Preventing Diabetes: Your Blood Sugar Is Creeping Up

By Susan E. Sklar, M.D.
Preventing diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century. More Americans than ever struggle with high blood sugar and diabetes. An estimated 10.5% of the US population has diabetes.[1] Worse, around 1 in 3 Americans have prediabetes symptoms.[2] Most don’t even know it! If you think you might be struggling with blood sugar issues, the Sklar Center for Restorative Medicine can help.

Control of your blood sugar is the key to preventing diabetes.

Blood sugar is exactly that: the sugar in your blood. Your blood acts as the transport system in your body. It takes all kinds of important nutrients throughout your body. It transports sugar, too!

Sugar is one of the body’s main fuels. The other two? Fat and protein.

Why fuel? Because our cells burn it to do work. Just like the engine of a car, your body needs the right kind of fuel to help it move, heal, and grow. This fuel-burning process makes up our metabolism.

Sometimes, however, blood sugar gets too high. It can cause a lot of trouble in your body, including insulin resistance and even type 2 diabetes. Here’s the good news: blood sugar levels respond to diet and lifestyle upgrades. When you make those changes, your blood sugar levels fall in line. It’s like giving your car the fuel it needs, instead of trying to fill your gas tank up with, well sugar!

Blood Sugar Balance

Your body wants to be healthy and run efficiently. It exerts a lot of extra energy to make its systems run smoothly, including:

  • Digestive system
  • Nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system (your heart, veins, etc)

Your body wants your blood to stay balanced, too. That doesn’t just include your blood volume and blood pressure, though those things are important. it also wants your blood sugar to stay balanced.

You don’t want to remove the sugar from your blood completely. There is a healthy range that represents where your blood sugar should be. The problem occurs when your levels get too high and stay that way for too long.

Your Body Handles It Like This:

  1. You eat food that contains carbs (sugars or starches).
  2. Your digestive sugar breaks it down. Those big sugars from your food become smaller sugars. Then, the glucose, or smaller sugars, get absorbed into the bloodstream. This process is normal, and it’s important!
  3. Is your blood sugar too high? If so, the pancreas starts to work. It sends out insulin: the hormone that tells your muscles, liver, and fat cells to grab sugar from the blood.
  4. The cells use what sugar they need for energy, then store the rest for later.

The muscles and liver store sugar, in the form of glucose, on a short-term basis. When the body needs it, the sugar gets sent back to the blood. You may need sugar in your blood when you haven’t eaten for a few hours and need extra energy, when you’re exercising, or when you’re under stress (more on that later).

The amount of sugar in your blood doesn’t always stay the same. It’s constantly fluctuating: up when you eat, down when you go for a while without eating and the insulin cells pull it out of the blood. When you burn a lot of energy, usually in the form of sugar, it drops your overall blood sugar levels. Further, the body keeps your blood sugar in a regular, natural state of flux. It’s when your blood sugar creeps too high for too long that you start to have problems.

Too much blood sugar is like a car engine flooded with the wrong kind of fuel: it just can’t run as efficiently.

The Problems With Blood Sugar Imbalance

Your body knows what to do with sugar in the blood. Some of it is useful and healthy. Unfortunately, blood sugar imbalance quickly becomes unhealthy. Highs rise too high. They stay there too long. As a result, your body may no longer process that sugar the way it should. Worse, you may start noticing some immediate problems.

Your heart may beat too fast. You can damage blood flow to vital organs. You may have kidney problems, increase your risk of stroke, and even cause vision problems. You may suffer from obesity and struggle to lose weight, even when you think you have done everything right.

Blood sugar usually gets too high because you ate too much sugar in a short period of time. Processed sugar is the biggest culprit. Unfortunately, it’s found in a lot of places in the American diet. It’s in everything. You probably recognize the sugar in soda, but you might not think about the soda in your favorite energy drink. You may note the sugar in candy, but not think about all the sugar in your favorite fast food meal. In many American products, sugar sneaks its way in when you least expect it.

