How to control blood sugar levels, naturally
High blood sugar levels can lead to a number of health issues and can have a negative impact on our weight, energy, mood, brain function and hormones. If blood sugar levels are too high in the short term it can lead to Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to serious health complications in the long term, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and eye, nerve and muscle disorders.
“Constant high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance and advanced glycation end products where sugar sticks to proteins and lipids. Consistent high levels of glucose can lead to insulin resistance, nerve and organ damage and reduced brain function,” explains nutritional therapist Penny Shaw, brand quality manager at G&G Vitamins.
“Constant high levels can lead to a pre-disposition to conditions such as insulin resistance, where the body’s tissues become resistant to insulin changes and it therefore has to produce excess insulin to compensate,” comments Isabelle Nunn, technical and commercial nutritionist at Kinetic Enterprises. “The result can include hormonal imbalances where ovulation can be affected in women and an array of symptoms can occur ranging from excess hair growth to weight gain, often referred to as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
“High levels of blood sugar levels also cause insulin to start storing up as fat leading to visceral (abdominal) fat increase, steady increase in weight gain and unhealthy levels of cholesterol. High blood glucose levels can permanently damage the body. The damage that the body can sustain includes heart damage and the increased chance of getting heart disease, nerve damage, blindness and kidney damage which can be life threatening in the end. Extremely high blood sugar symptoms include tiredness, dehydration, dry skin, excessive urination, and other weird side effects.”
“High blood glucose for a long period of time can damage your kidneys, eyes and other organs,” adds Michela Vagnini, nutritional therapist at Natures Plus. “Also, a constant up and down of your blood sugar level (hyper and hypoglycaemia) is called dysglycaemia, a condition where your body has lost the ability to keep a controlled sugar level. This constant swing of blood sugar levels could be the reason you might feel irritable, dead tired, light headed and/or uncontrollably hungry as well as crave high sugary foods and drinks.
And blood sugar imbalances don’t just affect your energy levels. It also effects how quickly your brain is aging and degenerating. Since glucose is the brain’s primary fuel source, keeping our blood sugar stable throughout the day is imperative for brain function and mood. The effect of blood sugar imbalance on the brain is so profound that researchers are now referring to Alzheimer’s Disease as Type 3 diabetes.”
How can we control our blood sugar levels naturally?
Opt for low glycaemic foods, slow-release carbohydrates and protein. “For balanced blood sugar and sustained energy, the focus should be on eating slow-releasing carbohydrates, balanced with a serving of protein or healthy fats. So, instead of refined, sugary foods such as white bread, pasta, biscuits and cakes which quickly release their sugars into the bloodstream, switch to fibrous wholegrains like oats, brown rice, vegetables and fruits and add some good quality protein, e.g. lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses. The focus should be on low glycemic foods that release their sugars slowly into the bloodstream. Low glycaemic fruits and vegetables include rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit, broccoli, courgettes, sprouts, spinach and other leafy greens,” explains Jenny Bodenham, nutritionist at Higher Nature.
“Low glycaemic foods are good for balancing blood sugar as they consist of slow release of glucose which is more manageable for the body. Avoid soft drinks and refined carbohydrates that cause blood sugar to spike. Eating protein with meals helps to lower the glycaemic index and reduce cravings,” explains Shaw.
Eat high-fibre foods. “The fibre in food has no effect on blood sugar and can keep you satiated,” comments Shaw.
Avoid high sugary drinks. “High sugary drinks like soft drinks, alcoholic drinks and fruit juices can cause blood sugar spikes and crushes. Take a look at the breakdown for a 350 ml portion of Coca Cola and apple juice for example: Coca Cola140 calories and 40 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons) and Apple juice 165 calories and 39 grams of sugar (9.8 teaspoons),” said Vagnini.
Regular exercise can help blood sugar regulation taking glucose into the cells within muscles and lowering blood sugar. Nunn comments: “Exercise, just like the diet can have a strong impact on our management of blood glucose levels. Moderate physical activity improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin and aiming for either 30 minutes daily or less frequent sessions but for a longer period of time. Aiming to include weight resistance exercises has proven to increase the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat and therefore help lose weight in a more efficient way in the long term.”
Manage your lifestyle that may cause stress. “Increased release of the stress hormone cortisol can cause blood glucose levels to rise,” comments Shaw.
