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How to keep your blood sugar balanced with food

Blood sugar measurement, Diabetic kit, Blood glucose meter test and food
Blood sugar that is too low or too high can affect your health. Here, you'll find advice on different foods that help to keep your blood sugars stable.

They say what goes up must come down and this is the case with your blood sugar.

Keeping your blood sugar balanced is so important, and for non-diabetics, you can usually prevent blood sugar imbalances through your diet and lifestyle. So, when your blood sugar spikes or falls, there are foods out there that you can eat to help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

Here, we’ll talk about how what you eat can affect your blood sugar levels and foods you can include in your diet to help keep your sugar levels stable.

Skip to: High & low blood sugar | How to raise | How to lower | The final say

What happens when your blood sugar is too high or low?

Whilst your blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day, blood sugar that is too low or too high can affect your health, especially if you have levels above or below the normal range which is between 70 mg/dL and 100 mg/dL.2

But what happens when your blood sugar gets too high, or when it drops below the ideal range?

High blood sugar

Also known as hyperglycaemia, high blood sugar is where the amount of sugar in your blood gets too high and your body can’t carry sugar from your blood into your cells.

High blood sugar levels tend to affect people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, along with pregnant women who develop gestational diabetes.3 Sometimes, it can also affect people that have a serious infection or have just had a stroke or heart attack. Children and young adults may also experience temporary periods of high blood sugar.

When your blood sugar spikes, you might experience symptoms like:

  • Blurred vision
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling weak and lethargic
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Needing to urinate more

You will likely see spikes in your blood sugar after eating, but there are several other reasons why you might experience high blood sugar levels, like feeling too stressed, eating too much sugar or being less active than usual. If you’re diabetic, missing doses of medicine can also lead to an increase in your blood sugar.3

 

Low blood sugar

The medical name for low blood sugar is hypoglycaemia and this is when our bodies react to blood sugar levels dropping too low. Low blood sugar levels mainly affect people with diabetes, especially when taking insulin.6

Low blood sugar can affect everyone in different ways, but usually, the most common symptoms include: 

  • Sweating 
  • Feeling tired 
  • Feeling dizzy 
  • A fast heartbeat 
  • Turning pale
  • Feeling shaky

Low blood sugar levels can be triggered by missing a meal, doing too much exercise, drinking too much alcohol, or taking too much insulin in those who are diabetic.6 On some occasions, certain types of medicines can also make blood sugar levels drop too.6

 

How can you raise your blood sugar levels?

How can you raise your blood sugar levels?

To help raise your blood sugar when it is too low, it’s recommended that you follow the 15-15 rule7. This is where you should eat about 15g of carbohydrates if your blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL and then wait 15 minutes to check your blood sugar again, repeating this process until your blood sugar comes back up to a safe level.

But what can you eat to help you safely raise your blood sugar levels when they fall too low? Here are some foods that can help you healthily boost your blood sugar:

  1. Fresh fruit

Full of naturally occurring sugars and carbohydrates, fresh fruit can help raise your blood sugar. Fruit that contains the right amount of carbohydrates to bring your levels back up includes roughly half a banana, 15 grapes or a small apple or orange.8

  1. Fruit juice

Most fruit juices contain enough carbohydrates to help you raise your blood sugar levels. So having a glass of roughly 120ml of your favourite juice, like apple, orange, pineapple, or cranberry will help to bring your levels up.9 Be careful not to drink too much though, as this can cause a significant spike in your sugar levels.10

  1. Fat-free milk

Milk is packed with vitamin D and carbohydrates which can both help increase your blood sugar when your levels start to fall.11

  1. Honey

Honey is mainly made up of fructose and glucose and it has a high glycaemic index score , which means it will raise your blood sugar levels relatively quickly.12 Having a tablespoon of honey as a snack when your blood sugar levels start to dip is a great way to help balance them out.

How can you lower your blood sugar levels?

How can you lower your blood sugar levels?

