Updated: Mar 20, 2022
Balance is key when it comes to creating optimal health in the body, and this includes blood sugar. Diet and lifestyle factors can influence blood sugar levels.
High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, occurs when the body doesn’t produce sufficient insulin, develops insulin resistance, or is unable to properly absorb it. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is when levels fall too low. Blood sugar levels will typically fluctuate during the day, which is completely normal. As long as your general levels remain within an acceptable range, you likely won’t even notice. However, a blood sugar imbalance can lead to overall health complications.
Factors such as stress, illness, physical activity (or lack thereof), lack of sleep, and time of day can all influence blood sugar levels. Diet is also a major element of this equation.
But did you know that gut bacteria play an equally important role? As food is ingested, glucose, or blood sugar, is released into the blood, which then triggers insulin production. If too much insulin is released, it can affect gut bacteria. Specifically, gut bacteria can trigger inflammation, which can affect microbiota regulation. An altered microbiota can increase intestinal permeability, which can lead to an increase in insulin resistance.
The relationship between gut health and blood sugar is a two-way street; gut dysfunction can also affect blood sugar control.
Maintaining blood sugar balance is a key measure for good health, and not doing so can increase the risk for disease. Thankfully, there are a number of ways – through diet and lifestyle – to help keep a cap on blood sugar.
Maintaining a healthy diet and eating meals at regular times can help manage blood sugar levels.
Whenever possible, avoid eating carbohydrates alone. Try to pair carbohydrates with protein and fat, even when snacking. For example, eating crackers with peanut butter is better than eating just crackers alone – even though this adds more calories and fat to your snack.
Consume omega-3 fatty acids. Some studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help with glucose production. Some food sources include: • Eggs • Flaxseeds • Oily fish, like salmon • Walnuts
Include magnesium-containing foods in your diet. Among magnesium’s many health benefits is its ability to help with blood sugar regulation. Some ways to incorporate it into the diet include: • Almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, and pecans • Avocados • Bananas • Black beans • Cacao, or dark chocolate with a high cacao content • Dark, leafy greens, especially spinach and Swiss chard • Pumpkin and sunflower seeds • Sea vegetables, such as kelp and dulse (seaweed).
Eat foods that help heal insulin resistance. Certain foods can help reverse insulin resistance. They include: • Alfalfa • Algae and seaweed • Avocados • Basil • Bitter melons • Blueberries • Broccoli • Brussels sprouts • Cabbage • Cardamom • Carob • Cinnamon • Citrus peel extract • Cucumbers • Garlic • Ginger • Greens • Jerusalem artichokes • Onions • Turmeric
Establish and maintain a consistent eating routine. While taking hunger cues into consideration, you can help control blood sugar with a daily routine and by timing food intake. Try experimenting with the following tips: • Eat within one hour of waking up. • Space meals 5–6 hours apart. • Avoid snacking before bedtime. • Drink plenty of water – but not during meals.
Sweet and starchy foods are pretty controversial in the nutrition world and often get a bad rap. But while a diet high in sugar (particularly processed sugar) can promote gut dysbiosis, it doesn’t mean all sweet foods are bad or you need to banish sweet treats from your diet.
Paying attention to sugar consumption in an average day can be an eye-opening exercise to see how much sugar you’re really eating versus how much you think you’re eating. It can also be telling to pay attention to your energy and mood after eating. Our bodies are very intelligent, but we sometimes forget to listen.
Are sweets a staple in your diet? Do you love dessert or avoid it at all costs?
Remember, the key to gut health is balance. The next time you feel a craving for something sweet, consider a healthier “sweet swap” that is both satisfying and gut-friendly. That may seem tough at first, but by keeping these ideas in mind, you can satisfy your sweet tooth while staying aligned with your health goals. •
Opt for unsweetened versions of your favorite snacks and jazz up the flavor yourself. For example, consider purchasing plain, unsweetened yogurt or kefir and add fresh fruit for sweetness.
Include a hint of sweetness in meals and snacks with fresh or dried fruit, sweet spices (like cinnamon or cardamom), or naturally sweet root vegetables (like sweet potatoes or beets).
Crowd out simple sugars with healthier alternatives over time. For example, instead of soft drinks, consider sipping on seltzer with a splash of 100% juice.
Instead of reaching for packaged desserts and snacks, experiment with making your own at home! This way, you can control how much – if any – sugar you include in the final product.
Dr Hyman says that: "Limiting starch and sugar could be the most powerful food choice you make to improve your health and increase your longevity."
Have fun experimenting with your food! Figure out what you like and play with it until you find the right approach that works for you and is most satisfying. A nourishing diet supports both health and personal preferences.
Gérard, C., & Vidal, H. (2019). Impact of gut microbiota on host glycemic control. Front Endocrinol 10, 29. Retrieved from doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2019.00029
Gomes, A. C., Bueno, A. A., de Souza, R. G., & Mota, J. F. (2014). Gut microbiota, probiotics and diabetes. Nutr J 13, 60. Retrieved from doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-60
Han, J. L., & Lin, H. L. (2014). Intestinal microbiota and type 2 diabetes: From mechanism insights to therapeutic perspective. World J Gastroenterol 20(47), 17737–17745. Retrieved from doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i47.17737
Chen, C., Yu, X., & Shao, S. (2015). Effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on glucose control and lipid levels in type 2 diabetes: A meta-analysis. PloS One 10(10), e0139565. Retrieved from doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0139565