If you have high blood sugar—or have been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes—reducing your A1C level is important to long-term health. But lowering blood sugar may also be important without a diagnosis. Why? Because an estimated 21.4% of adults with diabetes don’t even know they have it.
While type 1 diabetes requires the use of insulin, type 2 diabetes can often be controlled with lifestyle changes. How can you change your day-to-day living for better blood sugar control? Here are 10 effective options to consider.
#1: Pay Attention to Your Carb Intake
A high carbohydrate intake can increase your blood sugar level. This is because carbs are broken down into glucose.
Certainly, some carbohydrate food sources are better than others when it comes to blood sugar management. Complex carbs have less impact than refined carbs, for instance. However, a good place to start is to pay attention to your carbohydrate intake overall.
It is recommended that people with diabetes consume no more than 50% of their daily calories from carbohydrate sources. So, if you eat 1,800 calories per day, for instance, a max of 900 calories should come from carbs.
Start keeping a log of your carbohydrate intake. If it exceeds half of your daily calories, work to reduce your carb consumption.
#2: Choose Foods Lower on the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index (GI) is a system that rates food based on its effect on glucose level. If the food causes a blood sugar spike when eaten alone, it is considered a high glycemic food. If its impact on sugar level is minimal, the food is given a low glycemic index rating.
Choosing foods that are lower on this index can make it easier to achieve and maintain balanced blood sugar. Non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, avocado, lettuce, and spinach) are all good options. So too are certain nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts) and grains (barley, rye, and bulgur).
High GI foods that should be limited or avoided include sugary breakfast cereals, white bread, white rice, candy, cookies, and chips. Starchy vegetables (potato and corn) also rank higher on the glycemic index. Limiting your consumption of these can help lower a high blood sugar level.
#3: Eat More Soluble Fiber
One study found that increasing soluble fiber intake for just eight weeks can improve fasting glucose and insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Not only that, but participants also had a “significant reduction” in their body mass index.
Soluble fiber is water-soluble. It also attracts water and turns into a gel during the digestion process. This makes the release of solid stool easier while slowing the digestive process.
In the study mentioned, subjects were given a soluble fiber supplement. However, you can also find this type of fiber in different foods. Nuts, seeds, and beans contain soluble fiber. You’ll also find it in oat bran and barley.
#4: Increase Your Intake of Healthy Fat
Dietary fat has a bad reputation. But not all types of fat are bad. In fact, healthy fat can help support important bodily functions. It may even protect you from other major health issues, such as heart disease.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) promotes fat as part of a balanced diet for people with blood sugar issues. The key is to consume primarily unsaturated fats. This is the type of fat found in avocados, nuts, fatty fish, and chia seeds.
At the same time, limit your consumption of saturated and trans fats. Full-fat dairy items, coconut oil, and butter contain high levels of saturated fat. Margarine and processed snacks are high in trans fat.
#5: Aim for Smaller Meals Spread Throughout the Day
Some dietary patterns promote going long periods without food. Intermittent fasting is one. While this approach may be okay for some, it isn’t always the best strategy for someone with diabetes or prediabetes.
Eating several small meals throughout the day can help stabilize your sugar level. It works by supplying the body with a steady amount of glucose. You may also notice that you have fewer cravings. Because you’re regularly eating, you don’t have to battle out-of-control hunger cues.
If you struggle with an unstable blood glucose level, try to eat every three hours or so. This does require eating smaller portions to avoid weight gain. Keep this in mind when dishing out your snacks and meals.
#6: Drink More Water
Water serves many valuable purposes for people with high blood sugar. One is that it helps you expel more glucose via your urine. Another is that people with an elevated sugar level have a greater risk of dehydration. Drinking water regularly helps with both of these.
Make it a point to stay hydrated all throughout the day. Keep a bottle of water next to you and sip on it often. Drink even more water before, during, and after your workout. The general rule is that if you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated.
