Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a disease that is, unfortunately, becoming more well-known.
The incidence of diabetes is increasing, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with the number of people with diabetes rising from 108 million people in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.
Diabetes presents in two different ways; type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas loses its ability to produce the hormone insulin, which helps lower blood sugar to keep it in a healthy range.
People with type 1 diabetes are known as “insulin-dependent” because they must inject insulin to live a healthy life.
Type 2 diabetes is linked to insulin resistance and is more likely to be passed along genetically. Prediabetes is also an increasing occurrence, in which blood sugar levels are slightly elevated.
Having prediabetes is a significant risk factor for eventually developing type 2 diabetes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that up to 30% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years of their prediabetes diagnosis.
There are many aspects of managing both prediabetes and diabetes, with the ultimate goal of regulating blood sugar. This can be achieved through both medical and lifestyle interventions.
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One of the most helpful lifestyle changes is to work on eating a healthy diet. Eating a diet rich in foods that help promote stable blood sugars can help improve people’s health and well-being with blood sugar level problems.
What is high blood sugar?
Blood glucose, or blood sugar, is usually regulated very well by an organ called the pancreas. When blood sugar levels rise due to eating, stress, and other normal body functions, the pancreas releases enough insulin to bring blood sugar levels back to a healthy range.
When blood sugar imbalances exist, the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugars, or the cells don’t respond to insulin like they should. This results in high blood sugar and diabetes.
Blood sugar is measured in mg/dL. Fasting blood sugar is considered borderline high when it’s between 100-125 mg/dL, and anything above 126 mg/dL is high. People with borderline high fasting blood sugar may be considered to have prediabetes.
Postprandial blood sugar (blood sugar after eating) is considered high when it’s above 140 mg/dL within two hours of starting a meal.
The hemoglobin A1c is considered borderline high (prediabetes) when it’s 5.7%-6.4%, and anything above 6.5% is indicative of diabetes. The A1c is a more accurate way of diagnosing prediabetes because it’s over a longer period of time than just one fasting blood sugar test.
Symptoms of high blood sugar
The medical term for high blood sugar is hyperglycemia and the term for low blood sugar is hypoglycemia. Having high blood sugar occasionally usually won’t result in any symptoms.
Symptoms of high blood sugar tend to occur when blood sugar is very high for a prolonged period. This is why prediabetes and diabetes can go undiagnosed for years; there aren’t immediate, noticeable symptoms.
Some of the early signs of chronic high blood sugar, which may tip someone off enough to visit with their healthcare provider, include:
- Unintentional weight loss: The body cannot use glucose as energy when it’s high in the bloodstream. Glucose needs to move from the blood to our cells with the help of insulin in order to be used as fuel. When our cells are starved of fuel, weight loss can occur as our body breaks down muscles for alternative fuel. Weight loss can also be a result of dehydration from uncontrolled blood sugar.
- Increased urination: The body tries to rid itself of some high blood sugar by excreting it in the urine. People with high blood glucose often experience increased urination as the body rids itself of sugar while pulling fluids with it. This is why some healthcare providers order urine glucose tests to diagnose blood sugar problems; a normal test result would show no glucose in the urine.
- Increased thirst: Increased urination can be dehydrating, which can cause an increased thirst sensation.
- Increased hunger: When the food we eat isn’t able to be converted into usable energy, it can cause hunger due to the cells starving from lack of fuel.
- Fatigue: When the body isn’t able to use glucose as energy due to high blood sugar, it can result in a noticeable decline in energy levels.
For chronic hyperglycemia, more symptoms can occur, such as:
- Poor wound healing: High blood sugar delays wound healing, which is one of the many reasons long-term diabetes can increase the risk of wounds requiring amputation.
- Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet: Prolonged periods of high blood sugar can cause nerve damage. One of the more well-known nerve damage types, peripheral neuropathy, can cause numbness or tingling sensation in the hands and feet and spreading to the arms and legs. Those with neuropathy may not feel a wound on their feet, leading to diabetic foot ulcers.
- Increased infections: High blood sugar interferes with the immune system, increasing susceptibility to illness and infection.
What Foods to Eat to Lower Blood Sugar?
While a specific food can’t lower high blood sugar, eating certain foods can help promote healthy blood sugar levels. Over time, eating healthy foods beneficial for blood sugar can help lower average blood sugar and improve glycemic control.
Carbohydrates have the biggest impact on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Common carbohydrates sources include fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, and dairy products like milk and yogurt.
Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar (glucose), which enters the bloodstream. When someone with diabetes eats many carbohydrates at once, their blood sugar levels may be higher than their target or goal.
