If you don’t have diabetes, you probably give little — or zero — thought to how your blood sugar levels fluctuate the day. While this is perfectly understandable, a 2018 study published in PLOS suggests you might want to reconsider your nonchalance (1). The researchers found that large fluctuations in blood glucose happen much more commonly than expected in individuals without diabetes. And more concerning still, the rapid blood sugar spikes and dips sometimes occur at the same severity as in people with diabetes.
Left uncontrolled, "rollercoaster-esque" blood sugar levels could increase cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance risk (2, 3, 4). Yes … even if you don’t have diabetes. Takeaway: to stay healthy, you should strive to keep your blood sugar levels stable. But how? Well, you’ll find seven helpful blood-sugar-level-regulating tips below.
#1: Limit your carbohydrate consumption per meal
When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into simple sugar molecules (i.e., mono- and disaccharides) like glucose, fructose, and galactose (5). These sugars then enter your bloodstream, raising your blood sugar levels to supply your body with energy. So, the more carbohydrates you eat in a single sitting, the more extreme the rise in your blood sugar levels will be. So, in general, to prevent "flooding" your bloodstream with too much sugar, you may wish to limit your carbohydrate intake to (6, 7):
- 45 to 60 grams per meal, and
- 15 to 20 grams per snack, while
- Keeping at least 2-3 hours between meals/snacks
But wait. How would you know the exact number of grams of carbohydrates you’re slurping up in your morning cereal (or any food, for that matter)? Answer: you can calculate it by finding the total carb grams on the Nutrition Facts label (8). Or, if that's too much hassle — and math — for your liking, there are always free carb-counter apps that'll, yep, do all the counting for you.
#2: Prioritize complex carbohydrate sources
Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is also about the type of carbohydrates you're eating. Confused? Don't worry. Let's start from the beginning. There are three main types of carbohydrates (9):
- Sugars: These are simple carbohydrates (i.e., mono- and disaccharides, as mentioned earlier). They can be added sugar, like the ones found in candy, desserts, and regular soda, or naturally occurring sugar, like those found in fruits, vegetables, and milk.
- Starches: These are complex carbohydrates, meaning they're made up of many sugar molecules strung together. You can find starches in bread, cereal, pasta, and certain vegetables, including potatoes, peas, and corn.
- Fiber: Like starches, fiber is also a complex carbohydrate (but unlike starches, your body cannot break fiber down; more on this later). Fiber is found in many plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans.
Now, remember what we previously said about your body breaking carbohydrates into simple sugars before they can absorb them into the bloodstream? This means complex carbohydrates will raise your blood sugar levels at a relatively slower and steadier rate than simple carbs (10).
In other words, to keep your blood sugar levels stable, you should build your diet around complex carbs over simple carbs. While your body cannot technically digest dietary fiber, it's crucial for blood sugar regulation as it helps slow down the rate at which digested carbohydrates enter your bloodstream — preventing blood glucose spikes (11, 12).
#3: Keep a healthy weight
Carrying excess weight can make it more difficult for your body to use insulin and control blood sugar levels (13, 14, 15). Thankfully, you don’t need to lose a ton of weight to see positive results on your blood sugar control (16). Take this study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, for instance (17). The researchers found that participants who lost between 2.1 kg and 5.6 kg experienced an improvement in their blood sugar levels. In addition, their risk of developing type 2 diabetes also decreased by an eye-popping 58%.
Don’t know where to start when it comes to losing weight? Here are two tips:
- Choose satiating foods: To be specific, whole, unprocessed foods high in protein and fiber. Both macronutrients are highly satiating, which means they'll keep you full between meals — likely reducing your daily calorie intake (18, 19, 20, 21). Examples include legumes, vegetables, whole grains, Greek yogurt, and lean protein sources (e.g., skinless chicken breast and halibut).
- Move your body: Eating fewer calories than your body burns will result in weight loss (22, 23). You know that. But you also know that realistically speaking, there's a limit to how much you can cut down on your food intake without feeling miserable. Fortunately, putting in the effort to move more throughout your day can help you nudge your caloric balance in the right direction. And it doesn't even need to be much (more details to follow in the next section).