#7: Engage in Regular Physical Activity
In a position statement published in Diabetes Care, the ADA calls physical activity “critical” for maintaining a healthy and more normal blood sugar level. It goes on to say how exercise may even reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
ADA physical activity recommendations for people with type 2 diabetes include:
Exercising for at least 150 minutes per week
Not going more than two days without exercise
Engaging in both cardio and strength exercises
For people with type 1 diabetes, the ADA recommends regular physical activity with a greater emphasis on frequent blood glucose checks. This is because diabetic patients with type 1 can respond differently to various forms of exercise. Monitoring blood glucose levels ensures that they don’t drop too low when working out.
#8: Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
People who are overweight or obese have a greater risk of developing high blood sugar. That’s in addition to also having an elevated risk of other major health conditions, some of which include heart disease, cancer, and osteoarthritis.
Weight loss can reduce the risk of all of these, providing lower blood sugar at the same time. In the ADA’s position statement, it suggests aiming for a 5-7% weight loss, particularly if you have prediabetes are at high risk of developing diabetes.
Eating a balanced diet can help support a healthy body weight. So too can regular exercise. Incorporate both to reduce your weight and lower blood sugar levels.
#9: Make Sleep a Priority
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you may find it harder to control your blood sugar. This is partly because we tend to make poorer food choices when we’re tired. You might crave excess sugar, for instance, to boost your energy levels. Inadequate rest can also impact how your body responds to insulin.
Lack of sleep has additional consequences, even for people who don’t have blood glucose issues. It can make it harder to focus at work, increases your risk of falling asleep behind the wheel, and may compromise your mental health. If you work out regularly, not getting enough sleep can hinder your muscle growth and performance.
Make sleep a priority to avoid all of these situations. Go to bed at a decent time each night and create a room that supports good quality sleep. This means keeping noise to a minimum and blocking out any light you can.
#10: Manage Your Stress
High levels of stress can wreak all types of havoc on your body, blood sugar included. During periods of stress, you’re less likely to look after your health. This allows your glucose levels to spiral out of control. Or maybe you try to relieve your stress with unhealthy methods, such as drinking more alcohol. This too can make it more difficult to sustain healthy blood sugar levels.
Find ways to manage the stress in your life. Take a walk to clear your head or phone a friend to talk about what’s bothering you. Call into work and take a mental health day or make an appointment with a therapist to learn effective coping strategies.
Taking actions such as these can help you become more stress-resilient. They also have positive effects on your blood sugar, making them great additions to your everyday life.
If You Can’t Lower Blood Sugar Naturally
What happens if you make all of these lifestyle changes and still find it difficult to maintain a healthy blood sugar level? A doctor’s visit may be in order. Testing can help determine the cause of your continuously high blood glucose level. Once this cause is found, a treatment plan can be put in place to start to bring your A1C level back down.
During this process, it might also be helpful to work with a health coach. This type of health and wellness professional has advanced education in a variety of health conditions. This includes diabetes, but also high blood pressure, arthritis, cancer, and more.
If you’re interested in working with people who have chronic health issues, ISSA offers Health Coach certification. This course teaches everything from effective coaching communication to how to best motivate change. You’ll also learn how to help clients improve their health via proper nutrition, sleep, stress management, and more!
“Estimates of Diabetes and It’s Burden in the United States”. 2021. Cdc.Gov. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/data/statistics/national-diabetes-statistics-report.pdf.
"Diabetes And Carbs". 2021. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/diabetes-and-carbohydrates.html.
Abutair, Ayman S., Ihab A. Naser, and Amin T. Hamed. 2016. "Soluble Fibers From Psyllium Improve Glycemic Response And Body Weight Among Diabetes Type 2 Patients (Randomized Control Trial)". Nutrition Journal 15 (1). doi:10.1186/s12937-016-0207-4.
"Fats | ADA". 2021. Diabetes.Org. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/eating-well/fats.
Colberg, Sheri R., Ronald J. Sigal, Jane E. Yardley, Michael C. Riddell, David W. Dunstan, Paddy C. Dempsey, Edward S. Horton, Kristin Castorino, and Deborah F. Tate. 2016. "Physical Activity/Exercise And Diabetes: A Position Statement Of The American Diabetes Association". Diabetes Care 39 (11): 2065-2079. doi:10.2337/dc16-1728.
ISSA's Health Coach certification is for personal trainers and other health professionals who want to help clients overcome physical and mental health barriers to achieve their optimal wellness.