Blood sugar and glucose spikes are intricately tied to the foods you're eating, with some ingredients being more likely to cause a sharp increase than others, leading to a subsequent crash. While blood sugar is certainly more of a concern in people with diabetes, prediabetes, and other health issues, keeping an eye on spikes can help keep you feeling great while regulating your mood, concentration, and energy levels (among other things!)
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can keep your blood sugar in check, with your diet being essential in the long term for sustaining glucose levels. But can food immediately lower your blood sugar if you're in the midst of a spike? Here's what you need to know.
Can food actually lower blood sugar?
Carbohydrates in their many forms are converted into glucose as they're digested, leading to an increase in blood sugar. Every body is unique in how it is affected by food, extending to your reaction to how quickly your glucose levels become elevated after eating carbs. That being said, while certain food pairings may keep your blood sugar levels stable, there aren't many ingredients that can rapidly decrease glucose. Therefore, if blood sugar is a concern, it can instead be helpful to monitor how certain meals affect your glucose levels and search for ingredients that will allow you to feel more stable.
There are ways you can make food less impactful on your glucose response, and by integrating helpful habits into your routine alongside a balanced diet, you can work to keep things regulated. "If your glucose levels are elevated from eating a particular carbohydrate, you can lower this by moving your body or by meditating," functional nutritionist Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN, explains. "You can also take apple cider vinegar before a meal to lower your glucose response."
5 foods & ingredients to look for.
Certain food pairings can help to keep your blood sugar levels in check, slowing the spike and allowing a more gradual decline. "Adding animal protein, fat, and fiber to the meal will also slow the glycemic response," James adds. Below are our top, expert-favorite foods for keeping blood sugar levels stable:
It's widely recognized that including protein within your diet is a great way to fuel your muscles and energy levels, and whether you follow a plant-based or meat-eating diet, these foods are also great for maintaining blood sugar levels. "Diets rich in protein1 lower your blood sugars after you eat and balance your insulin much better in the long run," explains integrative medicine doctor Bindiya Gandhi, M.D. "Protein can be in the form of animal or plant-based including salmon, nuts, eggs, hemp seeds, chia seeds, lentils, and legumes."
As opposed to simply eating a carb-heavy meal, try including a serving of protein on your plate for the sake of your blood sugar. "Adding animal protein to your meal will help mute the glucose response the most," notes James. "For instance, adding chicken to a salad sandwich will produce a lower glucose response than just eating a salad sandwich. Similarly, adding wild salmon to a grain bowl will mute the grain bowl's glycemic spike."
Fibrous foods are, on the whole, great for your body. But an added bonus? They can help support healthy blood sugar levels as well. "Fiber keeps you full and in numerous studies helps you balance your blood sugars. A high-fiber diet [helps with] improved blood sugar balance2 and the concentration of lipoprotein or cholesterol in diabetic patients," explains Gandhi. To hit your fiber goals, she suggests focusing on adding chia or flaxseeds, legumes, lentils, or really any leafy greens to your diet.
If you like cooking with herbs, fenugreek is a delicious, clover-adjacent plant that can help balance blood sugar levels. While Gandhi notes that it's not ideal for lactating mothers because it may affect milk supply, this herb is an excellent, easy addition to your diet. "A diet rich in fenugreek3 improved the glucose tolerance test as well as reduced urinary glucose and improved total cholesterol and triglyceride numbers respectively," she explains. Try adding it to your roasted veggies, homemade pasta sauces, or even soups for a sweet and nutty flavor with blood sugar-regulating benefits.
Another great spice option for keeping blood sugar levels in check is cinnamon. "In two studies, cinnamon modestly reported improving blood sugar4 in small patient sample sizes," adds Gandhi. "Although it's not the standard of care, it is recommended to use [for] a healthy diet and lifestyle." It's even easier to incorporate into your diet than fenugreek; throw some cinnamon into your morning oatmeal, add a serving into Greek yogurt, or even measure some into a fiber-rich smoothie to keep your energy levels stable and avoid glucose spikes.
Apple Cider Vinegar
As James mentions above, pairing apple cider vinegar with your meals can help to regulate glucose spikes and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. "ACV is often touted to help in weight loss as well as blood sugar balance. Regular consumption5 does aid in improving glycemic control as well as improved oxidative stress in patients with diabetes and high cholesterol," explains Gandhi. It's perhaps not the most appetizing flavor in the world, but with 1 to 2 tablespoons each day, the benefits are undeniable.
Other ways to regulate blood sugar levels.
Your options aren't limited just to your diet when it comes to regulating blood sugar. Here are our favorite tips:
Although paying special attention to your blood sugar should be a priority for people with diabetes, taking note of what you're eating can help to prevent a glucose spike, in turn regulating your energy levels, mood, and even hunger. "Sometimes people who experience a blood sugar spike may feel 'buzzy'—a little jittery or anxious, or like they're a bit out of balance," Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN, previously told mbg. If this is the case, it's worth being more intentional with your food pairings so you can fuel your body properly and avoid the following crash as well.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.