What Is Blood Sugar?
Blood sugar is the free glucose molecules that are in your bloodstream at any given time. The amount of blood sugar present here depends on what you eat, as well as what’s been liberated from certain organs and body tissues. Balancing blood sugar is one of the most important aspects of maintaining optimal health.
Unstable blood sugar levels can lead to chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Eating the right foods is key in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and maintaining insulin sensitivity (more on that later).
What Is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps convert blood sugar (glucose) into energy. When blood sugar levels are high enough, usually peaking within 2 hours of glucose consumption, insulin signals cells to uptake glucose and use it as energy or store it for later use.
Insulin governs the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins by encouraging the absorption of glucose into skeletal muscle cells, adipose tissue (fat) and the liver. Conversely, when blood sugar is low, insulin encourages the body to release the stored glucose from the liver, muscles and fat cells to use for energy.
In this way, the activity of insulin in the body is hugely important as it directly influences anabolism (building of body tissues) and catabolism (breakdown of body tissues).
But what happens if we overload our body with glucose over a long period of time?
It turns out that chronic consumption of refined sugars and carbs can have a negative impact on the efficacy of insulin. Essentially, the production of insulin can be impaired. Or the sensitivity of your cells to insulin's activity can be reduced. This is known as insulin resistance.
What Is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin resistance is a condition in which your body’s cells don’t respond properly to the hormone insulin. Here, the body’s blood sugar levels remain high, even after insulin has been released. The target cell receptors that are supposed to respond to insulin’s signalling, become desensitised.
When you have insulin resistance, blood sugar can accumulate to unhealthy levels, potentially leading to chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
These are all serious medical conditions that can have long-term impacts on physical and mental health. Maintaining blood sugar balance is essential for optimal health, and eating a balanced diet of blood sugar-regulating foods can help reduce the risk of insulin resistance.
Let's review 5 foods that help balance your blood sugar. These foods all have unique nutritional properties and help promote healthy blood sugar levels throughout the day.
5 Foods to Help Naturally Balance Blood Sugar
- Fermented Foods
Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries are all packed with nutrients that help keep your blood sugar levels in check. Antioxidants and fibre are the chief components responsible here, all helping to improve insulin sensitivity and slow down the uptake of carbohydrates in the gut.
A 2016 study published in the journal Antioxidants, found that the anthocyanin compounds found in blueberries help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A more recent study from 2019 showed that raspberries had similar impacts on managing optimal blood sugar activity. This randomised controlled trial demonstrated that participants who consumed 250 grams of red raspberries per day, alongside a high-carbohydrate meal had a much lower post-meal blood sugar peak, as well as an improved insulin response.
Eating berries regularly can help you keep your blood sugar levels stable, while also providing an array of other health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health, better cognitive function and can assist in weight loss. On top of all the usual health benefits of berries, other exotic berries such as açai berries and goji berries are also low GI, high in vitamin C, full of healthy polyphenols, and have incredible anti-cancer and anti-aging effects.
Berries can provide a healthful snack for those who need to watch their blood sugar levels. Enjoy your favourite berries every day! Eat them as they are or decorate your favourite cereals, smoothies or baked treats with these little jewels of pure goodness.
Fermented foods, such as kimchi, miso and sauerkraut contain a combination of prebiotic and probiotic compounds that help promote optimal health and blood sugar balance. Research shows that eating fermented foods has been linked with improving glucose tolerance, improving insulin sensitivity and ameliorating the onset of metabolic syndrome.
Aside from the usual suspects, there are plenty of regular foods that can benefit the digestive system, immune system and blood sugar levels in a similar way. Yoghurt, apples, banana and balsamic vinegar are wonderful prebiotic foods you’ll probably already have right at home. Enjoy these as part of a healthy diet to help manage optimal blood sugar levels and stay well.
Lentils, Legumes & Beans
Legumes, pulses, lentils, beans - they're all great for you for a host of reasons, including their ability to balance your blood sugar. Legumes are a great source of complex carbohydrates, soluble fibre and resistant starch, which helps slow down glucose uptake in the digestive system, giving you a more steady rise and fall in blood sugar and insulin.
They are also packed with protein, magnesium and B vitamins and other essential nutrients, making them a great addition to your diet. Additionally, they can help reduce blood triglycerides, which helps improve overall blood cholesterol levels.
An interesting study published in the journal Nutrients found that chickpeas and soybeans have unique insulin-sensitising effects. Their polyphenolic compounds help maintain healthy blood sugar levels by increasing glucose uptake into cells, slowing down fat cell formation and increasing beneficial gut bacteria. All these actions have a synergistic positive influence on blood sugar levels, making these as well as all legumes power players in keeping your blood sugar balanced.
Nuts contain protein, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. All of these nutrients have been linked to blood sugar balance. Various nuts are especially beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes, as they can help improve blood sugar control, manage appetite and support weight loss.
Eating nuts helps to reduce inflammation and can help support healthy insulin sensitivity. Plenty of research demonstrates that almonds can improve glucose control and support weight loss as a result. The specific combination of polyphenols, healthy fats, vitamin E and fibre in almonds accounts for their glucose-lowering effects, thereby maintaining balanced blood sugar levels.
Pumpkin seeds have cardiovascular benefits as well as supporting optimal blood glucose levels. In fact, they are a star performer in blood sugar control, as shown in a recent study from 2018. Here, 65 grams of pumpkin seeds effectively reduced post-meal blood sugar levels by around 35%.
Flaxseeds are another seed not to be missed when it comes to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. In a small study involving patients with type 2 diabetes, daily consumption of flaxseed-enriched yoghurt was shown to reduce HbA1c levels (a blood marker for diabetes) compared to the control group. A more comprehensive meta-analysis involving 25 randomised clinical trials concluded that flaxseeds significantly improved glycemic control. Enough said!
A recent 2022 systematic review was conducted on the effects of sesame seeds and tahini on blood glucose levels. The results showed a dramatic positive influence of sesame and its related products on fasting glucose across a series of clinical trials. Sesame seeds should be considered a useful therapeutic agent for glucose metabolism and regulation.
Eating a handful of nuts or seeds each day is good for just about everything, including helping to manage your blood sugar levels.
Eat More of These Foods to Help Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels
By including these five blood sugar-regulating foods in your diet, you can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of developing chronic health conditions related to insulin resistance. It’s also an easy way to promote optimal health. As always, it's best to consult a trusted health provider for more specific information about blood sugar and how best to manage it.
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