Glucose strategies – 11 tips on how to flatten your glucose curve
Do you feel tired, sluggish, and hungry all the time? If so, your blood sugar might be to blame.
Blood sugar changes are a crucial indicator of your health. If your blood sugar is too high, it can cause weight gain, diabetes, and even heart disease. But if your blood sugar is too low, it can lead to a variety of symptoms including weakness and fatigue.
Well managed blood sugar levels are a key factor for cardiovascular health, metabolic health, and controlling inflammation. Keeping your glucose levels in check also helps maintain your energy levels throughout the day and can impact your mood, skin, sleep, and cravings.
Read on for tips that will help you maintain your blood sugar levels to stay on top of your metabolic health.
What is glucose and why it matters for health
Glucose is the main sugar found in your blood and the simplest form of carbohydrate. Along with protein and fat, it is one of the body’s main sources of energy.
Glucose comes from the foods we consume, and when our bodies break it down, it is carried to cells throughout the body to use as fuel.
When glucose levels are well maintained, this process occurs unnoticed. But issues arise when blood sugar levels are too high or too low.
One of the reasons this can happen is when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin (the hormone that controls the amount of glucose in the blood) in the way it should. With repeatedly high blood sugar levels over long periods of time, the cells of the body become resistant to insulin, which normally helps them take up the glucose from the blood. To counteract this, the pancreas produces more and more insulin, until it gradually gives up and type 2 diabetes manifests itself. Type 1 diabetes on the other hand is a genetic or chronic condition in which the pancreas makes little to no insulin.
People without diabetes may also experience fluctuations in their blood sugar levels. Imbalanced blood sugar can also lead to hormonal imbalances and inflammation, which in turn can impact mood, energy levels, and sleep.
Symptoms of unbalanced blood sugar levels
Symptoms of unbalanced glucose levels can vary depending on whether your blood sugar is too high or two low. While symptoms of blood sugar fluctuations are most prominent in people with diabetes, those without the condition may experience some of the same signs. Check your blood glucose levels regularly and watch out for symptoms like getting hangry or excessive sleepiness.
Signs of high blood sugar include:
- Frequent urination
- Sugar cravings
- Increased thirst
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
Signs your blood sugar may be too low include:
- Irritability and anxiety
- Heart palpitations
Ways to check your glucose levels
There are a few different ways you can check your glucose levels. These include:
- Fasting glucose: For this test, a healthcare provider will take a sample of blood to check your blood sugar level after you’ve fasted for 8 to 12 hours. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a fasting blood sugar level of 70 to 99 mg/dL is considered normal, while 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates prediabetes or impaired glucose tolerance, and 126 mg/dL or above means you have diabetes. It’s important to note that reference ranges can vary from lab to lab. The same is true for age and gender, as well as sex.
- HbA1c: This blood test measures the amount of glucose attached to your hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen in the body. Red blood cells live for about 120 days, so roughly speaking, this value shows your average blood glucose levels over the past 3 months. The results are given in percentages, with a normal range below 5.7 percent. A reading of a HbA1c value between 5.7 to 6.4 percent indicates prediabetes, while 6.5 percent or higher indicates diabetes.
- Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM): With this method, a tiny sensor is inserted beneath your skin, usually on your arm or abdomen, which tests glucose every few minutes and transmits the information to a device, smartphone, or tablet. You may wear a GCM continually or for a limited amount of time, but will need to change the censor every several days.
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Evidence-based tips that help balance your blood sugar levels
Avoiding glucose spikes is important for long-term metabolic and cardiovascular health. These strategies can help you manage your blood sugar levels for overall good health.
1. Eat Fiber
Fiber is a nutrient that can help regulate blood sugar and improve satiety, meaning you’ll feel less hungry and have reduced cravings. A review of studies published in the Journal of Functional Foods concluded that adding 10 grams of fiber per day was effective in improving glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes. In one small study of 18 individuals with type 2 diabetes, those who ate a high fiber diet (51 grams per day) had better glucose-related metrics than those who ate the same amount of calories but only had 15 grams of fiber per day. High-fiber sources of foods include whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
2. Preloading – eat fat and protein first
Preloading your meals by eating fat and protein before carbs can help you manage your blood sugar by minimizing the quick absorption of glucose in the blood. One study concluded that eating 23 grams of protein and 17 grams of fat (equivalent to 50g of Parmesan cheese and a boiled egg) a half hour before consuming carbs led to a significant decrease in glucose levels in both non-diabetic people and individuals with insulin resistance.
3. Reduce sugar and refined foods
Processed foods with tons of added sugar can wreak havoc on glucose levels so it’s best to limit these in your diet as much as possible. In a study comparing the consumption of whole grain, coarse flour, and fine flour, the researchers found an increase in glucose levels as the grain became more processed. (Whole grains are the least processed, coarse flour is more processed, and fine flour is the most processed). To keep your blood sugar at optimal levels it’s best to stick to unrefined foods in their whole forms like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and lean meats, and avoid any processed foods with added sugars.
