How to balance blood sugar naturally is a hot topic right now in health circles – and for good reason! Today, we’re going to cover simple steps to balance blood sugar.
But before we dive into how to balance blood sugar and why that’s so important, let’s first look at exactly what it is and what influences it first.
What is blood sugar?
Your body’s blood sugar level refers to the amount of glucose circulating through your blood at any given time. Glucose is a simple carbohydrate, or a single sugar molecule.
It is one of the body’s sources of energy (the body also utilizes amino acids and fatty acids), and it is measured in milligrams of glucose per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood.
Blood sugar levels must remain in a certain range in order for us to maintain life! If blood sugar levels get too low we call that hypoglycemia, and if they get too high, we call that hyperglycemia.
When we talk about “balanced” blood sugar, we mean that the amount of glucose circulating in the blood is within optimal range. It’s not too high or too low, which both pose problems. It also means our glucose levels are not spiking and crashing throughout the day. A well-balanced blood sugar curve should simply have gentle rises and declines.
What does insulin have to do with blood sugar?
You’ve probably heard the word “insulin” thrown around when reading or listening to anything on blood sugar, but what exactly is insulin and how is it tied in with blood sugar?
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that is released in order to help the body either use or store glucose that is circulating in the blood. Think of it as the usher that leads glucose into a cell.
For example, after a meal where a lot of sugars or simple carbohydrates are consumed, the pancreas will have to produce a lot of insulin. It will then dump that insulin into the blood so it can usher those carbohydrates (or glucose molecules) out of the bloodstream and into cells to be used as energy or stored.
In this way, you can see that insulin is instrumental in lowering blood glucose levels.
What are signs your blood sugar might not be balanced?
As we stated earlier, blood sugar levels must remain in a certain range to not only maintain life, but to feel healthy and well. If they don’t, symptoms start to surface.
Some acute signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) include: hunger, sugar cravings, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, sleepiness, dizziness, heart palpitations.
Some acute signs of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) include: thirst, headaches, fatigue, problems concentrating, frequent peeing, blurred vision.
A long term effect of high blood sugar is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells become less effective at utilizing insulin because glucose, and thus insulin, have remained chronically high. Think of it as the cells essentially going “numb” to insulin’s presence.
Insulin resistance over time can lead to chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, infertility, and more.
Other long term effects of high blood sugar include: premature aging, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalances, stomach and intestinal problems, worsening vision, kidney problems, metabolic syndrome, poor wound healing and more.
Blood sugar imbalance can also contribute to things such as: hormone imbalance (such as DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, etc.), thyroid imbalance, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, insomnia or sleep issues, cycle irregularities, etc.
It’s important to note that poorly regulated blood sugar leads to large peaks and crashes in blood glucose levels throughout the day. Blood sugar levels that are constantly on a rollercoaster can lead us to crave carbs, feel irritable and struggle with anxiety or other mental health manifestations.
What affects blood sugar?
While the food we consume plays an obvious role in blood sugar levels throughout the day, there are so many other factors that can also affect our blood sugar levels. Let’s take a look at some more of them.
Here are some main factors that affect blood sugar levels in the body:
The food we eat has a huge impact on the body’s blood sugar levels. A diet higher in sugars and simple carbohydrates will definitely lead to elevated blood sugar levels in the blood.
It is simply a matter of what goes into our bodies must be processed by the body. And if we’re consuming a lot of food that is ultimately broken down into glucose, our body will necessarily experience a rise in blood glucose levels.
This one is incredibly easy to overlook, but stress plays a HUGE role in blood sugar levels.
Let’s go back to the old “running from a bear” example. If our body goes into fight-or-flight mode, it thinks we need energy (in the form of glucose!) to run away from whatever danger is at hand. This increases the dumping of glucose into the blood.
Chronic stress can lead to chronically elevated blood sugar levels. Even perceived stress alone can increase our circulating glucose levels.
Poor sleep has been shown to be correlated with overall elevated cortisol levels. This makes sense, as during sleep the body goes into deep repair mode including lowering cortisol.
Similarly to how excess cortisol from stress leads to elevated blood sugar levels, excess cortisol due to poor sleep can also lead to raised blood sugar levels.
Additionally, poor sleep has been shown to impair our body’s ability to metabolize glucose. Studies found that even a few nights of sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on your body’s glucose processing.
Essentially, poor sleep makes you more insulin resistant.
Body movement is one of the best things you could do to regulate blood sugar levels. Active muscles can use up to 10 times more glucose than non-active muscles.
Research shows that moderate activity, even just 30 minutes three times a week, can improve insulin resistance and blood sugar control. Those who exercise consistently are more likely to have normal blood sugar levels than those who do not.
How can you check blood sugar levels?
- Glucose Monitoring:
You can check your blood sugar levels through the use of a blood sugar monitor or a continuous glucose monitor.
