Healthy blood glucose (or blood sugar) control includes steps like following a balanced meal plan, engaging in an active lifestyle with sufficient physical activity, and taking blood glucose-lowering medications as you need them over the years. You might also need other medications to control your blood pressure and lipids (cholesterol). Consider some additional lifestyle tips that can also help control blood sugar and improve overall health. Find out what works and which ones you should avoid.
Keep Eating Habits Consistent
Skipping meals, especially breakfast, could push your blood sugar higher, and depending which blood glucose-lowering medications you take, could cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). When you don’t eat for several hours because of sleep or other reasons, your body fuels itself on glucose released from the liver. For many people with type 2 diabetes (PWDs type 2), the liver doesn’t properly sense that the blood has ample glucose already, so it continues to pour out more. Eating something with a little carbohydrate signals the liver to stop sending glucose into the bloodstream and can tamp down high numbers.
Skipping meals also may lead to overeating, which can cause weight gain. And if you take certain glucose-lowering medications, such as sulfonylureas (generic name glimiperide, glipizide, or glyburide), that cause your pancreas to release more insulin into your blood stream, or if you take insulin with injections, a pump or inhaler, you risk having your blood sugar drop too low if you skip or delay meals.
Include and Enjoy Healthy Sources of Carbs
An eating plan that is too low in carbohydrate “is not balanced and may deprive the body of important fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” says Constance Brown-Riggs, M.S.Ed., RD, CDE, author of The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes (Career Press, 2010).
Recently, Brown-Riggs counseled a PWD type 1 who cut her carbohydrate intake to 90 grams per day. The result: constant hunger and no improvement in blood glucose or lipids. Brown-Riggs helped the woman balance her meal plan with additional carbohydrate-containing foods. “When she increased her carb intake, her hunger subsided. Additionally, she was able to improve her A1C, triglycerides and HDL cholesterol levels. Meal planning for diabetes is not one-size-fits-all,” explains Brown-Riggs.
Cook Pasta Al Dente and Measure Servings
It is best to eat your spaghetti al dente, says David J. A. Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., Canada research chair in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s Hospital. Overcooked pasta and other starches become soft, lose their form, and give up their glucose more readily, likely giving you a slightly bigger rise in blood sugar, he says.
“The real problem with pasta is that it’s so palatable,” and you may eat more than you intend, says Jenkins. A cupful of pasta provides as many calories and carb grams as three slices of bread, and the pasta goes down faster. Jenkins’ advice: Cook starchy foods adequately, but avoid overcooking. Enjoy your pasta with plenty of low-calorie vegetables or beans, as in pasta fagioli. Finally, he says: Control portions and count the calories and carb grams.
Add Cinnamon Into Your Daily List
Cinnamon contains a number of compounds that could improve insulin sensitivity and insulin action, says Laura Shane-McWhorter, PharmD, BCPS, BC-ADM, CDE, FASCP, FAADE, a professor at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy and author of The American Diabetes Association Guide to Herbs and Nutritional Supplements: What You Need to Know from Aloe to Zinc (2009).
Though studies are mixed, a 2013 meta-analysis[i] found that among people with type 2 diabetes, the consumption of cinnamon led to lower fasting blood glucose, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as a beneficial increase in HDL cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, explains, Shane-McWhorter, the ideal dose and form of cinnamon has not been determined, and cinnamon may even cause liver toxicity. Before taking a cinnamon supplement, have a talk with your healthcare provider.
However, you can still enjoy this versatile, fragrant spice to delight your taste buds without extra calories or sodium. Cinnamon brings out the natural sweetness of tomatoes in a sauce and adds an interesting complexity to beef and poultry. Sprinkle it on oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit to boost sweetness without adding sugar.
limit Your Alcohol Intake and Better Not
Alcohol may lower blood sugar, but it can do so erratically and therefore isn’t considered a safe or effective method of glucose control.
Alcohol interferes with the liver’s ability to raise blood glucose and can cause low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). This is especially important to note if a person takes a blood glucose-lowering medication that can cause hypoglycemia, such as a sulfonylurea or insulin. In fact, it’s hard to predict just when alcohol might cause hypoglycemia. Sometimes the effects can occur the following day. And when alcohol is mixed with high-sugar drinks, such as sodas and juices, or eaten with carb-containing foods, your blood sugar may initially rise but drop later.
However, most PWDs can drink alcohol in moderation (up to one drink a day for women, up to two drinks a day for men), depending on individual factors and diabetes management. And research shows it doesn’t matter what type of alcohol is consumed. Alcohol also seems to serve as an anti-inflammatory, which is one reason moderate and regular consumption has been studied for its heart-healthy benefits.
If you take a blood glucose-lowering medication that can cause hypoglycemia or if you have high triglycerides, talk to your health care provider about what’s best for you.