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12/12/2015 08:19 am ET

The 4 Foods That Will Steady Your Blood Sugar

Lower your diabetes risk—and prevent an energy crash—by eating these foods daily.
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Wondering what blood sugar has to do with you, if you don't have diabetes? Keeping your blood sugar levels as steady as possiblenow may help you avoid getting diabetes later. "As you get older, your risk for type 2 diabetes goes up," says Alissa Rumsey, Registered Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Since you can’t modify your age, it is important to take other steps to lower your risk, including maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough exercise, and balancing your diet to prevent spikes in blood sugar."

Controlling your blood sugar will also just make you feel better. "It's best to control blood sugar—it keeps your energy stable," says Leann Olansky, M.D., an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic. "If your blood sugar doesn't vary that much before and after a meal, that's a healthier way to be."
 

How High Blood Sugar Affects Your Body

Unrelated to diabetes, symptoms of occasional high blood sugar aren't life-threatening, but rather unpleasant and only potentially dangerous if you suffer from other health problems. "When your blood sugar is too high, it can make you feel sluggish," says Dr. Olansky. "When it's higher still, it can lead to dehydration and make your blood pressure unstable, and cause you to urinate more often, especially at night." 
But when your blood sugar remains chronically high, insulin, a hormone that's supposed to help your body store sugar as energy, stops working as it should. "Prolonged high blood sugar levels can lead to insulin resistance, meaning your body isn’t able to use insulin properly," says Rumsey. "Over time this insulin resistance can develop into diabetes, when insulin isn’t able to keep your blood sugar within normal levels."

Blood Sugar and Belly Fat

Current research reveals an association between spikes in blood sugar and weight gain. Rumsey asserts that the blood sugar-belly fat connection is related to insulin. "When our blood sugar rises, insulin is released to help get that sugar out of our bloodstream and into the rest of our body," she says. "The higher your blood sugar goes, the more insulin is released. Insulin likes to store excess blood sugar as fat, particularly belly fat."
Dr. Olansky believes the calories from carbohydrates may be mostly to blame for increased belly fat. "It may be that the carbohydrates, themselves, lead to belly fat, but that's difficult to be sure of," she says. "We do know that eating low-carb leads to less weight gain. We also know that eating simple sugars that are rapidly absorbed often causes you to be more hungry shortly after, and those extra calories you consume can lead to belly fat."

Regulator #1: Fiber-Rich Foods

  • Beans & Legumes
  • Whole Grains
  • Nuts & Seeds
One of the keys to controlling your blood sugar is prolonging the digestive process of each meal you eat. Highly processed foods, like a fast-food burger or a fruity pastry, speed through your system, causing your blood sugar to rise—and then fall—rapidly. On the other hand, "fiber helps to slow down digestion, so sugar is released more slowly into the blood and you don’t get as big of a blood sugar spike," says Rumsey, who suggests whole grains like quinoa, farro, barley, and oatmeal for the best health results.
Nuts and seeds, like walnuts, almonds, and chia or flax seeds, have even more blood sugar-regulating nutrients going for them, since their protein and healthy fat further help slow down digestion.
 

Regulator #2: Tart Cherries

People who have trouble sleeping may already be touting the virtues of tart cherries—studies have shown that drinking tart cherry juice improves sleep quality in older adults with insomnia. But people with diabetes will love this jewel-toned stone fruit for another reason: In a 2007 study, rats with a predisposition toward high cholesterol and pre-diabetes who ate tart cherries had "lower total cholesterol, lower blood sugar, less fat storage in the liver, lower oxidative stress, and increased production of a molecule that helps the body handle fat and sugar," according to an article from the University of Michigan, where the study was conducted.

"Tart cherries are full of anthocyanins," says Rumsey. "Some studies have shown a link between diets high in anthocyanins and improved insulin response. This means that your body is able to lower blood sugar more quickly after a meal.

Regulator #3: Cinnamon

It's time to bring cinnamon out of kitchen-pantry obscurity. In a 2013meta-analysis of 10 randomized, controlled trials, daily consumption of cinnamon was linked to lower fasting blood glucose, as well as, lower total cholesterol and bad cholesterol, and higher good cholesterol, in people with type 2 diabetes. Whether cinnamon has a lasting effect on blood sugar remains to be seen. "More research needs to be done," says Rumsey. "It isn’t a magic bullet, but sprinkling cinnamon on your morning oatmeal or cereal certainly won’t hurt."

Regulator #4: Leafy Greens & Vegetables

It's not a news flash that you should be eating salad for better health. But leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables are especially important for people with blood sugar concerns. "They're high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, making them a perfect food to help control blood sugar levels," says Rumsey.
Dr. Olansky points out another probable blood-sugar benefit of eating vegetables. While processed foods get digested in the upper intestines, raw and lightly cooked vegetables tend to make it to the lower intestines where they stimulate the production of hormones called incretines, she says. "Incretines help your metabolism, and in long run can reduce risk of developing diabetes. That's a theory, though it's not proven."

 

3 Worst Foods for Blood Sugar Control

Foods that your body quickly converts to sugar—or foods high in sugar without other digestion-slowing nutrients—are no-nos, says Rumsey:
1) Refined carbohydrates. Avoid bagels, pastries, white bread, white pasta, crackers, and cookies. "Refined carbs are ones that have been heavily processed, and the end result has little fiber," says Rumsey. "Once eaten, they are converted to sugar very quickly, which causes a rapid rise in blood sugar."
2) Sugar-sweetened beverages. Instead of soda, sweetened iced tea drinks, juices, and sports drinks, stick to water and other unsweetened beverages. Many sweetened drinks have 8-10 teaspoons of sugar of added sugar in just one bottle, which exceeds the daily recommended limit of 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men, says Rumsey. "There is no fiber to slow digestion, so this sugar is digested fast and causes a big spike in blood sugar."
3) Processed foods with added sugar. The biggest culprits: granola bars, fruit-flavored yogurts, candy, and desserts. Rumsey cautions you to examine nutrition labels carefully. "Food manufacturers can use as many as 6 or 7 different types of sugar in one product," she says.
 

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