According to The National Diabetes Statistics Report led by the Centre for Disease Control in 2020, more than 1 in 10 Americans currently have Diabetes. Perhaps even more shocking are the numbers for Prediabetes, a severe high blood sugar condition that they estimate affects 1 in 3, but over 80% are unaware they have it. Prediabetes puts you at an increased risk of developing Diabetes (as well as heart disease and Stroke); this all adds up to what is being called “the Diabetes Epidemic”.

Thankfully, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise play a significant role in helping to bring balance back to your blood sugar levels. Prevention is vital, and living a preventive lifestyle is perhaps the most important action we can take to help reduce the risk of future chronic diseases.

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Diabetes Types 1 and 2 – What is The Difference?

Type 1 Diabetes 

Previously known as insulin-dependent or juvenile Diabetes, Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas, preventing it from producing enough insulin. The resulting high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels and lead to serious health problems. Therefore, close monitoring and lifelong insulin levels are necessary.

Type 2 Diabetes

Considered a lifestyle disease, type 2 – aka adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent Diabetes – can develop after several years of imbalanced blood sugar levels and cause the body to develop insulin resistance. When the cells stop responding to insulin, they can’t easily take up glucose from your blood. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin to force the cells to take up the glucose until it eventually can’t keep up.

Type 2 diabetes becomes more common as we age and is particularly prevalent after 45 years of age. Sadly, we now see more type 2 diabetes in younger people than ever. Lifestyle factors significantly impact the severity of type 2 diabetes symptoms, and insulin is not always needed if patients can keep their levels under control.

The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

Blood glucose highs and lows aren’t only for people with Diabetes. Our glucose levels fluctuate throughout the day as we eat. Our body takes care of blood sugar levels by storing the glucose in our cells to be used as energy.

Eating a healthy, whole foods diet low in sugar and containing plenty of fibre makes it relatively easy to stay satiated and resist temptation. But once we rely on sugar and coffee to make it through the afternoon, we quickly face problems.

If you are someone who gets “hangry”, the following description of Reactive Hypoglycaemia won’t come as a surprise:

Reactive Hypoglycaemia

1 – A high-sugar snack is eaten (candy bar, pastry, sweet cereal)

2 – Blood sugar levels rise fast, causing the pancreas to send out an emergency flood of insulin to move that glucose out of the blood and into the muscles.

3 – Blood glucose drops fast due to the flood of insulin, making you feel hungry again, with a particular craving for a sweet treat.

4 – You reach for another high-sugar snack to feed the craving, inadvertently starting the roller coaster ride again.

The Role of Coffee

Coffee can work similarly to a sugary snack in that caffeine intake increases the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol floods the body, the pancreas is triggered to produce insulin which quickly brings your blood sugar down, triggering snack cravings.

In studies, caffeine has been shown to increase insulin levels and reduce insulin sensitivity, even without the sweet treat, making that afternoon coffee ill-advised if you are watching your insulin.

Tell-Tale Signs of a Blood Sugar imbalance

Some common symptoms that are often blamed on stress or aging may be due to long-term issues with high blood sugar. These include:

Mood Swings

Do you regularly “crash” after a carb-heavy meal or sweet snack? Do you feel shaky,

irritable and “hangry” when you haven’t eaten in a while? Mood swings, including bursts of energy followed by rapidly depleted energy, often respond to wide fluctuations in blood sugar.

Carb Cravings

Another frustrating irony is that high blood sugar leads to cravings for more carb-heavy and sugary foods, further adding to the insulin cycle.

An “Abdominal Apron” of belly fat

When your body senses high glucose levels, it secretes more insulin to trigger your cells to absorb the excess glucose. However, insulin also encourages fat storage, especially around the belly.

Hormone Imbalance

Healthy female hormones and blood sugar are intricately interconnected. For example, excess insulin causes the body to produce increased testosterone, and belly fat tissue converts this excess testosterone into estrogen. This scenario can lead to an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, which can bring symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, fertility issues, and more.

Lifestyle Factors to Help Support Your Blood Sugar Levels

As mentioned, blood sugar highs and lows and the risk of type 2 diabetes are very much related to lifestyle, and lifestyle choices can significantly impact how well your body manages blood glucose. So here are my top tips for taming your blood sugar:

Eat to Improve Insulin Sensitivity

More Fiber 

With its many health benefits for the gut and digestion, fibre intake has increased insulin sensitivity. Therefore, including foods with a high fibre content in all meals can help to reduce how high blood sugar spikes. Soluble fibre, found in foods like oats, beans and many berries, is the most effective.

Leafy Greens

Spinach, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower have been researched for their role in helping reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, likely because of their fibre and high concentrations of minerals and antioxidant polyphenols and vitamin C.

Low Glycemic Foods

The glycemic index (GI) was developed to measure a food’s impact on blood sugar. The higher the food is found on the index, the faster it spikes blood sugar, while the foods found on the lower end of the glycemic index are more slowly digested and absorbed. Note that the glycemic index only applies to foods that contain carbohydrates. Several studies have found that following a low glycemic diet can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Following a low glycemic diet doesn’t have to be difficult, and lists are readily found on Google. Try swapping high-GI white bread for a lower-GI choice, like 100% rye bread. When it comes to fruit, stick to apples, cherries, and grapefruit over tropical fruits like mangoes and bananas.

blood sugar support

Remember that Drinks Have a Big Impact

Sweet beverages can contain a surprising amount of sugar, and one study found that people who drank at least one sweet drink a day had a 26 percent higher chance of developing Diabetes!

Juice

Fruits are naturally high in sugar, and by juicing them, you may find yourself knocking back multiple servings in one go, guaranteeing a sugar spike (that’s even the case when it comes to unsweetened fruit juice). If you want to add a healthy juice to your diet, focus on those exclusively from vegetables such as carrots, beets, celery, and kale.

