(This article originally appeared on Grandparents.com.)
Wondering what blood sugar has to do with you if you don’t have diabetes? Keeping your blood sugar levels as steady as possible 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 Dr. Leann Olansky, 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 are unpleasant but not life-threatening 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 Olansky. “When it’s higher still, it can lead to dehydration, 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 Stomach Fat
Current research reveals an association between spikes in blood sugar and weight gain. Rumsey asserts that the blood sugar connection with stomach fat 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.”
Olansky believes the calories from carbohydrates may be mostly to blame for increased stomach 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.”
These three foods can help you regulate your blood sugar:
Regulator No. 1: Fiber-Rich Foods
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. Beans and legumes fall into this category, too.
Regulator No. 2: Cinnamon
It’s time to bring cinnamon out of kitchen-pantry obscurity. In a 2013 meta-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 No. 3: Leafy Greens and 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.
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 incretins, she says. “Incretins help your metabolism, and in the long run can reduce risk of developing diabetes. That’s a theory, though it’s not proven.”
3 of the 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 not ideal, says Rumsey. They include:
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 eight to 10 teaspoons of sugar or added sugar in just one bottle, which exceeds the daily recommended limit of six teaspoons for women and nine 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 six or seven different types of sugar in one product,” she says.
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