Whether or not an individual has diabetes, high blood sugar can be a problem for those that want to maintain optimal health. High blood sugar levels can be a chronic issue, meaning the effects of high blood sugar can accumulate over time. High blood sugar level symptoms can also be acute meaning they occur over a shorter period of time. Acute symptoms of elevated blood sugar levels can include blurred vision, frequent urination, hunger, thirst and numb/tingling feet. Chronic symptoms of high blood sugar levels may lead to heart disease or heart attack, stroke, nerve and kidney damage, eye damage and skin problems.
When we refer to high blood sugar level, what we are actually referring to is elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream. Glucose is used by the body as fuel, but glucose is useless unless insulin, secreted from the pancreas, allows the cells of the body to uptake the glucose. Without insulin working effectively in the body, the glucose just floats in the body and its levels increase until it causes the problems mentioned previously. Blood sugar levels are more likely to spike in individuals with diabetes because the body is not able to secrete insulin effectively.
How blood sugar levels are reduced
We know that elevated blood sugar levels can cause problems, so how can we reduce blood sugar levels? In acute scenarios, exercising can help minimize blood sugar levels because the body uses glucose for energy. On a more chronic basis, insulin injections can help minimize blood sugar levels because insulin, as mentioned, helps cells absorb glucose.
Keeping blood sugar levels in check
Knowing how elevated blood sugar levels can cause problems, and also knowing some ways we can reduce blood sugar levels, I think we can all agree that a proper diet to keep blood sugar in check is critical. Avoiding starchy and sugary foods that can elevate blood sugar, especially those individuals who are unable to process insulin correctly is recommended.
Foods to avoid that have the potential to increase blood sugar levels include the following:
Carbohydrates – foods high in carbohydrates get broken into glucose quickly potentially elevating blood sugar levels to an unhealthy level in a short period.
Fatty foods – will also get broken down into glucose but the effect is different than carbohydrates where the carbs will break down into glucose quickly, fatty foods take a much longer time to elevate the blood sugar levels.
Juice, soda, sugary drinks – these are pure sugar so blood sugar levels are elevated almost immediately.
Alcohol – alcohol similar to soda and sugary drinks gets converted to glucose in the blood stream almost immediately.
Fruits – while fruits are healthy, they are also very high in sugars. If high blood sugar levels are not an issue for the individual, eating fruits has no negative consequences. However for those individuals who have issues with elevated blood sugar levels, or issues with processing insulin properly, fruits should be avoided.
Foods that reduce blood sugar levels
We now know what foods to avoid to keep blood sugar levels from elevating. What foods to eat that will lower blood sugar levels? You want to stick with foods that absorb slowly in the body and have a low glycemic index. The glycemic index measures the effects of food and how quickly they will elevate blood sugar levels. Foods high in the glycemic index will affect blood sugar levels quickly. Foods with a low glycemic index will elevate the blood sugar slowly. All of the foods mentioned previously, (carbs, sugary drinks, alcohol) all would be considered foods that have a high glycemic index.
Foods that have a low glycemic index or have the potential to lower blood sugar levels include:
Whole wheat bread and pumpernickel– while bread is high in carbs and when broken down carbs can convert to glucose quickly, whole wheat breads and pumpernickel are low in the glycemic index and can be consumed if you are not willing to eliminate all carbs from your diet. These breads are high in fiber which slows down digestion and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Fruits – fruits can have a high glycemic index and should be avoided for individuals prone to elevated blood sugar levels but some fruits, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, fruits where you can eat the skin will help to minimize blood sugar levels. Any fruit consumed should ideally be consumed with the skin which is high in fiber and as mentioned previously, will help to slow digestion and help to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Sweet Potatoes and Yams – regular potatoes are full of starch but yams and sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index and are recommended instead of potatoes as a healthier alternative.
Oatmeal and oat bran have a low glycemic index score that help to minimize blood sugar spikes. Oats contain B-glucans which help improve insulin sensitivity and maintain glycemic control by reducing blood fats.
Nuts are high in fiber and fiber helps to control the release of sugar in blood. Nuts therefore help to minimize blood sugar levels.
Legumes such as chickpeas, beans, lentils have low GI scores. They are also a source of fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates which helps to minimize blood sugar levels.
Garlic has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels by helping to improve sensitivity to insulin and secretion.
Fish do not contain carbohydrates and therefore help to minimize the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar.
In summary, maintain a diet low in carbs, high in protein and fiber and with a low glycemic index. These types of foods will convert more slowly to glucose in the bloodstream and raise the blood sugar levels.