Every part of your body requires energy aka glucose aka sugar to function! We get energy through the foods we eat and through stored glucose in our liver and muscle. After digestion or the release of stored energy, glucose is transferred into the blood, raising your blood sugar level – and it’s NOT BAD!! The raise in blood sugar is necessary for glucose to be transported to any cell in the body that is requiring more energy to function. Once your cells receive glucose (with the help of insulin), your blood sugar level starts to drop back to normal.
Blood sugar levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day and are crucial to a healthy and prosperous life! If you have not been medically diagnosed with high blood sugar or Diabetes, your body is regulating your blood sugar level perfectly, all on its own. However, even without blood sugar issues, your food and beverage choices, sleep habits, stress, changes in hormones, and many other factors still affect your blood sugar and play a huge role in either helping or hurting your body’s ability to continue balancing your blood sugar on its own as you age.
DIET + LIFESTYLE manage your blood sugar level!
Because there is SO MUCH MORE to blood sugar management than just food, today’s read will focus on your “daily bread” as it’s long enough all on its own! But don’t worry, you can still read up on those other factors that contribute to your blood sugar level here!
TRUE OR FALSE: Carbohydrates help balance blood sugar
IT IS TRUE! Poor carbohydrates get a bad rap for “raising blood sugar,” but…
SPOILER ALERT! ALL FOOD TYPES are broken down into sugar for the body to use as energy! What’s not shocking is that carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels the most, which is why they tend to end up on the “naughty” list. However, it’s important to consume hearty carbohydrates throughout the day because they are the key source of energy for your body, especially your brain.
So, carbohydrates are not bad, they keep your blood sugar level from dropping too low, and they are your main source of energy – but can still cause problems – what should you do?
Consume carbohydrates in sound portion sizes! Doing so will still nourish and energize your body, but not raise your blood sugar level too high. Incorporating non-starchy vegetables and healthy protein choices with hearty carbohydrates will help to balance your blood sugar level after each meal and snack.
Below you will find very low-carbohydrate ideas to add to meals/snacks to help balance your blood sugar as well as hearty choices higher in carbohydrates, but still a must for a healthy diet:
1. Greens/Cruciferous Vegetables:
You can never eat too many non-starchy veggies! Research has recently found foods containing sulforaphane, a compound found in vegetables like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, may help regulate blood sugar levels by suppressing glucose production in the body, especially in those with Type 2 Diabetes. Even if you do not fall under that category, you can still significantly benefit!
There are also several other potential benefits of sulforaphane discussed in this large review, such as reducing inflammation in the body, protecting against skin damage from the sun, and could help prevent and treat osteoporosis. This wonderful compound may even aid in cancer treatment therapies like breast cancer and there are on-going trials like this one, which is testing the effectiveness of sulforaphane supplementation in women newly diagnosed with the earliest form of breast cancer and/or atypical ductal hyperplasia (marker for increased risk of developing breast cancer in the future).
Toss some of these veggies in a salad with olive oil and chunks of salmon or enjoy as a vegetable side. You can also take them as an on-the-go snack or even make kale chips to benefit your health!
2. Low-carb fruits:
Fruit is a must! Although they are packed with essential nutrients like Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, they can also be a hefty carbohydrate source. Fortunately, there are also several low-carb choices still available like casaba melon, star fruit, watermelon, apricot, plum, strawberries, blackberries, and kiwi! They’re easy to snack on throughout the day and also make great additions to salads, smoothies, and acai bowls!
The media has flaunted protein foods to slow down glucose digestion and absorption resulting in lower blood sugar levels after meals, but the truth is, we don’t really know yet. We are still in the beginning stages of understanding how blood sugar levels are specifically affected by foods in healthy individuals and in those with Diabetes. For example, one study found consuming carbohydrates with protein did not affect post-meal blood sugar levels in Diabetics. Another study suggests consuming vegetables and protein first and carbohydrates last, may result in lower post-meal blood sugar levels in those without Diabetes.
Although it’s up in the air as to how protein foods affect our blood sugar when consumed with other types of food, with or without Diabetes, they are low in carbohydrates! They are also necessary for building and repairing tissue, hormone health, and supporting your immune system. Fish, seafood, boneless chicken breast, lean beef, nuts, seeds, dry beans, low-fat cottage cheese, and eggs are all great protein additions to your meals and snacks!
a. Dry Beans & Lentils: choose dry beans when you can, but any beans are better than no beans! These foods are high in carbohydrates, but they are great sources of fiber, protein, magnesium, potassium, and folate. Dry beans are also high in lignans, which may help prevent osteoporosis, various cancers, and heart disease.
b. Nuts & Nut Butters: What nut is best? I’m biased as I am all for walnuts being one of the most heart healthy due to their omega-3 content, but in reality, all tree nuts are good for you! They are low in carbs and contain various nutrients like healthy fats, folate, and plant sterols, so eat a variety!
