Life is a balancing act, and promoting healthy blood sugar is no exception! The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that around 38% of all American adults have blood sugar imbalances that will eventually require intervention . Read on to explore how you can promote healthy blood sugar balance through five lifestyle interventions.
One of the pillars of healthy blood sugar is supporting a stable metabolism. Exercise not only promotes a well-functioning metabolism but also enhances insulin sensitivity, which is your body’s ability to respond to insulin and absorb sugar out of the blood. Research suggests that exercise can support healthier blood sugars for over 24 hours after your workout .
Exercise may also support a healthier HbA1c, which is a three-month blood sugar snapshot. One 22-week study found that people with blood sugar imbalance who combined walking and weight lifting three days a week dropped their HbA1c by an average of one point .
Naturally, you may be wondering how much aerobic exercise and resistance training it takes to optimally balance your blood sugar. Current guidelines suggest two to three weekly sessions of resistance training and 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic exercise, such as running, walking, or cycling .
The best time to exercise for healthy blood sugar is one to three hours after eating a meal. If you are concerned about your blood sugar, you may want to check your blood sugar level before you exercise. If it is lower than 100 mg/dL, it is recommended to eat a snack beforehand . The consensus is that a blood sugar range between 100-250 mg/dL is ideal before exercise.
Eat more fiber
When you think of fiber, the first thing that may come to mind is that it supports healthy bowel movements. You may even be surprised to learn that fiber is a carbohydrate. However, fiber is the part of the carbohydrate that does not get digested and passes through the gut. Fiber also plays a major role in fostering a healthy blood sugar balance through an array of beneficial roles.
The most direct way that fiber targets sugar absorption is by slowing down digestion, which blunts the post-meal blood glucose spike. A study found that people with hard-to-control blood sugars who consumed high-fiber meals had a 33% reduction in blood glucose levels within the first two hours after their meal . Not only has fiber been shown to support post-meal blood sugars, but it also has been found in a large review of studies to improve fasting blood glucose levels and supports healthier HbA1c levels .
Fiber has been shown to exhibit beneficial effects on overall health by supporting healthier blood sugar levels. A large clinical trial in people with hard-to-control blood sugars found that people who ate more fiber had lower triglyceride levels, decreased markers of digestive inflammation, and improved kidney function markers . These beneficial effects of fiber are crucial when balancing blood sugar since inflammation contributes to insulin resistance and high blood sugars can lead to compromised kidney function. Emerging research is even demonstrating the beneficial roles that high-fiber diets have on gut flora, which helps to balance digestive inflammation and support healthy blood sugar levels .
Fiber-rich foods that you can incorporate into your diet include lentils, broccoli, beans, avocado, oatmeal, bananas, and almonds.
Use the Plate Method
The Plate Method has become an increasingly supported strategy to conveniently promote healthy meals that support blood sugar balance . The method helps to incorporate portion control and limit the number of carbohydrates that can cause a spike in blood sugar after meals. This significantly enhances long-term blood sugar balance because it helps to avoid rapid and harmful swings in blood sugar that can worsen over time and become difficult to manage.
To try the Plate Method, get a 9-inch diameter plate. Start by filling half of your plate with low-starch vegetables, such as artichokes, beets, broccoli, carrots, eggplant, or zucchini, among plenty of others. Next, fill a quarter of the plate with about three ounces of lean protein such as chicken breast, turkey, flounder, tuna, or egg whites. Fill the last quarter of the plate with carbohydrates like potatoes or whole grains like rice or pasta.
Overall, the plate method is an example of portion control. Studies have found that people with blood sugar imbalance who adopted the plate method for six months lost a significant amount of weight and significantly reduced the amount of blood sugar medications they were taking . Making nutritional changes such as this method supports HbA1c reduction by up to 2%.
Avoid added sugars
Though they may not be directly stated on the labels, many processed food packages have hidden added sugars. Added sugars may come in the form of sucrose, dextrose, fruit concentrate, and syrups. The current recommendation for average Americans is to limit added sugars to 10% of total daily calories . However, if you are actively working to balance your blood sugars, you may want to establish a more narrow target.
Processed sugars can lead to rapid swings in blood sugar, which can worsen insulin resistance. One of the most common added sugars found in processed foods is fructose. A study found that people who drank fructose-enriched beverages for 10 weeks had elevated triglyceride levels, elevated fasting blood glucose levels, and reduced insulin sensitivity . These results suggest that, in excess, fructose can trigger liver inflammation and blunt the effects of insulin. These sudden changes can alter the way your pancreas responds to blood sugar states and how it releases insulin.
On the other hand, natural sugars do not appear to have the same effects and are metabolized more slowly, which minimizes any rapid increase in blood glucose. A study found that people who consumed more fruits had a significantly reduced risk of developing hard-to-control blood sugars . These effects are likely due to the mixed content of natural sugars, which are encased in a matrix of other nutrients and fiber. Current research suggests that the optimal amount of fruit intake for balanced blood sugar is around 200 grams per day .
Optimize your sleep
Sleep not only replenishes your energy stores for the next day but also supports healthy blood sugar levels! Both the time spent sleeping and the quality of sleep is heavily intertwined with blood sugar levels. However, current data suggests that almost 40% of US adults get less than seven hours of sleep per night . Poor quality sleep can result from insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, being a light sleeper, or a busy lifestyle that prevents you from getting a full night’s rest.
Sleep influences blood sugar mainly through a hormone called cortisol. Sufficient sleep promotes healthy cortisol release, which keeps blood sugars closer to the target range. When you have too little or poor quality sleep, the body enters a “stressed state” and in turn releases more cortisol to try and restore balance. However, one of cortisol’s main effects is that it stimulates the release of more glucose which can lead to impaired glucose tolerance and resistance to insulin.
One study found that just one week of less nightly sleep time reduced the body’s ability to respond to insulin . By getting restful, good-quality sleep, you can enhance your circadian rhythm, support cortisol balance, and promote healthy blood sugar levels.
A balanced blood sugar takes concerted efforts but provides long-term benefits to overall health. The strategies outlined in this article help not only with blood sugar balance but also promote weight management, which improves both digestive and cardiovascular health! By prioritizing blood sugar balance, you can support heart health, digestion, kidney function, vision, and live with vitality!
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