“Physical stress can also be reduced by including anti-inflammatory foods in the diet such as sources of essential fatty acids: oily fish (mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies), olives, avocadoes, nuts and seeds. Flaxseeds are not only a good source of omega-3 but also great at balancing hormones (if this becomes an issue). They are also an excellent source of fibre to contribute to a healthy gut and fibre can help bind to circulating toxins in the body and help eliminate them. Spices such as turmeric, ginger, fenugreek and cinnamon through the diet and drinks,” advises Nunn.
Eat three meals a day. “Erratic eating and skipping meals can cause blood sugar levels to crash, resulting in low energy and fatigue. To maintain steady blood sugar and keep hunger pangs at bay, eat 3 healthy meals a day and if necessary, add in healthy snacks mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon, such as humus with oatcakes or a handful of nuts with a piece of fresh fruit,” advises Bodenham.
“Eating at regular times every day allows our blood sugar levels to stay stable and prevents the natural dips we can experience leading to energy drops cravings, mood swings and irritability,” adds Nunn.
Try Mediterranean or ketogenic diet. “The Mediterranean-style low carb approach which is recommend by many nutritionists and doctors, is low in starchy, simple carbs, but packed full of disease-fighting vitamins and flavonoids. It is rich in olive oil, fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables, but also contains lots of good fats, such as full fat yoghurt and eggs,” explains Vagnini.
She also suggests trying the ketogenic diet: “Ketogenic diet is another very effective way to keep your blood sugar level steady, keep good brain functions and stay lean and healthy.
A ketogenic diet is well known for being a low carb diet, where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. It’s referred to as many different names – ketogenic diet, low carb diet, low carb high fat (LCHF), and the usual optimal ratio used is 75% healthy fats, 15% proteins (organic eggs, fish, grass fed meat) and 10% carbs (mainly from vegetables).
When you follow a ketogenic diet you should focus on eating meats, leafy greens, above ground vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc), high fat dairy, nuts and seeds, Avocado and berries and other fats (coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, saturated fats, etc).”
Are there any supplements that can help?
There are a number of supplements which can help you to control your blood sugar levels.
Alpha Lipoic Acid– “This antioxidant compound is a key player in a chemical process called aerobic metabolism, in which our body turns nutrients into energy. This process occurs in the cell’s mitochondria, which is the little “power generator” for almost every cell in the body. Additionally, high blood glucose levels and insulin resistance can provoke a higher production of free radicals/ oxidative damage in the body, which can deteriorate your health more rapidly also. Therefore, by loading up your body full of antioxidants (like ALA) , it may hopefully reduce the complications of diabetes and even manage your blood sugar better,” comments Nunn.
Chromium – “It helps control blood sugar, by stimulating insulin activity, and is involved in the burning of glucose for energy,” explains Bodenham.
Berberine – “Berberine, a major pharmacological component of the Chinese herb Coptis chinensis, which was originally used to treat bacterial diarrhoea, has recently been demonstrated to be clinically effective in alleviating type 2 diabetes and dysglycaemia,” comments Vagnini.
Cinnamon – “A Cinnamon complex may have a couple of the anti-inflammatory spices combined which may provide blood glucose support,” said Nunn.
Zinc – “Zinc may help to regulate appetite and is a co-factor in regulation of normal blood sugar levels,” advises Bodenham.
Healthy fats (omega-3 and coconut oil) and probiotics – “A 2008 study found that people who consumed medium-chain fats like coconut oil as part of a weight loss plan lost more fat than participants who used olive oil. Coconut oil is high in medium-chain fats. This means coconut oil, a solid fat, is harder to convert to stored fat. This makes it easier for your body to burn it off. A new study from England found that women who consume more omega-3s have a healthier mix of gut bacteria. These bacteria have been found to reduce the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. A study from Harvard University found that omega-3s raise levels of a hormone called adiponectin, which increases insulin sensitivity. Researchers felt this might help prevent or control Type 2 diabetes,” explains Vagnini.
Magnesium – “This vital mineral is important not only for bone health but also for conversion of glucose to energy and so for better insulin sensitivity,” comments Bodenham.
B vitamins – “Crucial for energy production and many people’s diet can fall short of these vital vitamins. Taking a B vitamin complex is a simple way to ensure adequate supply,” explains Bodenham.