Fiber is a carbohydrate but does not affect blood sugar levels because it is not absorbed by the body. Fiber can also slow gastric emptying, meaning the food takes longer to be broken down into sugar, which is one way it can help diabetes. Eating fiber-rich foods can help avoid a blood sugar spike, which can occur when eating rapidly-digested carbohydrates such as white bread and refined sugar.
People with diabetes need varying ranges of carbohydrates based on individual needs and activity levels. In general, aiming for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15-20 grams of carbohydrates per snack is ideal. Aiming for 25-40 grams of dietary fiber per day is ideal for both blood sugar and heart health.
1) Non-Starchy Vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables raise blood sugar less than starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn. Broccoli is considered a non-starchy vegetable. Broccoli is low in carbohydrates at around 6 grams per cup. It’s also rich in fiber with about 2.5 grams per cup. It’s rich in vitamin C, which may help strengthen the immune system.
Non-starchy vegetables should ideally make up half of the plate for a healthy balanced meal.
Non-starchy vegetables to include in your diet:
- Green Beans
- Hearts of Palm
- Zucchini and more
Nuts are composed mainly of healthy fats and protein. Fat and protein don’t raise blood sugar like carbohydrates, so they are beneficial to include with meals and snacks.
The fat in nuts is mostly unsaturated, which is also beneficial for heart health. Eating more plant-based fats in place of animal fats can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Eating protein and fat with carbohydrates can help slow the rise in blood sugar after eating. For instance, eating a handful of nuts along with some fresh fruit will likely raise blood sugar less than eating fruit alone. One ounce of nuts such as almonds contains 3.5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Protein and fiber help boost satiety, which can help reduce hunger and cravings between regular meals and snacks.
The best nuts to include in a diabetes diet are cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and macadamia nuts.
Pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A and fiber. One cup of cooked pumpkin provides well over 200% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A and contains about 9 grams of net carbohydrates.
When counting carbohydrates for blood sugar control, one of the important things to note is the net carbohydrate content. The net carbohydrate amount is the total carbohydrates minus dietary fiber. The resulting” “net carb” is the amount that should be counted because it affects blood sugar.
Fiber is subtracted from total carbohydrates because it doesn’t raise blood sugar since it can’t be digested. Therefore, choosing higher-fiber foods will result in lower net carbohydrate totals, which is one strategy for promoting optimal blood sugar levels.
Flaxseeds are a great source of fiber, with one tablespoon packing almost 2 grams of fiber. They are also rich in protein and heart-healthy fats. Flaxseeds are incredibly versatile and can be added to smoothies, cereal, baked goods, salads, and more. They should be eaten ground to properly absorb their nutrients, as whole flax seeds pass through the digestive system mostly unabsorbed.
Chia seeds, like flax seeds, are rich in both fiber and protein. They are an excellent plant-based source of heart-healthy omega-3s, which have been proven to help reduce inflammation and be beneficial for heart health. Add chia seeds to smoothies, salads, cereal, and yogurt to boost the blood-sugar-balancing fiber content.
5) Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are rich in both protein and fiber, which can help to promote a healthy blood sugar level. They are very healthy but are also considered a starchy vegetable, so treat them like a potato or rice when planning out your meal. One-half cup of black beans contains around 8 grams of both fiber and plant-based protein.
6) Leafy Greens
Many leafy greens are also non-starchy vegetables, but they still deserve their own section. Leafy greens are full of important nutrients and are lower in digestible carbs than other veggies. Therefore, leafy greens won’t cause your blood levels to spike.
Leafy greens to include in your diet:
- Swiss chard
Spinach and kale and some of the best leafy greens to add to your diet because they have high vitamin C levels. Vitamin C helps type 2 diabetics manage their diabetes. They also contain antioxidants that help protect your eyes from diabetes complications.
Kefir is fermented milk similar to yogurt but is thinner in texture. Kefir is rich in probiotics and has been found to positively impact reducing both fasting blood sugar and A1c levels.
Eggs are a great and budget-friendly source of protein. They contain cholesterol, so being mindful of how many eggs are consumed regularly is encouraged for a high cholesterol level or heart disease.
Eggs can improve insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation, while also providing antioxidant benefits that help to reduce the number of free radicals in your body and protect against disease.
Make sure you include the yoke as this is where most of the benefits stem from. Enjoying eggs scrambled with vegetables is a great blood-sugar-friendly breakfast.
Quinoa has the texture of grain but is a seed, so it has similar seeds’ nutrition benefits. It’s richer in fiber and protein than grains such as rice and lower in net carbohydrates. Quinoa can be used in side dishes, soups, and in place of other grains in recipes.
