How To Address High Blood Sugar Levels

How To Address High Blood Sugar Levels

Though a high blood sugar reading can be worrisome, there are plenty of steps you can take to approach and maintain stable blood sugar. This article highlights what you should do both initially and long-term to address high blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy blood sugar balance.

Initial Steps

Track your blood sugar levels
One of the most important initial steps in addressing high blood sugar levels is to track them over time. Monitor when your blood sugars tend to run higher. For some, this may be immediately after meals, a few hours later, or in the morning/evening. By tracking your blood sugars, you can gain more insight into where you need to make adjustments.

Monitor your symptoms
In addition to tracking your blood sugar levels, it is vital to keep a close eye on how you feel if your blood sugar levels are high. As blood sugar gets higher, you may notice symptoms like being more thirsty, urinating more frequently, feeling nauseous, breath that smells fruity, fatigue, headaches, and blurry vision. If you notice any of these symptoms, it may be time to talk to a healthcare provider.

Talk to your healthcare provider
Teaming up with your healthcare provider is one of the most important steps in addressing high blood sugar levels. Your healthcare provider may recommend wearing a glucose monitoring device to track when exactly your blood sugars trend upward. This wearable monitor is typically attached to your belly or arm and captures your blood glucose in live time through a smartphone app. This crucial data provides an accurate snapshot of your blood glucose trends and may help decide what changes may be beneficial for you, whether that is through lifestyle or medication changes. If your blood sugar levels are elevated and you are taking medications, your healthcare provider may recommend adjusting your medications or, if you take insulin, increasing either your dosage of basal or mealtime insulin.

Short and Long-Term Strategies

Choose low glycemic index foods
One of the best ways to address high blood sugar levels is to opt for foods that have a low glycemic index [1]. The glycemic index assigns each food a score from 0-100, with a higher score indicating that the food is likely to cause a more rapid swing in blood sugar. Foods high in simple carbohydrates, such as fructose or glucose, are linked to spikes in blood sugar after meals. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates, like those found in vegetables, are more slowly broken down and tend not to cause rapid swings in blood sugar. Low glycemic index foods include those such as vegetables, most fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.

Since whole grains are full of fiber, which slows down your body’s absorption of sugar, they help prevent post-meal blood sugar spikes that can contribute to persistently elevated blood sugar levels [2]. Examples of whole grains that have a low glycemic index include whole-grain pasta and bread, wheat tortilla, oat bran, and barley.

Studies have found that consuming a low glycemic index diet may support an HbA1c reduction that is 0.5% greater than a high glycemic index diet [3]. Another review found that people who ate a low glycemic index diet had significantly reduced fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels [4].

Limit added sugars
Another strategy that can play a major role when addressing high blood sugar levels is to limit added sugars. Added sugars can be disguised as honey, cane sugar, or high fructose corn syrup. Since the simple carbohydrates in added sugars can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, they may challenge your pancreas. In particular, fructose is metabolized differently than other natural sugars and leads to fat accumulation in the liver and difficulty in being able to use insulin over time. By worsening inflammation, added sugars may contribute to hard-to-control blood sugars [5].

Naturally, you may be wondering what you can substitute for added sugars. Fortunately, several natural substitutes help maintain blood sugar balance better than added sugars. A large review that looked at several studies found that a leaf extract called Stevia may possess properties that support healthy blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity [6]. Other more natural options include dates and monk fruit extract.

Eat more protein
Adding protein into your diet is another way to address high blood sugar. Proteins are slowly digested and promote healthy digestive sugar absorption that avoids quick rises in blood sugar. Sources of healthy meat-based protein include skinless chicken and turkey. Eggs and low-fat cheese are also good sources of healthy protein. There are also plenty of plant-based protein choices, such as beans, lentils, soy, nuts, tofu, and tempeh. A major review that examined 12 studies found that people with hard-to-control blood sugars who ate high-protein diets had a significantly improved ability to use insulin to bring down blood sugar [7].