They may help reduce inflammation in the body, lower cholesterol, suppress appetite, reduce risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and increase good bacteria in the gut. When it comes to directly affecting blood sugar levels, this large review of both human and animal studies found tree nuts to either mildly or not at all help reduce the spike in post-meal blood sugar levels – the daily amount of nuts consumed to even reach that small of a result was absurd! However, the review did find several components within nuts to still positively influence the body’s ability to manage blood sugar and other mechanisms within the body. So, although consuming nuts to specifically lower blood sugar may be a long shot, I would still recommend consuming them as they are low in carbs and have many other benefits to offer!
Add some pizzaz to common foods:
- Add watermelon or plum to cottage cheese
- Spread mashed white beans or chickpeas on toast as you make a sandwich or add red beans to a quinoa dish
- Dip cruciferous veggies in hummus instead of dressing or add your favorite beans to a salad
- Make a 1:1 ratio amount of Greek yogurt to peanut butter to dip cruciferous veggies in. Choose natural peanut butter brands without partially hydrogenated oils that are also low in salt and sugar (I use Santa Cruz or will grind my own peanut butter at the store!)
- Add your favorite nuts to cereals, bread, homemade granola, or yogurt parfaits
Protein, like all other macronutrients, are essential to our survival; but it’s important to consume all food groups (yes, even the healthy ones), in moderation. Anything consumed in excess – whether it is protein, carbohydrates, or fat, can be converted into fat and put unnecessary stress on your organs. Click here to learn more about protein recommendations and its huge role in hormone health!
4. Herbs and Spices:
Herbs and spices like cinnamon and turmeric not only add flavor to your dishes, but are natural supplements that may benefit your blood sugar!
One study found cinnamon intake at only 6 grams per day (less than 1 Tablespoon) to not only lower fasting blood sugar levels, but post-meal blood sugar levels as well in healthy adults. Another study found this liquid combination: 50% mulberry, 20% mugwort/wormwood, 10% nettle, 10% cinnamon, and 10% dandelion to significantly reduce blood sugar levels in those with Type 2 Diabetes. I think there are so many benefits to natural herbs and spices we still don’t know, so I encourage adding them whenever you can!
- Add cinnamon to your coffee grounds, loose leaf teas, pancakes, French toast, or even yogurt!
5. Low-calorie drinks:
Cut out sugary, high-calorie drinks from your diet as many of them are not only adding to your daily carb intake, but raising your blood sugar as well. Add drinks like cinnamon tea, lemon water, and cucumber juice instead to your daily routine!
6. Whole grain foods:
Whole grain foods are typically high in carbohydrates, but can be lower depending on the type of food, the brand you buy, and the amount you eat. They are great sources of protein, fiber, B Vitamins, and iron to nourish your body, help you eat less, stay full longer, and keep you regular!
There is a HUGE difference between whole grains and white refined grains, especially when it comes to blood sugar.
- Whole grains = contain the entire grain in foods (bran, germ, endosperm) which provide the most nutrients and raise blood sugar gradually, making it much easier on the body to manage fluctuations.
- White refined grains = only contain the endosperm because a lot of nutrients are lost through processing. B Vitamins and iron are typically added back in synthetically, but the fiber is lost. Unfortunately, white refined grains will spike blood sugar almost immediately.
Determining which foods are actually whole grain can be challenging if you don’t look at the label – marketers are clever advertisers! If the first ingredient reads “whole grain” or “whole wheat,” it’s a whole grain – simple as that!
For those allergic to gluten in foods like whole wheat bread, pasta, or cereals, millet and quinoa are excellent gluten-free options. Oatmeal is also naturally gluten-free, but frequently gets contaminated from other gluten-containing grains if it is not produced in a gluten-free facility. Fortunately, there are suppliers and manufacturers that specifically produce oatmeal in gluten-free facilities – check them out here.
Aside from whole grains allowing your body to easily manage the gradual rise in blood sugar, this large review found they may play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and several types of cancer just from consuming 30-45 grams of whole grains (2-3 servings) per day!
Try balancing your blood sugar level the natural way by making some positive changes in your food choices and how your plate looks – you may be amazed at the difference! But don’t forget – your lifestyle AND diet affect your blood sugar level, so be attentive to both to help your body continue to keep tabs on your blood sugar all on its own.
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