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A Holistic Nutritionist’s Guide to Optimal Blood Sugar Levels

Blood sugar imbalances affect over 100 million adults in the United States—and this number continues to rise. With symptoms of fatigue, weight fluctuations, mood swings, excessive thirst, blurred vision, increased urination, headaches,  infections, nerve damage, and delayed wound healing, many people may not realize that these signs often signify blood sugar abnormalities. That is why I always tell my clients to routinely get their blood sugar levels checked to ensure they are within optimal ranges. To help you and your loved ones reach and maintain normal blood sugar levels, I’ve outlined several tips and tricks that will significantly improve your numbers.

Why Balancing Your Blood Sugar is Important

Every time you sit down to enjoy a meal, the carbohydrates (and even small amounts of protein) get broken down into sugar molecules called glucose that get absorbed into your bloodstream. Your blood then carries glucose to every cell in your body to be used as a primary source of energy for organ function. 

But, in order for glucose to enter your cells, it needs a key to unlock the door. And that key is a hormone called insulin, which is produced and released from your pancreas. But if you consume too many carbohydrates, your blood sugar will rise, and your body will release too much insulin. As a result, your body’s ability to produce and respond to insulin and your subsequent blood sugar levels impact your energy levels, organ function, weight, mood, and hormones! Therefore, keeping your blood sugar levels in their optimal ranges and improving insulin sensitivity is not just for those with diabetes. In fact, balancing your blood sugar is a powerful tool that can boost your overall health and well-being.

What are the Optimal Blood Sugar Ranges?

Whether you get your blood drawn at a doctor’s office, use a finger-stick meter to check your levels at a specific time of the day, or place a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) on your arm to keep an eye on your levels 24 hours a day, the chart below outlines the optimal blood sugar targets for those with and without diabetes. 


Category

Hemoglobin A1C(3-month average)

Fasting(8 hours of not eating)

After-Meal(2 hours after eating)

Normal

4.8-5.0%

70-99 mg/dL

Less than 140 mg/dL 

Diabetes

Less than 7%

80-130 mg/dL

Less than 180 mg/dL

What to Eat to Balance Your Blood Sugar?

When it comes to balancing your blood sugar levels, the first thing that typically comes to mind is limiting or avoiding added sugar. From table sugar to high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, turbinado, malt sugar, maltodextrin—and the list goes on—added sugar is often disguised under many different names. Other than reading the ingredients list, the best way to check for added sugar is to look at the amount in grams on the Nutrition Facts label. According to the American Heart Association, men and women should limit their added sugar intake to no more than 25-36 grams per day. If you do choose to consume sugar, I recommend reaching for items that contain coconut nectar, stevia, or raw honey. 

While keeping your sugar intake to a minimum is important, blood sugar management isn’t just about what foods you should limit. There are also key nutrients that you should add to your diet to help stabilize your blood sugar. Those nutrients include fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Let’s take a closer look at why.

Fiber

Although certain carbohydrates (like added sugar) are known for their ability to spike blood sugar levels, fiber is an incredible carbohydrate found in leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables that bypasses digestion without being broken down into sugar molecules. As a result, it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. Fiber actually lowers blood glucose by slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Therefore, it is best to aim for 25-38 grams of fiber each day. 

Protein

Fiber isn’t the only blood sugar-lowering nutrient. Protein also stabilizes blood glucose levels—especially when consumed with a carbohydrate-rich meal. Similar to fiber, it helps to prevent blood sugar spikes by slowing the absorption of sugar. But before you opt for just any source of protein, research has shown that diets high in red and processed meat increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Therefore, try reaching for plant-based sources of protein like legumes, nuts, and seeds to aid in blood sugar control. 

Healthy Fat 

Healthy fats found in avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds can also balance blood sugar levels. More specifically, when meals are balanced with adequate amounts of healthy fat, protein, and fiber, post-meal blood glucose readings improve. Not to mention, fat, protein, and fiber are incredibly satiating, which helps to control hunger.

What Other Lifestyle Factors Influence Blood Sugar Levels?

Beyond the major nutrients that aid in blood sugar control, there are several additional lifestyle factors that can impact your blood sugar levels. One factor that is often overlooked is exercise! Health organizations like the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommend at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week for blood sugar management. This is because your muscles use glucose to fuel movement. In turn, exercise lowers your blood sugar levels. 

In addition to moving your body, your blood sugar levels depend on the quality and quantity of sleep you get each night. Getting at least seven hours of shut-eye is crucial because it regulates hormones that influence your appetite. When you don’t get enough sleep, your hunger hormone increases, and you are more likely to grab sugar-laden foods that increase your blood sugar levels. So, just as important as it is to stay active, it is equally as vital to prioritize rest. 

Another hormone that influences your blood glucose levels is the stress hormone cortisol. When this hormone is too high, it can cause your blood sugar to rise. Therefore, managing your stress levels will help to normalize your blood sugar. 

What are the Best Supplements for Blood Sugar Control?

If you need extra help reaching your blood sugar goals, below are six research-backed supplements to include in your dietary regime. Just be sure to speak with your doctor before adding any of these herbs or compounds to your supplement stash. 

  • Berberine – a naturally occurring compound found in plants like goldenseal, tree turmeric, and European barberry that has been shown to lower blood sugar levels by enhancing your body’s ability to transport glucose into your cells.
  • Cinnamon – a beloved spice that has been proven to lower both pre- and post-meal glucose levels in healthy adults and those with type 2 diabetes. 
  • Chromium – a trace mineral that supports carbohydrate metabolism by moving glucose into the cells, where it can be used to make energy. 
  • Magnesium – an essential mineral that can reduce fasting blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity, allowing your cells to uptake glucose more effectively. 
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)  – a powerful antioxidant that helps to turn glucose into fuel and fights cell-damaging free radicals that are linked to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.
  • Algae – an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity.

***

If you caught onto the overarching message, you may have noticed that the key to blood sugar control is balance. Whether you start by balancing your meals with adequate amounts of protein, fat, and fiber or you balance your daily routine with sufficient amounts of exercise and rest, all of these lifestyle factors play a critical role in balancing your blood sugar. If you need further guidance on implementing these lifestyle changes into your daily routine, I’d love to help you! Consider booking a one-on-one session with me here.

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