The struggle to lower blood sugar levels is not uncommon. In India alone, an estimated 77 million adults have high blood sugar levels and want to lower blood sugar levels for good health. This number could be as high as 134 million by 2045. Even more concerning is that 57% of these cases go undetected and undiagnosed. Therefore, if you have high blood sugar levels, you have to make wiser choices to lower blood sugar levels. This article will cover the dietary and lifestyle changes you need in your life to keep your blood sugar levels in control.
What is Hyperglycemia or High Blood Sugar Levels?
Hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose, occurs when too much sugar is in the blood. It usually happens when your body has too little insulin, a hormone that transports glucose into the blood. It also happens if your body can’t use insulin properly. These conditions are most often linked with diabetes.
- Hyperglycemia is fasting blood glucose greater than 125 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). A person with fasting blood glucose greater than 125 mg/dL has diabetes.
- Having impaired glucose tolerance, or pre-diabetes, with a fasting blood glucose of 100 mg/dL to 125 mg/dL.
- A person has hyperglycemia if their blood glucose is greater than 180 mg/dL one to two hours after eating.
If you have hyperglycemia and it’s untreated for long periods, you can damage your nerves, blood vessels, tissues and organs. Damage to blood vessels can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Nerve damage may also lead to eye damage, kidney damage and non-healing wounds.
High Blood Sugar Levels: Causes in Patients with Diabetes
- The insulin or oral diabetes medication dose you are taking is not adequate per your needs.
- Your body isn’t using your natural insulin effectively (in case of type 2 diabetes)
- The number of carbohydrates you are eating or drinking is not in sync with the amount of insulin your body is making or the amount of insulin you inject.
- Lack of physical activity
- It can also be due to physical stress from illness, a cold, the flu, an infection, etc.
- Emotional stress
- Steroids you are taking for another condition.
- The dawn phenomenon is a surge of hormones the body produces every morning.
Other Possible Causes
- Endocrine conditions, such as Cushing syndrome, that cause insulin resistance
- Pancreatic diseases such as pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and cystic fibrosis
- Certain medications like diuretics and steroids
- It can be due to gestational diabetes, which happens in 4% of pregnancies. It is due to decreased insulin sensitivity.
- Surgery or trauma
High Blood Sugar Levels and Foods
Foods play an essential role in almost all functions of our bodies. Just like foods are responsible for causing several health issues, they can prevent many of them. Similarly, your dietary and lifestyle habits play a crucial role in helping you manage blood sugar levels. Therefore, the primary component to look for in your foods is their glycemic index.
The glycemic index determines the spike in blood sugar levels after eating a particular food. For example, your blood sugar levels rise a lot after you eat sugary treats. That is because these foods are rich in sugar, a refined carbohydrate. However, when you eat a bowl of oats, the blood sugar level does not increase as much as after eating sugary treats. The glycemic index monitors these spikes in blood sugar levels.
A glycemic index is an effective tool to help you monitor and control your blood sugar levels.
The GI of any food item ranges between 0 to 100, 0 being no sugar spike and 100 representing sugar spike due to pure glucose. Based on these numbers, there are three kinds of food groups:
- Low GI foods have a glycaemic index of 55 or less.
- Medium GI foods have a glycaemic index that ranges from 56 to 69.
- Finally, high GI foods have a glycaemic index of more than 70.
Glycemic index is one of the best ways of categorising carbohydrates, particularly starchy carbohydrates.
Eating many high-glycemic-index foods will cause significant spikes in blood sugar. It can increase your chances of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain. In addition, high-glycemic diets lead to age-related macular degeneration, ovulatory infertility, and colorectal cancer. Low-glycemic-index foods aid in the management of type 2 diabetes and weight loss.
What Influences Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index of a food can influence by several factors, including the following:
- High Processing: Grains that have been milled and refined (removing the bran and germ) have a higher glycemic index than minimally processed whole grains.
- Physical Form: Finely ground grain digests more quickly than coarsely ground grain. Eating whole grains in their “whole form,” such as brown rice or oats, is better than highly processed whole grain bread.
- Fibre Content: Since high-fibre foods contain less digestible carbohydrates, they slow down digestion. It results in a more gradual and lower rise in blood sugar.
