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. In fact, a staggering one-third of Americans have prediabetes—higher than normal blood sugar levels that aren't yet considered type 2 diabetes—but 90% of them don't even know it.
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 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
Even for individuals who aren't necessarily at high risk for developing diabetes, poorly managed blood sugar 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 maintain a healthy blood sugar level naturally.
If the above symptoms sound all too familiar, then 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.
However, it's also really important to recognize that the glycemic load of a healthy diet matters as well. Meaning, if you're eating a bunch of dried fruit and whole grains, you might see your blood sugar actually spike. Furthermore, it's important to be aware of your food labels—a lot of "whole grains" such as cereals are, in fact, highly processed. That being said, taking the concept of "whole grains" a step further and making sure your diet consists of whole kernel grains is crucial.
2. Load up on fiber.
Your minimally processed diet should be heavy in nonstarchy, fiber-rich vegetables and (to a slightly lesser extent) fiber-rich fruit and whole grains. That's because fiber slows down the digestion of carbohydrates 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 secretion, 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 is also important 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). 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.
Again, keep in mind the glycemic load of your carbs—a whole sweet potato might cause a spike in blood sugar as well.
6. Balance your meals.
Eating some protein, fiber, and healthy fat with each meal can help stabilize blood sugar and manage your appetite, especially when your meal also contains carbohydrate-dense foods like high-sugar fruits (mangoes, grapes, cherries) or starchy vegetables (potatoes). 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 grass-fed steak.
7. Supplement with a greens powder.
Promote healthy blood sugar balance with our USDA-certified organic greens blend.*
Greens powders are dried, powdered forms of various vegetables and fruits. These superfoods supplements provide the entire daily recommended serving of vegetables in one serving.
If you struggle to stick with salads or you're looking to up your veggies game, then greens powders can help you bridge the gap and 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 response.*
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 on—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 spikes 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 hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Can't seem to drink enough? If water is just too plain for your taste buds, then add slices of citrus, or sip on a flavored seltzer or herbal tea throughout the day to hit your hydration quota.
11. Exercise regularly.
Your muscles need blood glucose for fuel, which means that when you take that barre or CrossFit class, 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 sensitivity (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 sensitivity, or making insulin more efficient at moving glucose into cells.* Try sprinkling it onto oatmeal or into low-sugar smoothies. 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 sensitivity.* 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 magnesium 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.