#4: Stay physically active (it doesn’t need to be much)
- Increases the rate of glucose uptake in the contracting skeletal muscles — effectively preventing blood sugar spikes, and
- Improves insulin sensitivity for at least 12 hours post-exercise (note: high insulin sensitivity allows the cells of your body to use blood glucose more effectively, reducing blood sugar)
Does “physical activity” bring to mind time-consuming, exhausting 10-mile runs and long hours spent in the gym? There’s good news. Research shows that it takes far less exercise than you probably think to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Case in point: a 2022 systematic review published in Sports Medicine (26). The researchers found that just a few minutes (as little as two to five minutes!) of light-intensity walking after a meal was enough to significantly improve blood sugar levels compared to plopping down on the couch or sitting at a desk.
#5: Get at least seven hours of high-quality sleep nightly
How many hours of sleep are you getting nightly? And are you sleeping well? Research suggests that even partial sleep deprivation over one night can increase insulin resistance, potentially increasing blood sugar levels. And perhaps more worrying still, a large body of evidence links chronic sleep loss with an increased risk for diabetes (27).
So, if you're not getting at least seven hours of high-quality sleep nightly, it's a good idea for you to improve your sleep hygiene and re-examine your priorities (e.g., If you're constantly working through the night, is there anything you could do to improve your productivity in the day? Or talk about your crushing workload with your boss?). You might also wish to consider sleep-promoting supplements, like Dr. Danielle’s Sleep Bliss, to make catching the ZZ’s more manageable.
#6: Drink enough fluids
As surprising as this may be to hear, dehydration can cause all your blood sugar levels to go all haywire. That's because when you're dehydrated, your body produces a hormone called vasopressin which prompts your liver to release more sugar into the blood (28, 29, 30). And if you need more motivation to drink up, look at this study published in Diabetes Care (31). Among 3,615 participants, the researchers found that those who drank at least 34 ounces of water daily were 21% less likely to develop high blood sugar than those who drank 16 ounces or less.
How much fluids you should drink can vary depending on factors like your weight, climate, and physical activity. That said, a general guideline to follow is that (32):
- Men need about 124 ounces of fluids daily, while
- Women need about 92 ounces of fluids daily
#7: Take good care of your gut health
Can your gut microbiome affect your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels? A wealth of studies says yes (33). For example, according to this 2018 study published in Diabetologia, researchers found evidence of gut microbial alterations (or dysbiosis) in individuals with prediabetes compared to those with normal glucose regulation (34).
Although scientists are still figuring out how the gut microbiome can affect blood sugar regulation, one leading hypothesis is that "good" gut bacteria help promote the secretion of gut-derived metabolic hormones, including glucagons such as GLP-1 (35, 36, 37). This hormone delivers a one-two punch of increasing insulin secretion and suppressing appetite, preventing glucose spikes (38). Bottom line? Show your “good” gut bacteria some TLC (tender loving care) for more stable blood sugar levels. And you can do so by:
- Eating a diverse range of foods, including lots of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, beans, fruit, and fermented foods (39).
- Prioritizing antioxidants, like Turmeric, Vitamin C, and Alpha-Lipoic Acid, in your diet (40, 41, 42). That's because antioxidants could help lower inflammation in your gut, reducing the chances of leaky gut syndrome — one of the most common causes of gut dysbiosis (43). Psst: you can also support your gut lining's health by supplementing with Dr. Danielle’s Gut Assist.
- Supplementing with probiotics (e.g., Dr. Danielle’s Probiotics), which essentially “tops up” your body’s supply of “good” gut bacteria
You have control over your blood glucose levels
As you can tell, there are many things you can do in your daily life to keep your blood sugar levels stable. And while some of them may seem small and inconsequential (e.g., taking a two-minute post-meal walk), the truth is that even tiny actions add up to massive blood-sugar-regulating benefits. So don't forget to do them!