Smoothies

Blending fruit into a smoothie means you keep the good fibre; however, it is easy to overdo the sugar content. Try reducing the sweet ingredients (i.e., limit yourself to ½ a banana) and give alternatives such as avocado and nut butter a try. These higher fat ingredients help to increase satiety, so a smaller smoothie is often enough.

Tea & Coffee

We have discussed the impact coffee can have on blood sugar and insulin levels. It is a good idea to keep coffee to a minimum, instead choosing a herbal tea such as rooibos or peppermint, or a coffee replacement with dandelion or chicory in the afternoon.

Water

When managing blood sugar, let’s not forget the importance of fresh, filtered water. It helps you stay hydrated, keeps your digestion moving and your cells healthy, and is vital for intercellular communication. Not to mention that water has been labelled as “the biggest catalyst for weight loss”.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

High blood glucose levels can seriously impair your ability to get a good night’s sleep, but that sleep is a vital component in managing your blood sugar. In fact, sleep deprivation has been identified as a risk factor for Prediabetes. Practice good sleep hygiene, including turning off all devices an hour before bed, sleeping in a cool, dark room and limiting drinks before bedtime.

Become Purposeful About Exercise

Exercise helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and making your muscles more efficient at glucose absorption. Studies suggest that high-intensity interval training is the most effective at burning sugar. Still, any form of cardio you can maintain over the long haul, along with some resistance training, is an excellent and sustainable approach. Yoga and Pilates have a good mix of strength, cardio and relaxation and have been researched for their positive impact on stabilizing blood sugar in diabetes patients.

Taking a walk around the block after dinner each night is an excellent habit that allows your body to burn off some glucose so that you sleep better – and as controversial as it may be in some families, being the one who does the dishes and tidies up before bed can be just as effective.

Supplements To Help Support Healthy Blood Glucose Levels

It is essential to always work with a healthcare practitioner when considering supplements since many factors must be considered to determine what is right for you. The following supplements have been researched for their help with blood glucose levels:

Berberine

This supplement, derived from a group of berries, is emerging as a metabolic disease and weight loss superstar. It is being researched for its action on several main drivers of chronic disease:

  • Lowering blood sugar and bad cholesterol (LDL) as effectively as commonly prescribed medications.
  • Reducing blood fats (triglycerides) and blood pressure.
  • Reducing insulin resistance and inflammation.
  • Balancing metabolic hormones and the microbiome.
  • Supporting a healthy metabolism by stimulating a major metabolic regulator (AMPK)
  • Promoting weight loss, lowering BMI and waist size

Check with your health practitioner before taking Berberine, as it can cause digestive upset.

Cinnamon

Often seen as just a culinary spice, cinnamon has been researched for its ability to improve cellular insulin response, helping test subjects with diabetes and insulin resistance reduce their fasting blood glucose levels by approximately 10%. The most effective form to take is an extract of Ceylon cinnamon.

Talk to your health practitioner about the appropriate dosage for you.

Vitamin D

A deficiency in vitamin D is widespread and problematic. The body makes vitamin D when we go outside in the sun; however, even the sunshine states post an alarming 40% rate of vitamin D deficiency.

This fat-soluble vitamin is crucial for supporting the immune system; it has also been shown to improve the function of pancreatic cells that make insulin and increase your body’s responsiveness to insulin.

Talk to our practitioner about testing your vitamin D level so that you have a better idea of how much your body needs.

The complications that arise when we don’t properly manage our blood glucose over time are profound. They can include heart, blood vessel and nerve damage, kidney disease, and eye damage. However, taking charge of the necessary lifestyle factors can give great results in a short amount of time.

Sources:

Stanhope KL. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2016;53(1):52-67. doi: 10.3109/10408363.2015.1084990. Epub 2015 Sep 17. PMID: 26376619; PMCID: PMC4822166.

Adams OP. The impact of brief high-intensity exercise on blood glucose levels. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2013;6:113-122. doi:10.2147/DMSO.S29222

Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Fernhall B, et al. Exercise and type 2 diabetes: the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: a joint position statement. Diabetes Care. 2010;33(12):e147-e167. doi:10.2337/dc10-9990

Chen C, Zeng Y, Xu J, et al. Therapeutic effects of soluble dietary fibre consumption on type 2 diabetes mellitus. Exp Ther Med. 2016;12(2):1232-1242. doi:10.3892/etm.2016.3377

Vega-López S, Venn BJ, Slavin JL. Relevance of the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for Body Weight, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1361. Published 2018 Sep 22. doi:10.3390/nu10101361

Bhupathiraju SN, Tobias DK, Malik VS, et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from 3 large US cohorts and an updated meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(1):218-232. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.079533

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes, A meta-analysis Vasanti S. Malik, SCD, Barry M. Popkin, PHD, George A. Bray, MD, Jean-Pierre Després, PHD, Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH, and Frank B. Hu, MD, PHD, Diabetes Care 2010 Nov; 33(11): 2477-2483. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc10-1079

The InterAct consortium. Consumption of sweet beverages and type 2 diabetes incidence in European adults: results from EPIC-InterAct. Diabetologia 56, 1520–1530 (2013).

Cinnamon Use in Type 2 Diabetes: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysisRobert W. Allen, Emmanuelle Schwartzman, William L. Baker, Craig I. Coleman and Olivia J. Phung, The Annals of Family Medicine September 2013, 11 (5) 452-459; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1370/afm.1517

James W. Daily, Mini Yang, Da Sol Kim, Sunmin Park, Efficacy of ginger for treating Type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials,

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https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jef.2015.02.007.

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