Most of the habits that help us maintain healthy, normal blood sugar levels are fairly obvious and simple to carry out. However, some might also surprise you, especially if you think it will be tough to start managing your blood sugar better.
Small changes in your diet, exercise routine and sleep schedule can wind up making a big difference when it comes to blood sugar management. Let’s look at some of the best ways to help get you on the right track to reaching and maintaining normal blood sugar levels for life.
1. Eat a Low-Processed, Anti-Inflammatory Diet
A healthy diet is key to blood sugar management and preventing or treating diabetes. It’s not that you must avoid consuming any carbohydrates or sugar when trying to maintain normal blood sugar — just that you need to balance them out with protein/fats, and focus on getting them from real, whole foods. Eating a source of protein, fiber and healthy fat with all of your meals can help stabilize blood sugar, especially when you consume carbs/sugar (such as starchy veggies like potatoes, fruit or whole grains). These slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, help manage your appetite, and are also important for your metabolism and digestion.
While all types of added sugars are capable of raising blood sugar levels, some sources of sugar/carbs affect blood glucose levels more so than others. When you use appropriate amounts sparingly, natural/unrefined, ideally organic sugar sources (such as those from fruit or raw honey) are less likely to contribute to poor blood sugar management than refined sugars (such as white cane sugar or refined products made with white/bleached wheat flour).
To help sustain normal blood sugar, check ingredient labels carefully, since sugar can be listed under dozens of different names.
Skip anything made with refined flour (also called wheat flour or “enriched flour”) and added sugars, such as beet sugar/beet juice, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fructose and dextrose.
Instead choose natural sweeteners, including raw honey, organic stevia, dates, pure maple syrup or blackstrap molasses.
Most importantly, still watch your portion sizes, using only a small amount per day of even natural sweeteners (such as one to three teaspoons daily).
When it comes to grain-flour products, it’s best to consume grains in their whole form whenever possible as opposed to in flour form, which tends to spike blood sugar more. But if you must use flour, choose those made with 100 percent whole grains, or else try coconut flour or almond flour for an even healthier option.
In terms of beverages, stick with water, seltzer, herbal tea or black tea, and coffee. Coffee is best in moderation, meaning one to two cups daily, especially compared to sweetened drinks, juices or soda.
Keep in mind that alcohol can also raise blood sugar, especially if you consume sweetened alcoholic drinks (such as certain dessert/fortified wines, sherries, liqueurs, mixed drinks with juice and ciders).
3. Get Regular Exercise
You’re probably already aware that there are literally dozens of benefits associated with exercise. According to the National Diabetes Association, exercise manages blood sugar in more than one way. Short-term exercise helps cells in your muscles to take up more glucose in order to use it for energy and tissue repair, therefore lowering blood sugar in the process. Long-term exercise also makes cells more responsive to insulin and helps prevent resistance.
Doing about 30–60 minutes of exercise most days of the week (such as running, cycling, swimming and lifting weights) is also a simple, beneficial way to lower inflammation, manage stress, improve immunity and balance hormones. Insulin sensitivity is increased, so your cells are better able to use any available insulin to take up glucose during and after activity.
4. Manage Stress
Excessive stress can actually cause blood sugar levels to rise due to an increased release of the “stress hormone” cortisol. Stress kicks off a vicious hormonal cycle for many people. It not only contributes to high blood sugar by raising cortisol, but also tends to increase cravings for “comfort foods” (many of which are refined and filled with sugar or other inflammatory ingredients) and often interferes with getting good sleep.
All around, dealing with high amounts of stress makes it less likely that people will take good care of themselves and keep up with healthy habits that contribute to normal blood sugar. For example, skipping workouts and drinking more alcohol and caffeine are both common among chronically stressed adults. These self-destructive habits contribute to even more stress, which interferes with blood sugar management even more. It’s no wonder that people who develop health problems like diabetes or heart disease, or even who wind up gaining a lot of weight and facing obesity, tend to feel more depressed and hopeless but find it hard to break the cycle and develop new habits.
What are some ways you can help deal with the inevitable stresses that occur in life? Studies have found that natural stress relievers, including exercise, yoga, meditation and using relaxing essential oils for anxiety (such as lavender, rose and frankincense) are all helpful for diabetics and those with insulin resistance. Other ways to wind down include spending more time outdoors, joining groups in your community, and connecting with family and friends more.
5. Get Enough Rest
Being well-rested is crucial for maintaining a healthy outlook on life, sticking with healthy habits and even managing hormone levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 35 percent of Americans report getting less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night, raising their risk for numerous health problems, including type 2 diabetes. A lack of sleep can raise stress and appetite hormones (like cortisol and ghrelin, which make you hungry), making it harder to void sugary snacks, refined grain products and caffeine overdose.
Sleep and metabolic processes are linked in several key ways, and research shows our natural circadian rhythms can trigger high blood glucose or raise the risk for diabetes when they’re disturbed. Sleeping too little, getting poor quality sleep or sleeping at the wrong times can impair insulin secretion even if you don’t change your diet.
Aim to get between seven to nine hours of sleep per night, ideally by sticking with a normal sleep/wake schedule — in order to balance hormones, curb stress responses, and have enough energy to exercise and keep up with your day.