- Overripe fruits and vegetables have a higher glycemic index than ripe fruits and vegetables.
- Fat and Acid content: Foods high in fat or acid convert to sugar more slowly.
So, if you want to control your blood glucose levels, you should consume more low and medium GI foods. However, it does not make high GI foods unhealthy or less nutritious. You can have them occasionally and in moderation.
Foods to Naturally Lower Blood Sugar Levels
1. Complex Carbohydrates
Carbohydrate sources like wheat, Jowar, Bajra etc., are complex carbohydrates. It means their chemical structures are complex, and they do not break down quickly to form sugar. In addition, they contain fibre and essential vitamins and minerals. As a result, they take longer to digest. Hence, they have a slower impact on blood sugar levels and do not create a high spike in blood sugar levels. Instead, they help lower blood sugar levels. In contrast, refined carbohydrates like maida, sugar etc., spike blood sugar levels.
2. Low GI Fruits
Cherries are bright red due to the food pigment anthocyanin and choline. Additionally, cherry is high in vitamins A, C, K and fibre. Moreover, they are high in potassium and antioxidants. As a result, they help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, protecting your body from inflammatory diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular diseases etc. High antioxidant content also helps get younger and healthy-looking skin.
Since cherry’s glycemic index is 20 units, it ensures healthy glucose regulation in the body. It also reduces the risk of diabetes by increasing insulin sensitivity. It is primarily due to the abundance of anthocyanin in cherries.
Avocado is high in fibre content, offering two benefits. First, it helps you feel satiated for a long. As a result, it curbs unnecessary cravings, promoting weight loss. Second, it helps maintain gut health because fibre helps promote the growth of healthy bacteria.
Avocado is a versatile fruit, which is easy to incorporate in low-calorie diets, keto diet, paleo diet etc. In addition, avocado has a low glycemic index and high fibre. These two properties make it an ideal fruit option for people with diabetes. Furthermore, the healthy fat in avocados helps improve insulin sensitivity, which helps control blood sugar levels.
Plum is low in calories and has good soluble fibre content. It makes plum an excellent option for snacking. The nutritional properties of plum help reduce weight, aids in digestion and relieves constipation. In addition, plums are rich in antioxidants, making them an effective remedy against anxiety. The phytochemicals in plums help reduce inflammation which triggers heart diseases. It also contains potassium, suitable for blood pressure control and prevents stroke.
Inflammation triggers many degenerative diseases in our body like diabetes, heart diseases, cancers, pulmonary diseases, Parkinson’s disease etc. The antioxidants and phytochemicals in plums help stop the ongoing inflammation in your body. As a result, it helps protect you from all kinds of degenerative diseases.
Plum fruit has a glycemic index of 40 units, and it is rich in fibre content. Thus, it is suitable for people who have diabetes. Apart from the benefits mentioned above, plum boosts the production of a hormone called adiponectin, which helps reduce blood glucose levels.
Kiwi is a low GI food with a GI of 50. In addition, its Glycemic Load is as low as 7.7. Therefore, moderate kiwi fruit consumption does not result in an instant insulin spike. Instead, the blood sugar levels rise steadily and to a minimal extent. Furthermore, the kiwi skin is full of insoluble fibres and a compound ‘inositol’, which makes your body more sensitive to insulin and thus, helps cure diabetes.
Kiwi is also low in calories and has mostly water weight. Therefore, kiwi consumption can also help in weight loss and weight management. Optimum weight is the best way to keep sugar levels under check.
Papaya has a low glycemic index and offers a wide range of health benefits. It is a powerhouse of antioxidants. In addition, it is low in calories. It has high amounts of essential vitamins like A, B, C and E, and minerals like copper, magnesium, folate, lutein, pantothenic acid, potassium and lycopene. These nutritional properties make papayas suitable for people with diabetes. However, you should always eat them in moderation.
With a GI of 36 and a Glycemic Load of 6, apples have very low sugar content. In addition, their nutritional properties make them very healthy. Furthermore, according to a study, people who eat apples regularly have a 28% lower possibility of suffering from type 2 diabetes. That is because polyphenols in apples prevent the wear and tear of beta cells responsible for insulin production.