The American Diabetes Association holds different standards for fasting and post-meal glucose levels than typically accepted functional medicine markers. We are aiming for optimal health, so I like to go by functional medicine numbers.
Here is the range we’re looking to stay within for functional medicine glucose testing:
- Fasting glucose: 75-86 mg/dL
- 2-hours post-meal: 120 mg/dL or less
- Glucose returns to baseline three hours post-meal
This measurement reflects average blood sugar over the past three months. A healthy range is between 4.5 and 5.0 percent. I should note this test can be unreliable and should be compared with other biomarkers such as fasting insulin and blood glucose monitoring.
- Fasting Insulin:
This measurement reflects the insulin in the blood after an 8+ hour fast. An optimal range is between 1 and 5 uIu/mL. Insulin levels are usually out of order long before there are abnormalities in blood sugar levels.
How do you balance blood sugar?
You might now be wondering…how can I maintain well-balanced blood sugar in order to reverse high blood sugar or simply enjoy optimal health?!
Here are my top 10 ways to balance blood sugar naturally:
1. Pull back on sugars and processed foods.
Aim for 30 grams or less per day of sugars. This includes sugars from things like honey, fruits and maple syrup as well as the more obvious granulated sugar, cane sugar or coconut sugar. This does not include carbohydrates from healthy sources such as vegetables, soaked legumes and lentils, raw or cultured dairy, soaked or sprouted grains, etc.
The less simple carbohydrates and sugars we consume, the less of a burden on the pancreas to produce insulin in order to process all of that glucose. Less glucose in means less glucose our bodies have to deal with!
Eating a nutrient-dense diet is a great way to avoid processed foods and all of the sugars that come with those foods.
2. Don’t eat naked carbs.
An easy way to keep your blood sugar levels from spiking (and subsequently crashing!) is to pair your carbs or sugars with healthy fats and proteins. The fats or proteins will help slow down the digestion of your carbs and sugars.
This means that instead of your post-meal blood glucose curve level looking like a mountain with a steep spike and equally steep crash, it’ll look more like a gentle hill. The goal is to stay off the roller coaster!
Adding fats or proteins to your carbs is easy! Add nut butter to your apple slices or raw cheese alongside crackers. Eat potatoes with butter. Roast vegetables in ghee. Serve rice with butter. Have full-fat yogurt with your berries. If you’re going to have dessert, eat it shortly after a meal where protein and fat are consumed.
This is especially important when it comes to snacks. If you feel you need to snack inbetween meals, a protein/fat snack is a good way to get in some fuel without raising glucose too much.
Some of my favorite protein/fat snacks are: almond butter, raw cheese, whole plain yogurt, olives, beef jerky, Paleo Valley bars, turkey and cheese roll-ups, hard boiled eggs, veggies and yogurt dip, tuna, a handful of soaked almonds, homemade hummus and veggies, and full-fat cottage cheese.
3. Don’t do intermittent fasting, especially if you have hormone imbalance, thyroid disease, insomnia, anxiety, etc and you’re a woman. Instead, focus on a 12-hour “fast” from dinner to breakfast.
In my experience as a practitioner, I’ve seen intermittent fasting do more harm than good when it comes to regulating blood sugar levels, especially for women. Most studies showing the benefits of intermittent fasting were actually done on men.
Intermittent fasting, particularly for women, can be perceived by the body as a stressor. It can lead to elevated cortisol, hormone imbalances, and blood sugar dysregulation.
A study in Obesity Society, for example, found that women with a healthy body weight who attempted alternate day intermittent fasting began to present with impaired glucose response.
Fasting overnight but not extended seems to be safest for women’s hormonal health, which is more delicate than men’s. For that reason, I suggest eating breakfast within an hour of waking to blunt the cortisol spike we can often experience in the morning. It calms the body and sets you on a path of balanced blood sugar versus experiencing peaks and crashes the rest of the day.
4. Have 3 balanced and full meals a day.
One of the best ways to balance blood sugar is to ensure you’re eating a plate that consists of clean proteins, healthy fats, and some complex carbs. To understand better what a nutrient-dense diet like this looks like and how to make it a part of your lifestyle, read THIS article I wrote on the topic!
Some of my favorite blood-sugar friendly foods are: wild caught seafood and pastured meats, pastured eggs, butter, cultured + full fat dairy, long fermented sourdough, a lot of non-starchy veggies and low-glycemic fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
5. Make sure you’re not undereating.
This one seems a little counterintuitive until you understand the science behind what undereating does to your body. Not eating enough calories can lead to stress on the body (especially for women!). This stress can cause chronically elevated cortisol, a sluggish metabolism and eventually lead to high blood sugar and insulin resistance from the high levels of circulating cortisol.
