Unless you have diabetes -- or are at risk of developing it -- you probably don't think about your blood sugar levels too much. But new research suggests that maybe you should.
People who do not have diabetes still can experience big swings in their blood sugar levels after eating, according to a study recently published in the journal PLOS Biology.
Researchers involved with the study say such findings raise concerns because rapid rises in blood sugar levels are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
The new study is a reminder that even if you are not diabetic, it's important to be mindful of things that influence your blood sugar levels, says Angela Lemond, a Plano, Texas-based registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Lemond Nutrition.
"At the end of the day, if we aren't mindful, then technically we are at risk," says Lemond, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Foods that spike your blood sugar levels
Foods that are sugary and low in fiber are more likely to cause your blood sugar levels to rise, Lemond says. These include:
- Cakes and bakery items
- Sugary cereals
- Low-fiber crackers
Even some foods that appear good on the surface can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Examples include sugary yogurts and smoothies.
Sugary drinks also are bad for your blood sugar levels. Examples include:
- Fruit punch and fruit drinks
- Sports drinks
- Energy drinks
- Sweet tea
Juices -- "even some 'green juices' that might have lots of vitamins and minerals" – also can spike blood-sugar levels, Lemond says.
Foods that keep your blood sugar levels under control
By contrast, foods that are rich in fiber and low in added sugar help keep your blood sugar levels in check. Examples include:
- Whole grains
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and radishes
- Beans and legumes
- Fruit in single servings
Lemond says how you eat makes a difference in how well you maintain healthful blood sugar levels.
"Eat regularly -- avoid going greater than four hours without eating to avoid eating too much at meals," she says.
She also suggests adding extra-lean protein and healthy fats to each snack or meal. This will help slow the breakdown of food and leave you feeling more satisfied.
More natural ways to keep blood sugar in check
"I'm not talking about a major workout like hitting the gym or going for a run," Lemond says. "It could be as simple as every hour, standing and walking around for five minutes."
She says sticking to such a schedule is vital in a world where so many of us sit at a desk to work for eight hours or more on most days.
"We must break up our sit time during the day, and then go for a nice walk in the evening after dinner," she says. Such walking is a "simple, easy and impactful" way to maintain the right blood sugar levels, she says.
Of course, regular exercise is even better for your blood sugar levels. It helps increase your body's sensitivity to insulin, improving the ability of muscle cells to use insulin to take up glucose, according to the American Diabetes Association. When cells absorb glucose, they use it as energy.
Finally, keeping a healthy body weight can also keep your blood sugar levels in check. Being overweight increases your odds of developing insulin resistance. One recent study supported by the National Institutes of Health found that a 7 percent weight loss can reduce the odds of developing diabetes by 58 percent.