Weight loss is one of the best ways to manage diabetes. Apples are excellent for weight loss as they are not calorie-dense yet full of fibre and volume. Their probiotic properties also aid weight loss.
Oranges pose no threat to a diabetic patient. On the contrary, with their high fibre and nutrient content, oranges should be your go-to fruit. In addition, the GI of orange is as low as 31-51. These values indicate that oranges are safe for diabetic people, and their consumption will not affect their blood sugar levels.
3. Protein-Rich Foods Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Protein intake can boost insulin sensitivity without raising blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Therefore, you should not use high-protein carbohydrate sources to treat or prevent hypoglycemia.
Research suggests that meal plans with slightly higher protein levels (20–30%) help increase satiety. As a result, it effectively helps manage type 2 diabetes. However, people with diabetic kidney disease (albuminuria and a reduced estimated glomerular filtration rate) should aim to consume no more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of desired body weight per day.
You should also not keep dietary protein intake below the recommended daily allowance because it does not affect glycemic control, cardiovascular risk, or the rate at which glomerular filtration rate declines.
As per the American Diabetes Association, you can eat the following protein-rich foods to help regulate blood sugar levels.
- Beans such as black, pinto and kidney beans
- Hummus and Falafel
- Lentils like brown, green or yellow
- Soy Nuts
- Nuts and Spreads like almond butter, peanut butter and cashew butter
- Tempeh and Tofu
Proteins from Fish and Seafood:
You should try to consume these foods at least twice a week.
- Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like Albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, rainbow trout, sardines and salmon
- Other fish like catfish, cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, orange roughy and tilapia
- Shellfish like clams, crab, imitation shellfish, lobster, scallops, shrimp and oysters
Other Protein-Rich Foods:
- Cottage cheese
- Whole Eggs
- Chicken, Turkey, Cornish Hen
- Lamb, Veal and Pork
4. Good Fat
The quality of fats you consume is more important than the quantity. Although the adequate total fat intake for people with diabetes is unknown, you can tailor your goals as per your body’s requirements.
You should eat foods high in long-chain omega3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish (EPA and DHA) and nuts and seeds (ALA). Apart from controlling blood sugar levels, they help prevent or treat cardiovascular disease. Some good fat sources are flax seeds, tuna, mackerel, cashew, almonds, etc.
Lifestyle Changes to Naturally Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Physically Active Lifestyle
Keeping yourself physically active imparts several health benefits to your body. Similarly, it helps lower blood sugar levels. It is one of the best ways to lower blood sugar naturally. For example, walking helps optimum insulin functioning, which helps reduce glucose. Therefore, the more you walk, the better it is for your body. Some other examples of physical activities are:
- Brisk walking for 45 minutes a day
- Jogging for 35 minutes a day
- Running every day for 30 minutes
- Stretching, yoga, meditation
- Cardio workouts
- Weight lifting and other forms of exercises
Lack of sleep reduces metabolism, which leads to weight gain. An increase in weight leads to the impaired working of insulin. It, in turn, spikes the blood sugar levels.
Points to Remember
- Include fibre-rich foods in every meal or snack.
- Your morning meal should have some whole grains like millets, quinoa etc.
- Choose foods with whole wheat, whole oats, or other whole grains as primary ingredients and no added sugars.
- Bread made of whole grains is a good choice for lunch or snacks. Ensure that the primary ingredient in your bread is whole wheat or another whole grain. Check the label carefully.
- Consume fewer potatoes. Instead, try bulgur, wheat berries, millet, hulled barley, faro, or quinoa.
- Look for whole-grain products made with half whole wheat, brown rice, or other whole grain flour. In addition, legume-based or millet-based products are also available nowadays.
- Include beans/legumes in your diet. They are a great source of lean protein and slowly digested carbohydrates. Since they are protein and fibre sources, you can use them in place of meat.
- Make an effort to include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your meals every day.
- Include a source of lean protein with each meal. For example, skinless poultry, fish or eggs, and reduced-fat dairy products are excellent lean animal protein sources. In addition, tofu, tempeh, legumes, and alternative meat products are plant protein sources that you should consume. However, consume them carefully because they might have a higher sodium content.