When I started working with Samantha, for example, she had all the classic signs of insulin imbalance. She was struggling with her weight. She was tired all the time. She’d cut out soda and even stopped eating candy, but she couldn’t seem to keep her blood sugar levels under control. Her doctor had warned her that she had all the symptoms of prediabetes, and it wasn’t looking good.

Her Diet
Then, we took a real look at her diet.

One of her favorite fast food meals, even with the soda swapped for unsweet tea or water, was incredibly high in sugar. Not only that, but Samantha had also fallen into the habit of drinking a sports drink after her workouts. It turned out, those sports drinks were sending a lot of unnecessary sugar into her bloodstream. She discovered that she wasn’t getting sweaty enough or exerting enough energy to really need them. Natural water did a lot better job of keeping her hydrated, and cut down on the sugar, too!

Samantha learned how to read labels and take a hard look at how much sugar was really in her food. She’s lost quite a bit of weight, reduced her waistline, and feels much healthier overall.

When you put sugar into your body, the digestive system pulls it out. It wants to use as much of that sugar as possible: to flood your body with energy at the moment and save as much of that sugar as possible.

Food Then vs. Now

Blame it on our ancestors.

Thousands of years ago, food didn’t show up on supermarket shelves. It wasn’t as simple as pulling through a drive-through. Our ancestors had no idea where their next meal was coming from. Their bodies, as a result, evolved to process as much of that sugar as possible.

This method, unfortunately, doesn’t work quite as well for our bodies in modern society.

If we eat a lot of sugar and fat, our bodies change. Those muscle and liver cells start ignoring insulin’s call. Instead of absorbing extra sugar from the blood, they become “insulin resistant”. Your body then can’t process the sugar that it takes in.

Symptoms of insulin resistance include:

  • Fatigue or drowsiness after meals
  • Intense sugar cravings unaltered by eating sweets
  • Constant thirst unrelated to fluid intake
  • Frequent urination

A Note on Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. There’s nothing people can do to prevent it. In fact, it usually crops up in children and adolescents. However, less than 5% of people with the diagnosis of diabetes have Type 1 diabetes.[3]

The rest have Type 2.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin. It also happens when the body does not respond to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. Eventually, you pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to cope with the sugar. Then your blood sugar rises and you become diabetic.[4] Unlike people with Type 1 diabetes, people with Type 2 can often manage the condition with proper diet and exercise.

11 Tips to Attain Better Blood Sugar Balance

Are you ready to make a diet and lifestyle upgrade? Try these key strategies.

CAUTION: Have you already been diagnosed with diabetes or insulin resistance? Are you being monitored by a doctor? Talk to a medical professional before making any changes.

1. Preventing Diabetes: Check the Sugar in Your Diet 

There are a lot of foods on the market today that are mostly sugar.

You probably know the ones I’m talking about. Start with candy and soda. Don’t forget energy drinks. Juice, too, is made up of mostly sugar. All of these things can cause significant blood sugar spikes. However, they don’t offer anything your body really needs.

Foods high in sugar cause a fast energy spike (high blood sugar levels) followed by a crash. Worse, all that extra sugar ends up stored, usually as fat–assuming that your body isn’t already insulin resistant. If it is, that extra sugar can cause a lot of problems.

Keep in mind, however, that it’s not just soda and candy that are high in sugar. Lots of popular foods, including breakfast foods (doughnuts, anyone?) are extremely high in sugar. So are a lot of popular, processed foods. Some of them even sound “healthy”, but turn out to have a lot more sugar than anticipated.

Get in the habit of reading labels. Check to see how much sugar is in that granola bar. Read the label on your freezer waffles. Ditch those high-sugar foods. Once the cravings disappear, you’ll find that you feel a lot healthier!

2. Decrease the Number of Simple Carbohydrates You Eat

Starches get broken down into sugar in your body. You’ve probably heard it before, but have you really thought about what that means? When it comes to your blood sugar, it means that starches send it skyrocketing just as fast as sugary foods.