Stay hydrated
Drinking adequate amounts of water will not only quench your thirst but supports healthy blood glucose levels. Water helps dilute your blood, which ‌balances blood sugar levels both soon after drinking and over time [8,9]. This aspect of blood sugar management is important since dehydration can concentrate blood and lead to a higher blood sugar reading. Staying hydrated is especially important in the summer since a more ominous complication that can be triggered by dehydration is called hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state (HHS). This condition happens when some sort of stressor, such as dehydration, triggers abnormal sugar metabolism and extreme spikes in blood sugar levels. Fortunately, by taking quenching your thirst and drinking plenty of water, you can help keep your fluid levels at optimal levels. Current recommendations are that the average person should drink eight cups of water per day.

Exercise
Exercise is a fundamental way to address high blood sugars. Not only does exercise bring down blood sugar levels short term, but it also helps to enhance the way your body uses insulin. Research shows that aerobic exercise and resistance training with light weights improves the way your body responds to insulin and takes sugar out of your blood [10]. Aerobic exercises like walking increase your heart rate and tell your muscles to use more glucose to keep moving. This can be helpful when you notice a sudden high blood sugar reading or if you want to support a healthy long-term blood sugar balance. Another major benefit of exercise is that it helps maintain healthier blood sugar levels hours after your workout.

Lose weight
When you notice a high blood sugar reading, it is important to not only think about how to bring it down short term but also how to foster healthy long-term blood sugar balance. All of the strategies recommended in this article help promote healthy weight management. Studies show that as little as a 2% loss in body weight helps balance blood sugars and promote healthier HbA1c levels [11]. If you go one step further and lose 5% of your body weight, you can further support healthy long-term blood sugar balance while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular events by improving blood pressure and cholesterol levels [12]. This is where the impact of low glycemic index foods can come into play. A large 20-year study of 120,000 people found that eating high glycemic index foods was associated with a weight gain of around 3.5 pounds every four years [13]. It makes sense that a low glycemic diet should help to balance blood sugars and support weight loss.

Addressing high blood sugar levels can seem daunting, but by taking steps to decrease your blood sugar levels both immediately and long-term, you can make impactful changes in your blood sugar and overall wellness!

References

  1. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/glycemic-index/
  2. Fujii H, Iwase M, Ohkuma T, et al. Impact of dietary fiber intake on glycemic control, cardiovascular risk factors and chronic kidney disease in Japanese patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: the Fukuoka Diabetes Registry. Nutr J. 2013;12:159. Published 2013 Dec 11. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-159
  3. Erbe JK. Low glycemic index diets for the management of diabetes. Am Fam Physician. 2009;80(9):941.
  4. Zafar MI, Mills KE, Zheng J, et al. Low-glycemic index diets as an intervention for diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;110(4):891-902. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz149
  5. 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
  6. Ray J, Kumar S, Laor D, et al. Effects of Stevia Rebaudiana on Glucose Homeostasis, Blood Pressure and Inflammation: A Critical Review of Past and Current Research Evidence. Int J Clin Res Trials. 2020;5:142. doi:10.15344/2456-8007/2020/142
  7. Yu Z, Nan F, Wang LY, Jiang H, Chen W, Jiang Y. Effects of high-protein diet on glycemic control, insulin resistance and blood pressure in type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clin Nutr. 2020;39(6):1724-1734. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2019.08.008
  8. Carroll HA, Davis MG, Papadaki A. Higher plain water intake is associated with lower type 2 diabetes risk: a cross-sectional study in humans. Nutr Res. 2015;35(10):865-872. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2015.06.015
  9. Naumann J, Biehler D, Lüty T, Sadaghiani C. Prevention and Therapy of Type 2 Diabetes-What Is the Potential of Daily Water Intake and Its Mineral Nutrients?. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):914. Published 2017 Aug 22. doi:10.3390/nu9080914
  10. Richter EA, Sylow L, Hargreaves M. Interactions between insulin and exercise. Biochem J. 2021;478(21):3827-3846. doi:10.1042/BCJ20210185
  11. Kahan S, Fujioka K. Obesity Pharmacotherapy in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(4):250-257. doi:10.2337/ds17-0044
  12. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html
  13. Mozaffarian, D., et al., Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med, 2011. 364(25): p. 2392-404.
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