- You should consume nuts like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts or filberts, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, halves, and walnuts.
- Remember, protein should supplement, not replace vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your meal.
The Bottom Line
High blood sugar levels or hyperglycemia is prevalent worldwide. It is spreading like wildfire nowadays. But, as the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. Therefore, you should keep your blood sugar levels in check to remain fit and healthy. As the article explains, your dietary habits, healthy and active lifestyle and optimum sleep can help you lower blood sugar levels. Hence, you should eat fibre-rich foods, good quality protein and fat. In addition, follow a healthy lifestyle with physical activity, and get optimum sleep. These fundamental changes are essential to lower blood sugar levels naturally.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. How do you bring blood sugar down quickly?
A. Although medical science suggests taking an insulin dose to bring down your blood sugar quickly, you can also get help from exercises. Physical exercise can help you rapidly and successfully lower your blood sugar levels within 24 hours. That is because exercise increases your body’s insulin sensitivity.
Q. What foods immediately lower blood sugar?
A. There is no such magical food that will help you reduce your blood sugar instantly. However, constant dietary modulations may help. For example, you should eat fibre-rich foods and complex carbohydrates to improve blood sugar levels. In addition, you can prevent blood sugar issues by following regular exercise routines and a balanced diet.
Q. Can drinking water lower blood sugar?
A. Yes, drinking enough water helps lower blood sugar levels because it helps to re-hydrate the blood. As a result, it reduces blood sugar levels and prevents diseases like diabetes.
Q. How long does it take to bring blood sugar down?
A. For some people, it may take 2-3 days to bring down blood sugar levels. However, it may take well over 2-3 weeks to improve blood sugar levels for some others. Leading a healthy lifestyle with proper exercise and a balanced diet will help you get favourable results earlier.
Q. How do you feel when your blood sugar is too high?
A. Symptoms of high blood sugar may include but are not limited to fatigue, frequent urination, increased thirst, shortness of breath and dryness of the mouth. If you find yourself suffering from the above symptoms, you should immediately consult a physician.
Q. How can I stabilise my blood sugar overnight?
A. Although an overnight solution is not plausible, you should control your diet, especially during the night hours, to regulate your sugar levels. Also, try not to eat anything right before your bedtime because it might result in sugar level spikes.
Q. Can exercise lower blood sugar levels?
A. Yes, exercise is one of the best solutions to regulate blood sugar levels. That is because it makes your body optimise the use of insulin, resulting in better elimination of excess glucose.
Q. Can Apple cider vinegar lower blood sugar immediately?
A. Although some studies show a link between blood sugar levels and vinegar, it requires more research to prove the same. So, it’s best not to rely on vinegar to keep your sugar levels under control.
Q. Does peanut butter lower blood sugar?
A. Yes, peanut butter helps lower blood pressure levels. Peanuts are rich in protein, and several trials prove their effectiveness in people with type 2 diabetes and regulating blood sugar levels. In addition, when paired with high-carbohydrate or high-GL meals, peanuts and peanut butter help lower blood sugar spikes.
Q. What if your blood sugar is over 400?
A. If your blood sugar level is above 400 mg/dL, it is possible that the reading is false. It is especially true if you are not experiencing any symptoms. However, if your score remains the same after re-testing, you should immediately seek medical help.
Q. Does lemon juice lower blood sugar?
A. Although lemon may not directly affect blood sugar levels and reduce them, it can help prevent sudden increases. In addition, several studies demonstrate the positive effect of lemon juice on people with diabetes. Its effect on the body is similar to other acidic foods, which help reduce the glycemic impact of starchy meals.
Q. Is banana good for diabetes?
A. There is a lot of contradictory data available to study the effect of bananas on people with diabetes. However, some studies suggest that starch constitutes 80-90% of the carbohydrate content in under-ripe bananas, which changes into sugar as the banana ripens. Therefore, it is safe to eat under-ripe bananas. However, it is safe to consult your doctor before adding them to your diet. Your healthcare professional may add them to your diet an individualised plan.
Q. Can green tea lower blood sugar?
A. Yes, green tea can assist to lower blood sugar levels since it is related to lower fasting glucose levels and A1C levels and lower fasting insulin levels, which are a sign of diabetic wellness.