10) Fatty Fish
Fatty fish are a staple in a Mediterranean diet. This diet links has many benefits and is linked with improved health outcomes, especially in comparison to a typical Western diet.
Fatty fish like salmon and anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect your heart. This is important as people with diabetes are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Salmon is rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids and is an excellent source of protein. Meat does not contain any carbohydrates and is very filling, so including it with meals and snacks may help improve glycemic control. A study has even found omega-3s in fatty fish such as salmon to be a potential factor in lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
11) Olive oil
Olive oil is rich in plant-based unsaturated fats and free of carbohydrates, so it does not raise blood sugar. It is the main staple in a Mediterranean diet, which is associated with improved glycemic and cardiovascular outcomes. Use olive oil for cooking at lower temperatures (below 410 degrees Fahrenheit) and use cold dishes such as salad dressings and dips for bread.
Avocados are rich in healthy fat, as well as dietary fiber. They are a great plant-based alternative to cheese in things such as sandwiches and salads and can be enjoyed plain or in smoothies. Replacing some of the carbohydrates in a typical diet for monounsaturated fats (such as avocados) may help to improve blood sugar control.
13) Natural Fats
Natural fats help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, support normal cholesterol levels, and help your body maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
The best natural fats to add to your diet include:
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Nut oils
- Chicken fat
- Duck fat
- Unsweetened coconut scream
- Coconut milk
14) Apple cider vinegar
There are several promising studies on the potential benefits of apple cider vinegar for diabetes. Studies show that the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar can lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce markers of oxidative stress.
Based on scientific studies, taking anywhere from one teaspoon to two tablespoons of ACV daily is a reasonable amount. Taking large amounts of ACV might lead to low blood potassium levels and dental problems.
Berries like blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are good for diabetics because they tend to have a lower sugar content than other fruits such as apples and bananas.
They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which reduces the glycemic impact of fruit. Berries also contain powerful antioxidants that help fight against inflammation.
Strawberries are full of antioxidants and have been shown to lower cholesterol and insulin levels after a meal.
There is a strong positive correlation between blueberries and preventing diabetes. Increasing fruit consumption, particularly blueberries, is directly associated with cutting the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A cup of blueberries contains around 17 grams of net carbs due to its robust fiber content. Snack on berries plain, blend them into smoothies, garnish yogurt and cereal with them or even add them to salads!
16) Turmeric and Cinnamon
By incorporating spices like cinnamon and turmeric into your diet, you can control diabetes. Not only do spices keep you healthy, but they also make every meal more flavorful!
Studies show that cinnamon helps reduce HbA1c & fasting blood sugar, lower post-meal blood sugar, and improve insulin sensitivity.
Turmeric is a potent spice with numerous health benefits. Studies show that turmeric improves insulin sensitivity, reduces inflammation, enhances brain function, lessens your susceptibility to heart disease, and has therapeutic potential for eye health.
17) Probiotic Packed Dairy Products
If you decide to add dairy to your diabetes diet, ensure that it contains healthy probiotics so you get the most health benefits.
Greek yogurt is a good option because it’s lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein than regular yogurt. Studies show Greek yogurt can help control blood sugar and reduce your risk of heart disease. Be sure to choose plain yogurt to avoid added sugar.
Okra is a popular vegetable in the Southern regions of the United States. It has many potential health benefits for people with diabetes.
Animal studies show okra can lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin resistance, and reduce pancreatic damage. It’s also rich in fiber, antioxidants, and protein.
Other ways to naturally regulate blood sugar
- Drink calorie-free beverages such as water, unsweetened teas, etc. and avoid sugary beverages such as soda, fruit juice, and sweetened coffee drinks.
- Get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week.
- Engage in weight or resistance training once or twice per week.
- Get adequate sleep (sleep deprivation has been linked to higher blood sugar).
- Eat balanced meals and snacks, similar to the plate method for diabetes.
- Eat-in response to hunger and fullness cues, not based on what time it is.
- Read food labels to identify added sugars in foods and drinks.
- Consume low glycemic index food.
- Lower intake of processed foods and saturated fat.
- Consider using herbs, which have shown potential for improving blood sugar levels (always speak to your healthcare provider first).
Eating foods rich in dietary fiber, heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and protein can improve blood sugar control.
Foods rich in fiber help decrease the net carbohydrate content, which is the amount that has the most impact on blood sugar levels.
Overall, focusing on whole foods without added sugars or other additives is a surefire way to help improve health and wellness.
Eating a balanced diabetes diet, maintaining blood sugar regulation, and focusing on other healthy lifestyle habits such as being active and practicing good self-care are great tools to regulate and lower blood sugar levels.