Being told you’re really sweet is usually a compliment, but not when you hear it from your doctor in reference to your blood. When your blood sugar (or glucose) remains high, it’s a sign that you may have diabetes, a chronic condition that more than 34 million American adults have. Diabetes requires constant monitoring and, for many, lifelong medication. It affects the whole body and can lead to serious complications.
Much as fuel powers a car, glucose gives your body the energy it needs. Your pancreas produces insulin, the hormone that helps move glucose out of your blood and into your cells. In people with type 2 diabetes, cells become unresponsive to insulin, a problem known as insulin resistance. Left unchecked, type 2 diabetes can cause long-term damage to small blood vessels and nerves and lead to problems with the eyes, skin, limbs, heart, kidneys, brain, and more.
Fortunately, you can take steps to control the condition—and prevent it from occurring in the first place. Lifestyle changes like these can have a big impact on blood sugar, even if you also take diabetes drugs:
Be picky about carbs
Eating certain foods like white bread, potatoes, and rice—or too much of them—can make your blood sugar surge temporarily whether or not you have diabetes. Choose foods that rank low on the glycemic index, an indicator of how quickly they lead to an increase in blood sugar. Low-ranking carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, winter squash, and beans. You should also be aware of a meal’s glycemic load, which takes into account the total grams of carbohydrate in a serving.
Numerous studies show a link between physical activity and blood sugar control. I advise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. If you have diabetes, test your blood sugar before and after, as well as during activity when you work out for more than an hour.
Keep stress under control
Research suggests that people with diabetes who make relaxation techniques part of their usual routine experience significant improvements in their blood sugar levels. I’m a proponent of practicing deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help calm the nervous system.
Ask your doc about supplements
Your body depends on a range of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to regulate blood sugar. Some herbs and other natural products have also been found to help improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. These include chromium (1,000 mcg daily), alpha-lipoic acid (200 mg a day), and bitter melon (follow package directions). Let your physician know before you try these remedies, as your medication dosage may need to be adjusted.