Whether you have diabetes or not, keeping blood sugar in a healthy range is important. Learn about foods that lower blood sugar, and include them in your meals.
When you hear about keeping blood sugar in a normal range, you may think it’s a subject only of concern to people with diabetes. And it is true blood sugar control is key to staying as healthy as possible and preventing additional medical problems in the future if you have diabetes. But whether you have diabetes or not, understanding how what you eat can raise or lower blood sugar (also called blood glucose) levels is important.
In fact, opting for foods that lower blood sugar and keep it in a healthy range can not only help people with diabetes but also go far in reversing the condition known as prediabetes, too.
Why you should care about the impact of diet on blood sugar
You’ve no doubt heard diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are several types of diabetes but all involve difficulties keeping blood sugar at a normal level. What you eat plays a huge role.
About 95 percent of the 34.2 million U.S. adults with diabetes have type 2. It results when your body doesn’t adequately respond to insulin, the hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood, and blood sugar levels rise. Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake), which stops your body from making insulin. So, people with this type of diabetes must pay extremely close attention to their blood sugar levels and take insulin daily to survive. Gestational diabetes occurs only in pregnancy but, if not treated and blood sugar is too high, a baby can be born with health problems and has a higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.
But it’s not only people with diabetes who need to be concerned about how food can cause blood sugar to be too high — and how dietary changes can help lower and stabilize blood glucose
In the U.S., almost 90 million adults (more than in one in three) have blood sugar levels that are too high but not quite high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. However, the condition is not without health consequences, according to the CDC. It raises your risk for developing diabetes and having a stroke or heart attack.
So, if you have higher than normal blood sugar levels for any reason — or you have a family history of diabetes or other risk factors — it makes sense to understand how what you eat can lower blood glucose and hopefully prevent future health problems.
Proven health diets lower blood sugar
Nutrition and diabetes experts and researchers from over two dozen universities and research centers joined together for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) consensus statement on the best dietary recommendations for people with diabetes or with prediabetes. They concluded there’s no magic one-size-fits-all eating plan for everyone to lower blood sugar.
However, their study found that several styles of eating — the Mediterranean diet, vegetarian, and vegan diets, and low carb eat plans — can help lower blood sugar levels. In addition, the DASH diet (short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), created in the 1990s as a result of National Institutes of Health (NIH) research into how a diet plan could control or lower high blood pressure, can also lower blood sugar levels, according to research published in the ADA journal Diabetes Spectrum.
All these eating styles have similarities: They emphasize foods that are key to lowering too high blood glucose — whole grains, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy products and fish, poultry, nuts, and beans as main protein sources over saturated fats. They also limit sweets, sugar-sweetened drinks, and processed foods.
Understanding low and high glycemic foods and blood sugar
Carbohydrates, often called simply “carbs,” turn into glucose which the body uses for energy. But not all carbs spike blood sugar and make it rise quickly. Those that do, like sugary drinks and desserts and even some starchy vegetables, are called simple carbs and have a high gycemic index (GI), indicating they raise blood sugar. Complex carbs, like whole grains and fiber-rich beans, have a low GI and are foods that help reduce and stabilize blood sugar.
“The evidence seems to support the concept that the more complex carbohydrates will lead to better blood sugar control than the more simple sugars,” Myrlene Staten, MD, an NIH diabetes researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, explained. “It makes sense for everybody, not only diabetics, to eat the more complex carbohydrates because they will be more gradually absorbed, and blood sugar highs and lows will be smaller.”
Bottom line? Low sugar, high fiber, and whole foods lower blood sugar
Whole foods with complex carbs typically have a low GI. They are also loaded with fiber. And eating a diet rich in fiber, which is found in plant-based foods, can help you lose weight (which, in turn, can result in lower blood sugar levels) because it makes you feel full, and you may eat less.
But adequate fiber also has a direct, positive impact on blood glucose, the ADA points out. Aim to add about 24 to 30 grams of fiber to your diet daily to help keep blood sugar at health levels.
Fiber-rich Foods that lower blood sugar include non-starchy veggies like celery, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, garbanzos beans and lentils. (Starchy vegetables such as white potatoes and pumpkins have a higher GI and should be eaten in small portions.)
Fruits, especially those you eat whole, like apples and berries, are filled with fiber and phytonutrients, too. Fruit juice, which lacks fiber, can raise blood sugar, however.
Whole grains include whole wheat pasta, whole grain cereals (like steel cut oats) and whole grain bread. But check labels, the ADA advisees, a slice of bread usually having at least three grams of fiber if it is truly whole grain.
Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and other varieties of nuts are fiber- and protein-rich and are also on the list of blood sugar lowering foods. However, they are high in calories, so portion control is important.
May 08, 2020
Janet O'Dell, RN