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Natural ways to balance your blood sugar

Your blood sugar plays a significant role in your energy levels and how you feel each day. Maintaining well-balanced blood sugar is also a key to long-term health. Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont, shares why healthy blood sugar levels are important and how to stay balanced.

“It’s important to maintain balanced blood sugar because doing so prevents long-term serious health problems, such as heart disease, kidney disease and vision loss,” says Beal.

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States and high blood sugar can contribute to the development of the disease.

“When you have high blood sugar levels for a long period, it damages your blood vessels, organs, tissues and nerves,” she explains. “When your blood vessels are damaged, blood doesn’t flow properly to the heart, brain and other organs in the body. This can lead to stroke, heart attack, blindness, nerve damage and amputations.”

Your lifestyle and the foods you eat can contribute to high blood sugar (more on that below).

Signs of high blood sugar

The following can lead to high blood sugar: 

  • Eating a lot of carbohydrates or sugary foods.

  • Not exercising enough.

  • Dehydration.

  • Stress.

  • Not getting enough sleep.

  • Certain illnesses, injuries or infections.

  • Specific medications, like steroids.

Signs of high blood sugar include:

  • Frequent urination

  • Increased thirst

  • Weakness

  • Fatigue

  • Blurred vision

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Headaches

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Recurrent infections

Signs of low blood sugar

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can be caused by:

  • Not eating enough.

  • Drinking too much alcohol without eating.

  • Certain liver and kidney conditions.

  • Overproduction of insulin in the body.

  • Hormone deficiencies.

Symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Dizziness

  • Shakiness

  • Sweating or cold, clammy skin

  • Nervousness

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Headache

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Confusion

“If you experience these symptoms but feel better after you eat, it’s likely a one-off situation,” she says. “But if you have symptoms on multiple days, it’s time to have your blood sugar checked.”

How to maintain steady blood sugar throughout the day

Your lifestyle has a significant impact on your blood sugar. Avoiding extreme highs and lows will leave you feeling more energized and focused. To maintain healthy blood sugar levels, Beal recommends to:

  • Exercise regularly. “Studies have shown that exercise helps to regulate blood sugar,” she says. “Physical activity helps the body release the glucose stored in our muscles and use it. This also improves the way your body uses insulin [insulin sensitivity].” Aim for 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity and two strength workouts each week.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Ask your primary care provider if you’re at a healthy weight for your height and age.

  • Reduce your sugar intake. Dietary sugar spikes blood sugar, which can send you on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Beal recommends limiting sugary beverages, cakes, cookies, pies, candy and other sweets. Check your food labels since sugar can show up in sneaky places, like ketchup, pasta sauce and salad dressing.

  • Limit refined carbohydrates. Like sugary foods, refined carbohydrates can also spike blood sugar. These include potato chips, white pasta, white bread, many types of cereal, pizza and crackers.

  • Choose high-fiber foods. Increasing your vegetable intake is a great way to get more fiber. When choosing carbohydrates, look for varieties that are high in fiber, which slows the rise of blood sugar after a meal. Beal suggests whole wheat bread, oatmeal, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and brown rice. Choose high-fiber fruit like raspberries, apples (with the peel) and oranges, rather than fruit juice or fruit snacks.

  • Stay hydrated. “Drinking just 6 to 8 ounces of water with every meal can slow the rise of blood sugar,” she says.

  • Prioritize sleep. “People who don’t get adequate sleep may have issues with insulin resistance, which means they may not be able to utilize glucose as the body normally would and may have higher blood sugar than normal,” she says.

  • Practice stress management techniques. “The hormones we release under stress cause blood glucose levels to increase,” says Beal. Reduce stress with regular exercise, balanced meals, plenty of sleep, time away from technology, meditation, yoga, journaling, counseling and time with family and friends.

  • Don’t use tobacco products. “Nicotine increases your blood sugar levels and makes them harder to handle,” says Beal. If you smoke or use tobacco products, ask your primary care provider about the best way to quit.

  • Limit alcohol consumption. Alcoholic beverages can spike blood sugar and lead to extremely low blood sugar in people with diabetes. If you have diabetes or prediabetes, ask your provider how much is safe to drink.

  • Be consistent with your meal times. “Eating around the same time and amount each day is a big factor in controlling your blood sugar levels,” she says.

“If you consistently have symptoms of high or low blood sugar, see your primary care provider,” says Beal. “You can also find a registered dietitian through EatRight.org. A medical expert can help you put together a lifestyle plan and provide support so you can make permanent healthy changes.”

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