You have the power to influence your health! The choices you are making every day surrounding food are directly affecting you and your blood sugars. Food affects blood sugars differently depending on the amount (grams) of carbohydrate, protein, and fat the food provides. Factors such as dehydration, stress, illness, side effects of medication, and changes in hormone levels also affect blood sugars. It is important to keep your blood sugar levels in your target range as much as possible to help prevent or delay long-term health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. Staying in your target range can help improve your energy and mood. Below, you’ll find a short list of nutrients and tips that will help you take control of your blood sugars today!
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is not digested or absorbed by our bodies. This means it can help us improve insulin sensitivity, control blood sugars, and encourage the growth of good gut bacteria. Women should try to eat at least 21-25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for 30-38 grams per day.
How can we get more fiber?
- Choose whole grains more often (amaranth, buckwheat, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice).
- Dietary fiber is listed under the Total Carbohydrate on the Nutrition Facts label. High fiber foods are those with 5 grams or more per serving; good sources of fiber are foods with 2.5-5 grams per serving.
- Look for whole-grain bread that contains 3 grams of fiber per serving and whole-grain crackers that contain at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
- Leave the skin on your fruits and vegetables.
- Substitute brown rice for white rice and whole wheat pasta for white pasta.
Non-starchy vegetables contain 4-6 grams of carbohydrates per 1/2 cup. This means eating 3-5 servings per day of this type of carbohydrate will help control and maintain healthy blood sugars. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include asparagus, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, mushrooms, onion, peppers, salad greens, spinach, tomato, zucchini, and turnips.
How can we get our fill of non-starchy vegetables?
- Cut up/prep vegetables at the beginning of the week and store in containers. Toss in olive oil, fresh or dry herbs, and spices. Place vegetables on a baking sheet to roast for 20-30 minutes at 350-400° F.
- Try combining vegetables in a salad with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar along with pepper and additional spices.
- Make 1/2-3/4 of your plate vegetables.
- Incorporate vegetables into your snacks. Cut carrots, peppers, celery, broccoli, or whatever you like and pair them with hummus, guacamole, or nut butter for a protein- and fiber-rich snack that’s low in carbs.
Fats and Proteins
Fats and proteins can help offset your diet. Fat slows down the digestive process, resulting in a “delayed” rise in glucose levels. Fat, when eaten in modest amounts, has a minimal impact on glucose levels. However, eating too much fat can cause insulin resistance, which may lead to prolonged glucose levels. Protein-rich foods can take anywhere from 3-4 hours to digest, much lower than carbs. Essentially, the pairing of healthy fats and proteins with meals can help control your blood sugar levels.
Check out these tips to get your healthy fats and proteins:
- Roast, bake, and grill vegetables in olive oil to incorporate healthy fats.
- Choose lean proteins such as chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, nut butter, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, etc.
- Make 1/4 of your plate a quality protein with every meal (for more plant-based options, focus on beans, lentils, quinoa, broccoli, spinach, and potatoes).
Manage stress and exercise regularly. When stressed, our bodies secrete hormones called glucagon and cortisol, which cause blood sugar levels to rise. Regular exercise has been proven to increase insulin sensitivity. Researchers recommend doing so-called “exercise snacks” to lower blood sugar and prevent the harmful effects of sedentary living. Exercise snacks simply mean that you break up your sitting time every 30 minutes for a few minutes throughout the day. Some recommended exercises include light walking or simple resistance exercises like squats or leg raises. Other useful forms of exercise include weightlifting, brisk walking, running, biking, hiking, and swimming. In fact, any activity that gets you up and moving, regardless of the intensity, beats a sedentary lifestyle! Try aiming for 10-minute exercise sessions three times per day for five days, with a goal of 150 exercise minutes per week.
Looking to mix up your meals? Try one of these recipes to promote blood sugar control:
- Breakfast Egg Salad
- Chopped Chicken Sweet Potato Salad
- Roasted Red Peppers Stuffed with Kale Rice
- Spice-Roasted Salmon with Roasted Cauliflower
- Mediterranean Turkey Skillet
A Minute About Oatmeal
Happy National Oatmeal Month! Oatmeal is a whole grain that contains beta-glucan, a soluble fiber not found in other grains, is shown to suppress appetite and help promote gut health. Oats also contain compounds called polyphenols which have strong antioxidant, anti-itching, and anti-inflammatory properties, potentially reducing the effects of chronic inflammation. Try this awesome overnight oats recipe:
Stir together uncooked oats, milk, yogurt, and optional mix-ins, like fruit, nuts, or seeds, and refrigerate overnight or up to three days. In the morning, simply enjoy! Baked oatmeal can also be made in advance, refrigerated, and reheated just before eating. Top with a scoop of yogurt or serve with a glass of milk.
Ready for more nutrition tips and lifestyle recommendations? The YMCA Nutrition Counseling Program helps adults find a healthier way of eating that’s right for them with the help of our Registered Dietitian. Learn more »
Source: Whole Grains Council, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
—Mattie Lefever, RDN, LDN