Do You Have Healthy Blood Sugar? Here's How To Tell + How To Maintain It Naturally
We've all experienced the profound impact our blood sugar levels have on energy and mood, and it's no fun. Like when you eat too many sweets. For a few minutes, you are flying high, happy as can be. Then comes the equally intense crash, leaving you exhausted, cranky, and craving another sweet treat.
But beyond being an energy-draining annoyance, imbalanced blood sugar can seriously impair your ability to meet the demands of daily life, and—if chronically elevated—wreak havoc on your long-term health.
Here's how to tell if you have a healthy blood sugar level and simple ways to keep it that way, naturally and effectively.
Signs your blood sugar is out of whack.
Even if you think you lead a relatively healthy lifestyle and have your blood sugar level under control, not everyone's good at spotting the warning signs. When you don't manage your blood sugar level appropriately, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can occur as the level rises and falls drastically. This is a serious issue that requires medical attention and comes with a number of unpleasant side effects, including:
- Sugar and carb cravings
- Weight gain
- Trouble concentrating
- Mood swings or nervousness
- Dry skin
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent peeing
- Blurred vision
Suboptimal blood sugar balance can lead to common complications, including fatigue, weight gain, and sugar cravings. The good news: With the right lifestyle and dietary tweaks, maintaining healthy blood sugar is easier than you think.
15 ways to help maintain a healthy blood sugar level naturally.
Consider implementing the following strategies to maintain a healthy blood sugar level and keep it balanced:*
1. Follow a minimally processed diet.
Your first dietary step toward a more balanced blood sugar level: ditching (most of) the packaged foods and focusing on high-quality whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and quality meats and fish. Many processed foods are high in sugar, refined grains and carbs, and artificial ingredients and flavorings while being low in blood-sugar-stabilizing fiber and protein.
Of course, it's also important to be realistic. You're probably not going to be able to nix packaged foods completely, so just make a point to select those that are made from mostly whole-food ingredients, like an energy bar that lists just nuts, seeds, and dried fruit on its label.
2. Load up on fiber.
Your minimally processed diet should be heavy in nonstarchy, fiber-rich vegetables and fiber-rich fruit and whole grains. That's because fiber slows down the digestion of carbohydrates1 and the absorption of sugar, which means you experience a more gradual rise in your blood sugar level after meals.
Good sources of fiber include leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, raspberries, pears, beans, lentils, peas, avocados, pumpkin seeds, and oatmeal.
3. Eat plenty of high-quality protein.
Like fiber, protein tempers insulin secretion2, leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar after a meal. It also fills you up better than any other nutrient. Eating a protein-rich breakfast is particularly important because it helps set the tone for the rest of the day.
The amount of protein you need in your diet depends on a number of factors, but the general protein recommendation for healthy adults is 0.8 to 1.0 gram per kilogram of body weight (55 to 68 grams per day for someone who weighs 150 pounds).
Good animal sources include wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and pasture-raised chicken and eggs. If you're vegetarian or vegan, not to worry, we rounded up 54 sources of plant-based protein.
4. Consume healthy fats.
Like fiber and protein, fat buffers blood sugar spikes. In fact, unsaturated fats have been specifically linked to improved insulin resistance.
Just be sure to avoid refined fats, including trans fats and processed vegetable oils, like corn, soybean, and safflower oils, which can be pro-inflammatory. Sources of quality fats to consider adding to your diet include nuts, olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, avocado, and fatty fish like salmon.
5. Switch up your carbs.
Lowering your overall intake of carbohydrates can also be helpful for balanced blood sugar, but you don't need to cut them out completely (they're still a crucial source of fuel for your body). Whenever possible, simply swap out refined carbohydrates like bread, white pasta, and candy for fiber-rich, whole-food sources such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, and fruit, which contain a number of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants essential for health.
6. Balance your meals.
Eating some protein, fiber, and healthy fat with each meal can help stabilize blood sugar and manage your appetite. Each of these nutrients helps balance blood sugar on its own, but they're even better together. We love a good kale salad topped with avocado and a protein of choice.