Think about the starches in:

  • White bread
  • Rice
  • Potato chips
  • White pasta
  • Beer
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Pastries (even without the added sugar)

Consider the high levels of carbs in these foods. There’s a reason many diets choose to avoid them! In your body, those carbs get broken down as sugars. They then cause the same blood sugar spike you would get if you ate too much sugar with your meal.

3. Preventing Diabetes: Pay Attention to Glycemic Levels of Starches

Have you already cut out a lot of sugary foods? Want to reduce your starch intake? Start by ditching the “high glycemic” starches. Many people don’t think that there’s a difference between a “good starch” and a “bad starch”. The difference, however, is staggering.

“Good starches”, or those low on the glycemic index, take longer for your body to break down. Most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains make the “good” list. By substituting these foods for unhealthy starches, you can make a big difference in your blood sugar levels.

If you do want to eat high glycemic food, try pairing it with a low glycemic food. Ideally, you may want to eat those starches with meats or proteins, or with vegetables with plenty of fiber. This can slow down the absorption of those high glycemic foods and prevent the blood sugar spike.[5]

4. Preventing Diabetes: Eat More Fiber

Fiber isn’t just about “regularity” and gut health. It can also help balance your blood sugar. Most adults don’t eat nearly enough. On average, you should be getting between 21 and 38 grams of fiber per day. When you eat an adequate amount of fiber, it mixes with the carbs in your meal. Sugars absorb slower. As a result, you’re less likely to see those blood sugar spikes.

Try some of these strategies to incorporate more fiber in your diet:

  • Stir cocoa powder into your smoothie or add it to your yogurt
  • Sprinkle flax seeds in your smoothie or add it to oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt (unsweetened yogurt, by preference)
  • Adding legumes to a soup or salad
  • Munching on popcorn
  • Adding chia seeds to your cereal, oatmeal, or smoothie
  • Eat more fruits

5.  Preventing Diabetes: Pay Attention to Order When You Eat

What you eat matters. Did you know what when you eat it matters, too? This isn’t a case of fasting or eating intermittently (that’s something we’ll address in another post). Instead, it’s about the order you eat in.

Several studies have checked out how the order people eat can impact blood sugar. One, in particular, looked at adults with Type 2 diabetes. Everyone consumed the same meal. The only difference? Some had to eat protein and veggies first, while the other half ate the carbs first.

It turned out, that little change made a big difference! Blood sugar control looked better in people who ate the protein and non-starchy carbs first. Insulin levels looked better, too.

Another study noted that it is not just adults with Type 2 diabetes that see a difference. Blood sugar control and insulin levels looked much better in adults without insulin resistance who tried the same eating pattern.

It’s a little change that can make a big difference. Researchers think that the protein and other content may provide a cushion that helps carbs digest slower. As a result, you see less of a blood sugar spike.

6. Preventing Diabetes: Don’t Start Avoiding Fruit

There are some popular diets making the rounds today that encourage avoiding fruit. They claim that too much fruit can also cause a blood sugar spike. While fruit can impact your blood sugar, fructose, the sugar found in glucose, isn’t quite the same as glucose, or regular sugar. Fructose is low on the glycemic index.

Unless a doctor has advised you otherwise or you have a known intolerance, keep eating those fruits! Fruits and vegetables are, overall, good for your health. Berries, especially dark berries, are even better. They contain a lot of fiber, not a lot of sugar, and have anthocyanins. Anthocyanins, while they sound complicated, really aren’t. They’re a useful little pigment that can help with:

  • Sugar metabolism (especially in people with insulin resistance)
  • Clear thinking
  • Reduced DNA damage

That’s a lot of punch from one little fruit!