If your blood sugar level is too high, there are foods that lower blood sugar levels and help to keep it under control. Other lifestyle changes like drinking more water can also help lower your blood sugar.

Here are 6 ways to help bring your blood sugar levels down:

Boost your fibre intake

  1. Watch your intake of carbohydrates

When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies break them down into glucose which raises our blood sugar. This is why cutting down on refined or processed carbs like white bread or sugar-laden cakes and biscuits can help to control blood sugar.13

Several studies have shown that a low-carb diet could help to reduce blood sugar levels.14 One study found that when obese patients with type 2 diabetes followed a calorie-restricted diet with only 20% carbohydrates, they lost weight and their blood sugar fell.15

  1. Choose low-GI foods

GI stands for glycaemic index (GI), which tells us how quickly the food we eat raises blood glucose levels.16 So, foods with a higher GI release glucose more quickly than foods with a lower GI which release glucose slowly and steadily.

If you’re concerned about your sugar levels, go for low-GI foods like:16

  • some fruit and vegetables
  • pulses 
  • whole grains
  1. Boost your fibre intake

High-fibre foods help blood sugar levels rise gradually.17 Sources of soluble fibre like porridge, apples, nuts, celery and flaxseeds, and wholegrains especially, have been shown to lower blood sugar levels and may protect older women from developing type 2 diabetes.18

Foods like fruit, beans, whole grains, and vegetables slow down how quickly we absorb sugar and digest carbohydrates.17

  1. Drink water

Studies have shown that drinks which contain sugar raise blood glucose levels, raise the risk of diabetes and lead to weight gain.19 Water, on the other hand, has been linked with lowering blood sugar and may reduce the chance of developing diabetes.20

It is recommended that you drink at least 6-8 200ml glasses of water per day!21

  1. Up your chromium levels

A mineral that helps the body break down fats and carbohydrates, chromium is also thought to work to help control blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.22

Chromium rich foods include things like23:

  • whole grains
  • egg yolks
  • bran cereals
  • nuts
  • meat
  • vegetables like broccoli
  1. Have a few spoons of Apple Cider Vinegar

With its golden colour and tangy taste, apple cider vinegar is thought to help lower glucose levels and help you feel fuller after eating carbohydrates24. Mix 2 teaspoons into a glass of water or use it to dress a salad. However, if you’re already taking medicine to lower your blood sugar, check with your doctor first.

The final say

The final say

Controlling your blood sugar can be a challenge, but making changes to your diet can make it easier to stay on track and keep your blood sugar levels in check.

If you're not sure about your blood sugar levels, it's a good idea to speak to your GP. Many things can affect your blood sugar levels, and getting advice from an expert can be really useful to help you understand.

Monitoring your blood sugar levels can be done conveniently from the comfort of your own home using at-home test kits. These handy kits can give you an insight into your blood sugar levels, which you can then share with your doctor for additional advice and information. These kits are a great way to keep an eye on your health and make sure you're looking after yourself.

Sources

1. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/how-to/bring-down-high-blood-sugar-levels.html

2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-sugar-hyperglycaemia/

3. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke

4. https://www.childrens.com/specialties-services/conditions/pediatric-hyperglycemia

5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/low-blood-sugar-hypoglycaemia/

6. https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hypoglycemia

7. https://diatribe.org/eating-fruit-diabetes

8. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/blood-and-lymph/hypoglycaemia-low-blood-sugar

9. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/food/juice-and-diabetes.html

10. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/food/milk-and-diabetes.html

11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6360845/

12. https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/understanding-carbs

13. https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diet/low-carb-diabetes-diet.html

14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18495047

15. https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-is-the-glycaemic-index-gi/

16. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/role-of-fiber.html

17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10731498

18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27044603

19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21994426

20. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-guidelines-and-food-labels/water-drinks-nutrition/

21. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1520-670X(1999)12:2%3C55::AID-JTRA2%3E3.0.CO;2-G/abstract

22. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Chromium-HealthProfessional/

23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16015276

 

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