Balancing blood glucose levels may be something most of us think about strictly for diabetes, yet is very important for overall health and well-being. Blood glucose, or blood sugar, refers to the amount of sugar present in the blood stream. It can be measured at a specific point in time, or as an average over time.
When our blood sugar dips too low (hypoglycemia), we feel bad. It may manifest with increased hunger, decreased energy, irritability, headaches, dizziness and, if serious, a possible loss of consciousness.
Alternatively, having chronically high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) can be detrimental to our health as well. Hyperglycemia usually occurs when the body has too little insulin, or when the body can’t use the insulin it does have in an effective manner. It may result from the size and composition of dietary choices, inactivity, medications, stress and/or illness.
Chronically high blood sugar can cause damage to blood vessels, nerves and organs, and may eventually lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Signs of prolonged high blood sugar may include an increase in thirst, headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, blurred vision, weight loss and frequent urination.
Trying to decrease your blood sugar? Here are some tips:
FOCUS ON EXERCISE
Exercise offers a plethora of health benefits and managing blood sugar is an important one. Exercise helps muscle cells take in more glucose from the blood for energy, thereby lowering blood sugar. Additionally, exercise helps increase insulin sensitivity, enabling insulin to work more efficiently to clear glucose from the blood. Aim for the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week to manage your blood sugar.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Many of us undervalue the importance of rest and sleep, but it plays a major role on our blood sugar, appetite and hunger levels. Insufficient sleep can alter our glucose metabolism and hunger hormones, falsely increasing our appetite and potentially increasing our cravings for sugary snacks. Poor sleep habits can also increase cortisol, our stress hormone, which is associated with inflammation and an increase in blood sugar. There is an association between insufficient sleep and diabetes risk, so don’t skimp on that sleep!
CHOOSE MORE COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
Different carbohydrates affect your body differently. Simple carbohydrates, like sweeteners, candy and baked goods, are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, leading to a rapid increase in blood sugar. Alternatively, complex carbohydrates, like vegetables, legumes and whole grains, can help stabilize blood sugar because they take longer to digest and can increase satiety. They are also packaged with foods that provide protein and healthy fats, which can further help balance blood sugar and energy.
BALANCE YOUR MEALS
The type of carbohydrate eaten and whether it’s eaten alone can all make a difference in our blood sugar levels. Pairing carbohydrates with protein-containing foods can help reduce the rise in blood sugar and keep it stable for a longer period of time. Aim to balance your portion of carbohydrates with protein, healthy fat and vegetables at meals. For snacks, choose two of the three macronutrient groups. For example, pairing fruit with string cheese or nuts can better help manage blood sugar.
INCLUDE ADEQUATE FIBER
Many Americans fall short of the daily recommended 25–38 grams of fiber. Fiber-rich foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains, can help protect against diseases, like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers. Fiber can also help regulate the body’s use of sugars, keeping both hunger and blood sugar in check. Try adding more complex carbohydrates and/or an extra vegetable at each meal or snack to increase your overall fiber intake.