7. Preventing Diabetes: Use Supplements That Help Support Healthy Blood Sugar

A few simple supplements can help support healthy blood sugar naturally. These include:

  • Cinnamon–with less than one teaspoon per day, you can improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels
  • Vitamin D–72% of patients with type 2 diabetes have vitamin D deficiencies
  • Magnesium
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • Inositol
  • Chromium
  • Omega-3s
  • Vinegar (two tablespoons shortly before or with a meal high in sugar or starches)

8. Preventing Diabetes: Get Enough Sleep

Inadequate sleep affects a lot of your body’s systems. Your insulin sensitivity can decrease and your blood sugar levels rise after just one or two nights of poor sleep. Ouch!

If you’ve noticed your blood sugar levels creeping up or your overall health decreasing, check your sleep. Your body needs adequate sleep to keep functioning at peak efficiency. Therefore, learn how much sleep your body needs (the average adult needs 7-8 hours) and take the steps you need to take to get it.

9. Preventing Diabetes: Change Your Exercise Routine

Your body uses stored sugar for exercise. It pulls it out of the cells where it’s stored, and you burn it through your activity. And, it doesn’t have to be heavy-duty exercise, either.[6]  Therefore, you can burn sugar by engaging in moderate exercise. Find a type of exercise that you enjoy. Make plans to engage in it regularly. You’ll notice an improvement in overall insulin resistance over time. Even better, you’ll notice an immediate change in your blood sugar levels. Exercise can also help you use up some of that stored extra sugar. Over time, this can reduce your body weight and fat composition.

10. Preventing Diabetes: Drop Stress Levels

At high levels of stress, your body faces that “fight or flight” reflex. It either wants to fight, or it wants to run. Like a car, your body cannot do those things without fuel. In the case of your body, that means sugar. Prolonged periods of stress can lead to significantly higher blood sugar.

Need to reduce stress? Try:

  • Deep breathing or meditation
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Learning to say “no”
  • Reduce stress

11. Preventing Diabetes: Lose That Extra Weight

If you’re carrying around extra weight, you may struggle to control your blood sugar. This, in turn, can lead to even more weight gain. (Vicious cycle, right?) Commit to losing some of the extra weight you’re carrying around. Remember, it’s not just about the number on the scale. Reducing waist circumference by converting fat to lean muscle can also help with blood sugar balance.

Learn More About Preventing Diabetes

Need more help managing your diet and balancing your blood sugar? Contact The Sklar Center for Restorative Medicine today to learn more about how I can help you reach your health and wellness goals.

Resources

  1. Centers for Disease Control National Diabetes
    Diabetes Statistics
    Centers for Disease Control National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020
    LINK: Diabetes Statistics
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention
    Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
    Center for Disease Control and Prevention
    LINK: Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
  3. Jessica Timmons
    Diabetes: Facts, Statistics, and You
    Healthline
    LINK: Diabetes: Facts, Statistics, and You
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention
    Type 2 Diabetes
    Center for Disease Control and Prevention
    LINK: Type 2 Diabetes
  5. K Murakami , S Sasaki, H Okubo, Y Takahashi, Y Hosoi, M Itabashi
    Dietary Fiber Intake, Dietary Glycemic Index and Load, and Body Mass Index: A Cross-Sectional Study of 3931 Japanese Women Aged 18-20 Years
    Eur J Clin Nutr 2007 Aug;61(8):986-95.
    LINK: Dietary Fiber Intake, Dietary Glycemic Index and Load, and Body Mass Index: A Cross-Sectional Study of 3931 Japanese Women Aged 18-20 Years
  6. Xin Zheng, Yanyan Qi, Lina Bi, Wenli Shi, Yan Zhang, Dan Zhao, Su Hu, Meixin Li, and Qin Li
    Effects of Exercise on Blood Glucose and Glycemic Variability in Type 2 Diabetic Patients with Dawn Phenomenon
    BioMed Research International Volume 2020
    LINK: Effects of Exercise on Blood Glucose and Glycemic Variability in Type 2 Diabetic Patients with Dawn Phenomenon

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