19 tips for stable, steady blood sugar levels
Whether you already have diabetes, are overweight or want to prevent future problems, here are 19 ways to make sure your blood glucose and insulin levels are as healthy as can be
Blood sugar, or glucose, has become one of today’s most studied and discussed health topics. One important reason is that diabetes, a disease reaching epidemic proportions, is directly associated with blood sugar levels. Recent research has also linked blood sugar to heart disease, memory difficulties and even fertility problems. Here are 19 ways to keep your blood glucose levels healthy, no matter where you are today. (Note: if you currently have diabetes, make sure to check with a medical professional before making any major lifestyle changes that could affect your blood sugar.)
1. Consider dairy
Drink at least two servings of low-fat dairy products a day (one serving is a 1 cup [250 ml] glass of skim or 1% milk, or a 175 g container of yogurt). A study of 3,000 people found that those who were overweight, but also ate a lot of dairy foods, were 70 percent less likely to develop insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes) than those who didn’t. It turns out that the lactose, protein and fat in dairy products improves blood sugar by filling you up and slowing the conversion of food sugars to blood sugar.
2. Make smarter bread choices
Buy bread products with at least 3 g of fibre and 3 g of protein per serving. Complex carbohydrates of this type slow down absorption of glucose and decrease possible insulin rises. Plus, the hearty dose of fibre and protein will keep your stomach feeling satisfied for longer.
3. Get more magnesium
Serve up a spinach salad for dinner. Spinach is high in magnesium, which a large study suggests can help to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. One study in women found higher intakes of magnesium (also found in nuts, other leafy greens and fish) reduced diabetes risk by about 10 percent overall, and by about 20 percent in women who were overweight. Another great source of magnesium? Avocados.
4. Spice it up
Sprinkle cinnamon over your coffee, yogurt, cereal and tea. Researchers from Pakistan (where cinnamon is widely used) asked volunteers with type 2 diabetes to take either 1 g, 3 g or 6 g of cinnamon or a placebo for 40 days. Those taking the fragrant spice saw their blood-glucose levels drop by between 18 and 29 percent depending on how much cinnamon they took.
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5. Try buckwheat
Eat soba noodles for dinner one night a week. (Try our recipe for Soba Noodle Vegetable Salad.) The “Japanese pasta” is made from buckwheat, a grain that lowered blood glucose levels by 12 to 19 percent in one well-controlled study on rats. Of course, you’re not a rat, but buckwheat is an excellent source of fibre, and the evidence on fibre and blood glucose improvement is unquestionable.
6. Drink moderately
Include a glass of wine with your dinner. One study found that women who had a glass of wine a day cut their risk of diabetes in half compared to teetotallers. Not a wine lover? The study found the same effects for beer. But cork the wine bottle once dinner is over. An Australian study found that drinking a glass of wine immediately after eating can result in a sudden drop in the insulin in your blood, meaning the glucose from your meal hangs around longer, eventually damaging the arteries.
7. Watch your fat intake
Cut back on saturated fat. The reason you want to avoid saturated fat is simple: American scientists evaluated 3,000 people and found that those with the highest blood levels of saturated fats were twice as likely to develop diabetes.
8. Go for a walk
Walk about 2 kilometres a day. That’s all it took in one large U.S. study to slash the risk of dying from diabetes by more than a third. Believe it or not, if you walk 10 kilometres a week, you’ll be nearly 40 percent less likely to die from all causes and 34 percent less likely to die from heart disease, the leading cause of death in people with diabetes. The reason? Walking makes your cells more receptive to insulin, which leads to better control of blood sugar. It also raises levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. (Get on track with our 12-week walking program.)
Rent a comedy and watch it after dinner. A Japanese study found that people with diabetes who laughed soon after eating (while watching a comedy) had significantly lower blood sugar levels than those who listened to a boring lecture. The connection held even for those without diabetes.
10. Start your day with grapefruit
Have half a grapefruit with breakfast tomorrow morning. American researchers asked 50 obese patients to eat half a grapefruit with each meal for 12 weeks and compared them to a group that didn’t eat any. Those patients who ate the grapefruit lost an average of 1.6 kg (3.6 lb). They also had lower levels of insulin and glucose after each meal, suggesting a more efficient sugar metabolism. (Make sure you talk to your doctor first before eating grapefruit if you are on any medication, as it can affect the way that medicines are processed in the liver.)
11. Muscle up
Add at least one day a week of resistance training. You’ll build more muscle than you will by walking, and the more muscle mass you have, the more efficiently your body burns glucose and the less that hangs around in your blood. (Get started with our 10-minute toning routine.)
12. Have decaf on the side
If you can’t resist that cake, have a cup of decaffeinated coffee with it. British researchers found that combining decaf with simple sugars (such as those in doughnuts, cakes and cookies) reduces the rise in blood sugar that such sweet things create. Standard coffee didn’t have the same benefit. The reason? While plant chemicals in coffee slow the rate at which your intestines absorb sugar, caffeine delays sugar’s arrival in the muscles, keeping it in the bloodstream for longer.
13. Have smaller meals more often
Prepare your breakfast, lunch and dinner, but then divide each meal in half. Eat half now, then the other half in a couple of hours. Eating several small meals rather than three large meals helps to avoid the major influx of glucose that, in turn, results in a blood sugar surge and a big release of insulin.
14. Eat regularly
Don’t skip a meal. Your blood sugar drops like a rock when you’re starving (hence the headache and shakiness). Then when you do eat, you flood your system with glucose, forcing your pancreas to release more insulin and creating a dangerous cycle.
15. Get enough sleep
Go to bed at 10 p.m., wake up at 6 a.m. Adjust the hours accordingly so that you’re always getting a consistent 8 hours. Numerous studies find that sleep deprivation has a dramatic effect on your blood sugar and insulin levels. If you need help falling (and staying) asleep, visit our Sleep section for tips on getting a better rest.
16. Stop sawing logs
Ask your partner if you snore. Harvard researchers found that women who snored were more than twice as likely as those who didn’t to develop diabetes – regardless of weight, smoking history or family history of diabetes. If you do snore, see your doctor. You may have a physical problem, or you may simply need to lose some weight and change the way you sleep.
Spend 10 minutes a day tensing then relaxing each muscle in your body, from your toes to your eyes. The technique is called progressive muscle relaxation, and a study of 100 people with high blood sugar levels found that this kind of stress-relief significantly improved their blood sugar levels.
18. Fall in love with legumes
Eat 75 g of beans a day. These high-fibre foods take longer to digest, so they release their glucose more slowly. Studies find just 75 g a day can help to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.
19. Go nuts
Sprinkle a few walnuts over your salad. Walnuts are great sources of monounsaturated fat, which won’t raise your blood sugar as many other foods do. And some researchers suspect that this fat even makes cells more sensitive to insulin, helping to combat high blood sugar.
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Adapted from Stealth Health, Reader's Digest