When the topic of blood sugar comes up, people often think of diabetes, a condition characterized by blood sugar imbalance. In the case of high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, the body either fails to produce enough insulin, or is unable to use the insulin correctly, so glucose (sugar) accumulates in the blood.
It’s important to understand, however, that consistently high blood sugar levels can lead to a wide range of health problems,1,2 even for those not diagnosed with diabetes. These may include:
- Heart disease or heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Nerve damage
- Eye damage
- Skin problems
Consistently elevated blood glucose levels can also lead to mood swings, deplete your energy, increase your risk of infection, impede your ability to heal and cause irreversible damage to nerves, blood vessels and organs, such as the eyes and kidneys.
Diet and blood sugar: What you need to know
So, how can you protect yourself? One of the most effective ways to do so is also the simplest: choose foods and beverages that support healthy blood sugar levels. Again, this is not only important for diabetics or those at risk, but also for anyone who is interested in avoiding the cascade of health problems linked to blood sugar imbalances.
The glycemic index (GI) is a great resource to help us differentiate between the foods and beverages that support healthy blood sugar balance, and those that tend to disrupt it. The GI is a list of foods ranked on a scale of 0–100, based on how quickly they elevate blood sugar levels. For example, a low index would be 55 or less, a medium is 55-70, and high would be 70 or above. To keep blood sugar stable, emphasize items with a GI ranking of 50 or less. These will also typically be your healthiest options, including fruits, vegies, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
It should also be noted that you can slow the absorption rate of high GI foods by consuming them with fat and/or protein, both of which measurably lower the GI ranking of any item. For example, toast with jam would have a high GI ranking, but that is reduced significantly by adding nut butter. Here is a sampling of foods and beverages based on their glycemic ranking:
Low GI Foods (20-49)
- Whole grains like oats and quinoa, and a few high-fiber/low-sugar breakfast cereals.
- Intact fruits such as apples, berries, plums and apricots.
- Beans and legumes, such as chickpeas, green beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, split peas, lentils, lima beans, navy beans and hummus.
- Non-starchy vegetables including asparagus, artichokes, snow peas, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, leafy greens, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, onions, spinach, zucchini, etc.
- All raw nuts and seeds (especially chia and hemp seeds, both of which offer complete protein featuring all 9 essential amino acids).
- Soy products like tofu, tempeh, soy nuts, edamame and soy-based “meat.”
- Garlic, herbs, and spices.
Moderate GI Foods (50-69)
- Sweeter fruits such as bananas, figs, grapes, oranges, tangerines, etc.
- Starchy veggies like beets, carrots, corn, green peas and yams.
- Whole grain breads, brown rice, cornmeal, all styles of pasta, popcorn, and moderate-sugar breakfast cereals.
- Grapefruit juice.
High GI Foods: (70-100)
- White rice.
- Sweetened breakfast cereals.
- Dried fruit.
- Extra ripe bananas, pineapple, and watermelon.
- Mashed potatoes and French fries.
- All refined/white flour bread, bagels, rolls, tortillas, etc.
- Most Chinese food items with sweet sauces, fried rice, etc.
- Bakery items made from white sugar and white flour.
- Taco chips, potato chips, Cheetos, pretzels, etc.
- All sugary snacks and desserts: donuts, cake, cookies, pie, pastries, etc.
- Syrup, jelly, and jam
- Most fruit juices.
- All sweetened beverages.
Along with a healthy, plant-based menu, there are other foods, herbs and spices that may help support healthy blood sugar levels, such as:
- Bitter melon, a tropical fruit long used in traditional Chinese herbalism and Ayurveda. Research suggests that bitter melon helps support normal blood sugar levels and may promote healthy glucose metabolism. †
- Garlic, especially in combination with other blood sugar supportive herbs.3†
- Cinnamon, which was shown to decrease oxidative stress by 14 percent in adults with prediabetes.4 Cinnamon also appears to help insulin move glucose into cells with greater efficiency.5 One study showed that taking cinnamon increased insulin sensitivity for at least 12 hours.6 †
The information covered here applies to generally healthy individuals, and by no means constitutes medical advice. If you have a family history of diabetes, or think you may be at risk, you would be well advised to seek medical attention, and allow your doctor to help you determine what natural solutions might work best in your case in conjunction with professional care.
That said, a healthy menu, based on whole foods with a low to medium GI ranking, combined with beneficial herbs and spices, makes good wellness sense for anyone interested in natural disease prevention. Here’s to your health!
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.