If you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, chances are you already know the big things that are essential for blood sugar control—weight loss, diet, exercise and if need be, medication.
But little things matter, too. Here are 12 simple diet and lifestyle tips to help you take control of your blood sugar—now.
1. Drink whey in the morning.
Those tubs of powdered concentrated milk protein called whey aren’t just for body-builders. A whey-protein-rich drink before breakfast can help keep blood sugar levels steady all day long. It works by activating postmeal insulin production. Best bet: Consume up to 50 grams a day of whey protein. (Caution: Talk to your doctor first if you have kidney disease or are taking medication, whether for diabetes or for another health condition. Also, people with dairy sensitivity may experience bloating and congestion from consuming whey.)
2. Eat a beet (or drink one).
Beets are rich in nitric oxide, a compound that helps keep blood vessels dilated, making it easier for the body to deliver blood sugar to tissues, thus removing it from the blood. So eat beets or drink beet juice. Even though both are high in sugars, most of them exist as complex fiber, so they actually help control blood sugar.
3. At meals, eat protein first.
In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who ate carbs such as bread first and ate the protein parts of meals afterward had higher blood sugar than when they ate protein first. Protein and the embedded fat slow carb processing and movement out of the stomach into the intestines where the carbs are absorbed. See Bottom Line’s article “Blood Sugar Tip: Eat This, Then That.”
4. Cook pasta al dente.
Avoiding soft-cooked pasta isn’t merely a matter of taste…it affects the pasta’s glycemic index (GI), a measure of how quickly carbs raise blood sugar. A good rule of thumb is to aim for most of your diet to have a GI of 55 or less—al dente pasta can have a GI as low as 43. You can look up foods on the Glycemic Index site.
5. Add lemon juice or vinegar to your meals.
The slower you digest carbs, the better for your blood sugar. One trick to slow digestion is to add a dose of acid—either the citric acid found in citrus fruits such as lemons and limes or the acetic acid that makes up vinegar—to starch-heavy dishes. These acids interfere with enzymes that break down starches, delaying their conversion into sugar.
6. Go with the (whole) grain.
Unrefined, minimally processed whole-grain foods are your friends thanks to their impressive fiber content. Fiber slows your digestion, lowering the food’s GI—and supports beneficial gut bacteria that also help control blood sugar. People with diabetes who eat whole grains live longer. Aim for at least three servings a day.
7. Drink plenty of water.
When you’re dehydrated, your body produces more of the hormone vasopressin, which tells your kidneys to hold onto fluids. But it also tells your liver to crank out more sugar! Research shows that drinking 17 to 34 ounces of water daily is linked to a reduced risk of developing diabetes. Bonus: Staying hydrated also is linked to a lower risk for obesity.
8. Try this six-minute workout.
Any exercise is great, but interval training—alternating low-exertion movement with short bursts of intense activity—is just as effective at controlling blood sugar as much longer workouts, studies show. Think of it as an exercise “snack” that takes very little time out of your day. Example: Walk at a normal pace for one minute, then walk fast enough to get your heart really pumping for one minute…and repeat for a total of six minutes. Do it before a meal, and it can cut your blood sugar levels by 17%.
9. Get stronger.
Adding resistance exercises to your workout routine doesn’t just give you stronger, leaner muscles and a calorie-burning boost—studies show that in people with diabetes and prediabetes, weight training helps control blood sugar and helps prevent diabetes-related complications such as heart disease. Use hand weights, weight machines, stretchy bands or isometric exercises such as push-ups and squats at least two times a week—aim for a resistance level that challenges your muscles just enough to do 15 reps comfortably. Get more tips here.
10. Consider red ginseng.
Red ginseng, the steamed root of Panax ginseng (Korean or American ginseng), may be effective at controlling blood sugar. In one study, people with prediabetes or diabetes who took red ginseng root supplements, compared with those taking a placebo, had lower blood sugar levels after meals. If you want to try it, make sure to do so under the supervision of a trained health professional, especially if you are taking any medications. To learn more, read the Bottom Line article, “Diabetic? Stop Blood Sugar from Spiking with Red Ginseng.”
11. Sip green tea.
Green tea contains an antioxidant called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) that helps regulate blood sugar, likely by boosting insulin sensitivity. Enjoying a cup of green tea after a meal, especially a starch-heavy meal, can help prevent a blood-sugar spike. Tip: Don’t add sugar!
12. Zap stress.
Easier said than done, we know. But finding ways to ease stress is key to keeping blood sugar levels in check. Why? Hormones released when you’re stressed trigger your body to release more blood sugar for energy—while simultaneously blocking insulin production. Try yoga, a few minutes a day of mindful meditation, deep breathing exercises, a walk in the sunshine…anything that helps you chill out. To learn more, read Bottom Line’s article, “Prevent Diabetes with Your Mind.”