4. Exercise more
Getting enough physical activity can go a long way to keeping your glucose levels in check. A review of studies concluded that at least 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 5 times per week is associated with improved insulin sensitivity (which allows the body to use glucose more effectively). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
5. Walk after meals
While getting exercise wherever you can fit it in your day will be helpful, moving after meals can be even more beneficial when it comes to controlling your blood sugar. One study found that adults with type 2 diabetes who walked for 10 minutes following each of their three meals had lower blood glucose levels than those who walked in one 30-minute block.
6. Sleep well
Poor sleep affects the body in a number of ways, so it’s no surprise it can also impact blood sugar levels. A study found that later bedtimes and poor sleep efficiency (the ratio between the actual time someone spends asleep and the total amount of time they’re in bed) correlates to higher levels of glucose in the blood following breakfast the next morning. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. To maximize quality sleep time, establish a nightly routine and try to stick to similar bedtime and wake times every day, including the weekends.
7. Drink apple cider vinegar
While more research is needed to determine the effects of apple cider vinegar on health, some research suggests it may be helpful in managing glucose levels. A review of nine studies concluded that consumption of apple cider vinegar led to significant decreases in blood sugar concentrations. While dose varied by study, benefits were seen with at least 15 mL, or one tablespoon per day. Since apple cider vinegar has a strong taste that is unpleasant to most people, you may want to dilute it in water to make it easier to drink.
8. Vitamin D
A growing number of studies suggest a link between vitamin D deficiency and type 2 diabetes. Other research has found that vitamin D may help improve insulin sensitivity and beta cell function (the cells that produce insulin). Get your vitamin D levels checked regularly to make sure it's in optimal range. Generally, a vitamin D level below 20 ng/mL is considered deficient, and most people should aim for a level of 30 ng/mL or higher. Research also suggests vitamin D plays an integral role in regulating energy levels and mood.
9. Sprinkle some cinnamon
Cinnamon contains compounds that may help keep your blood sugar in check by lowering insulin resistance, so consider adding it to your morning coffee or sprinkling it over oatmeal, smoothies, roasted sweet potatoes, or a fruit bowl. One small study looked at 41 healthy adults who were put into three groups and told to eat either 1 gram, 3 grams, or 6 grams of cinnamon per day for 40 days. At the end of the study period, all groups experienced drops in their post-meal glucose levels, with the effect being the largest for those who consumed 6 grams of cinnamon.
10. Drink more water
If you don’t have enough water in your body, blood sugar becomes more concentrated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which can lead to glucose spikes. Make sure to stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking water and low-sugar fluids. The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) advises that men drink 2.5 liters and women drink 2 liters of water per day.
11. Lower stress
Stress can affect your mental and physical health in many ways, including causing your blood sugar levels to spike. For example, one study found that perceived work stress is associated with increased levels of blood glucose. The good news is that getting a handle on stress can help stabilize your blood sugar. One study of 27 nursing students found that practicing just one hour of meditation and yoga per week was linked to reduced stress and lower levels of glucose.
The Bottom Line
Blood sugar levels are important to pay attention to live a long, healthy life, even if you don’t have diabetes. Managing glucose plays a key role in metabolic and heart health and can help control inflammation. It can also impact a number of health factors, including energy, cravings, mood, and sleep.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to maintain balanced blood sugar levels, including paying attention to your diet, exercising, reducing stress, and prioritizing sleep. If you are looking for more glucose hacks, make sure to check out Jessie Inchauspé’s (a.k.a. the Glucose Goddess on Instagram) book “Glucose Revolution” with plenty of helpful and actionable tips.
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- Mao, Ting; Huang Fansu; et al. Effects of dietary fiber on glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Functional Foods. July 2021.
- De Natale, Claudia; Annuzzi, G; et al. Effects of a Plant-Based High-Carbohydrate/High-Fiber Diet Versus High–Monounsaturated Fat/Low- Carbohydrate Diet on Postprandial Lipids in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. Diabetes Care. December 2009.
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- Lips, Paul; Eekhoff, Marelise; et al. Vitamin D and Type 2 Diabetes. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. October 2017.
- Lemieux, Patricia, Weisnagel, S John. Effects of 6-Month Vitamin D Supplementation on Insulin Sensitivity and Secretion: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. European Journal of Endocrinology. September 2019.
- Kizilaslan, Nildem; Erdem Nihal. The Effect of Different Amounts of Cinnamon Consumption on Blood Glucose in Healthy Adult Individuals. International Journal of Food Science. March 4, 2019.
- Sancini, A; Ricci, S; et al. Work Related Stress and Blood Glucose Levels. Annali di Igiene. Mar-Apr 2017.
- Kim, Sang. Effects of Yogic Exercises on Life Stress and Blood Glucose Levels in Nursing Students. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. December 25, 2014.
- World Health Organization (WHO). Fasting glucose. UHC indicator GPW indicator framework. October 25, 2022.
November 15, 2022
November 15, 2022