I’m not a fan of obsessively tracking calories, but I think it can be a great exercise for a few days to better understand how much energy you’re consuming versus how much you’re burning. Use this convenient calorie calculator to see what an appropriate target range might be for you.
6. Reduce stress!
Stress plays a HUGE role in blood sugar balance. I might sound like a broken record here, but we really need to understand the detrimental effects of chronic stress on our health, and in this case, our blood sugar.
Chronic stress leads to constant cortisol output. Cortisol is negatively associated with insulin sensitivity, rendering us unable to efficiently lower glucose levels in the blood. In this way, chronic cortisol output due to stress can lead to insulin resistance and chronically elevated blood sugar.
It’s important to manage stress through deep breathing, prayer, meditation, gentle body movement, getting outside in nature and prioritizing personally stress-reducing activities such as spending time with family and friends or taking a long walk or trying a fun, new activity.
7. Have a consistent sleep schedule and avoid eating after 7pm (6pm to support weight loss).
Poor quality sleep, night-to-night fluctuations in sleep duration, and going to bed late have all been shown to have negative effects on glucose regulation and response to breakfast the following day.
The better we sleep, the better we can metabolize the glucose in our blood.
Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep per night, with as consistent of a bedtime and wake-up time as possible. This helps lower cortisol, improve insulin sensitivity, curb food cravings and ultimately lower blood sugar levels over the long term.
Finish eating before 7pm (6pm to support weight loss) to ensure that the bulk of the digestive process is finished before going to bed. Managing chronic stress and going to bed between 9-10pm are essential steps in restoring blood sugar regulation.
8. Get outside and move your body daily.
The benefits of getting in nature and moving your body are multi-faceted.
Being in nature has been shown to decrease cortisol levels. As you read earlier, that has a positive effect on lowering blood sugar, especially over time.
Movement is also incredibly beneficial for lowering blood glucose. When we exercise, the cells in our muscles utilize both stored and circulating glucose as energy. In fact, doing moderate exercise such as going for a walk after eating a meal can help blunt blood sugar spikes.
Research has also found that short periods of movement throughout the day can be even more beneficial than just one long workout per day. A great goal is to aim to be generally more active throughout the day. Small walks, a set of 10 squats or a minute of ab exercises…it all adds up!
In the long term, exercise makes our body’s cells more sensitive to insulin and can even boost the number of glucose transporters on the lining of our cells. This allows the muscles to utilize glucose more easily and efficiently.
Great ways to exercise outdoors include walks in nature, bike riding or even outdoor yoga.
9. Drink more water.
The kidneys are able to filter excess glucose through urine. As we drink more water, we’re better able to flush that glucose out of our bodies.
Dehydration has also been shown to be a risk factor for hyperglycemia. It makes sense if you think about it: hydration allows us to maintain adequate blood volume, thus “diluting” the amount of glucose in the blood. But if our blood volume goes down due to dehydration, the glucose becomes more concentrated and our blood sugar levels go up.
Aim to drink half your body weight in filtered water each day.
10. Try a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar before meals or sprinkle cinnamon on your food.
Consumption of apple cider vinegar before a meal was shown to reduce post-meal blood sugar rise by as much as half. Researchers believe the acetic acid in the vinegar slows down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar in the bloodstream.
To avoid such a strong taste or burning sensation from the vinegar, dilute a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a half glass of water before meals and drink it. And, if you’re concerned about how it could affect your oral health, drink it with a straw.
Cinnamon is another blood-sugar friendly food. Some studies have shown that daily consumption of cinnamon (about a teaspoon or so) over time increases insulin sensitivity.
Cinnamon can easily be added to smoothies, oatmeal, buttered toast, sweet potatoes and more.
11. Try buttermints in-between meals to curb sugar cravings.
The combination of nutrient-dense grass-fed butter and raw honey satiates the body, helps balance blood sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings. My clients and members of my thyroid course have reported a huge decrease in sugar cravings by using these homemade buttermints!
12. Lastly, here are some supplements that I’ve found helpful to promote healthy blood sugar balance:
1. Chromium Complex – supports carbohydrate digestion and encourages healthy blood sugar utilization at cellular level.
2. Diaplex – is a chromium supplement and helps supports healthy sugar handling. It’s made from organically grown food containing abundant trace minerals as well as vitamin B6 from raw animal extracts.
3. Gymnema – This herb is very effective to help curb sugar cravings and to re-sensitize cells to insulin. In many cases, Gymnema will need to be used for up to nine months, but the results are well worth the effort!
You have more control over your blood glucose levels than you think. And it’s not just about what you eat!
Take a small step today. Choose one or two of the above and get really consistent with them. Then, add another one or two. Over time, you’ll see a drop in your fasting glucose levels. And you should start to notice how much better you feel!
Control what you can – and you’ll get your blood sugar under control as a result!