7. Supplement with a greens powder.
Greens powders are dried, powdered forms of various vegetables and fruits. Specialty greens blends will sometimes include prebiotic fibers too. These antioxidant-laden superfood plants and slow carbs are blood sugar-friendly.*
If you struggle to stick with salads or you're looking to up your veggies game, then greens powders can help you deliver some greens goodness and help maintain a healthy blood sugar level.* In fact, one study found that adding a vegetable powder to a high-carbohydrate diet helped buffer the short-term glucose and insulin response3.*
8. Eat bigger meals earlier in the day.
A giant, late-night dinner is your blood sugar's worst enemy. That's because our bodies become more insulin resistant as the day goes on4—so a meal that you eat in the evening will cause a greater spike in blood sugar than a meal you eat in the morning.
Because of this, many nutrition experts advise front-loading your meals, or eating bigger meals earlier in the day and having a smaller dinner at least three hours before bed.
9. Sleep more, stress less.
Both sleep deprivation and stress can cause elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which raises blood sugar. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, and adopt stress-busting habits such as exercise, meditation, or yoga.
One study found that nursing students who did meditation and yoga experienced lower blood sugar spikes5 after meals.
10. Drink plenty of water.
Drinking water helps your kidneys flush out excess blood sugar through your urine. One study found that people who drank more water had a lower risk of developing hyperglycemia6 (high blood sugar).
Can't seem to drink enough? Or is water is just too plain for your taste buds? Try this R.D.'s go-to hydration strategies.
11. Exercise regularly.
Your muscles need blood glucose for fuel, which means that when you do that strength training routine, you're helping move blood sugar from the bloodstream into the muscles where it's then burned up. Over time, this can help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level and increase insulin sensitivity7 (i.e., how well your cells are able to absorb glucose from the blood and use it for energy).
Intense exercise can temporarily raise blood sugar, so if you have poor blood sugar control, then it makes sense to start moderate (think walking, jogging, or yoga), and then work your way up.
12. Take a shot of apple cider vinegar.
Swigging apple cider vinegar might not sound appealing, but it could help keep your blood sugar in balance if taken before you eat. Some research has found that consuming ACV reduced post-meal blood sugar levels by about half in healthy patients. The theory is that acetic acid, a component of the vinegar, slows down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar in the bloodstream. Pro tip: Mix a tablespoon or two into a glass of water—taking it straight will burn!
13. Sprinkle on some cinnamon.
Research on cinnamon's blood-sugar-stabilizing powers is a little mixed, and it may not be a wonder spice. But if you're adding it to an already healthy diet, then it can have a subtle benefit, especially if you add a lot of it into your diet (more than just a teaspoon).* Some studies suggest that cinnamon promotes healthy blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity8, or making insulin more efficient at moving glucose into cells.* Try sprinkling it onto oatmeal or into low-sugar smoothies (just be sure to opt for Ceylon cinnamon if you use it regularly). Bonus: It tastes delicious!
14. Eat magnesium-rich foods.
Magnesium seems to be of particular importance when it comes to maintaining a healthy blood sugar level and improving insulin sensitivity9.* Making a point to consume plenty of magnesium-rich foods—leafy green veggies like spinach and Swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, dark chocolate, and avocado—is smart in general because magnesium plays a role in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body.
Nosh on some chromium-rich foods like broccoli, barley, and oats while you're at it. One study found that the combined effects of chromium and magnesium10 were more beneficial than either mineral alone. You can also try a magnesium supplement to support optimal levels.*
15. Pop a probiotic.
Probiotics are an obvious supplement for supporting digestive health, but they can also play an important role in blood sugar maintenance.* One small study found that people who were following the heart-healthy DASH diet and also consumed probiotics experienced a decrease in fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C levels (a marker for testing longer-term blood sugar levels).*
In addition to popping a quality probiotic supplement, add healthy, probiotic-rich foods to your diet such as kefir, plain yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, or even a little low-sugar kombucha. To help probiotic bacteria to thrive, eat plenty of prebiotic foods such as fiber-rich leafy greens and vegetables.
The bottom line: Take a whole-body approach to maintaining a healthy level of blood sugar.
No single food, supplement, or workout session is going to be the magic bullet. To maintain a healthy blood sugar level (and keep it balanced for good), start eating a minimally processed diet that contains fiber, protein, healthy fats, and high-quality carbohydrates; get regular exercise; make sure you're hydrated and well-rested; play around with meal composition; and experiment with research-backed superfoods and supplements.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).