessarily a bad thing—there are lots of good fats like those found in fish and avocados.