DIABETES: 10 tips to lower blood sugar naturally

March 09, 2010

DIABETES: 10 tips to lower blood sugar naturally
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, American Indian and Alaska Native adults are 2.3 times as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes. The disease is the fourth leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives, affecting about 16% of the population. Information about diabetes from Tanka friend Lifescript runs every other week in our blog, Walking the Way of Wellness.

It's the Holy Grail for people with diabetes - checking your blood sugar and seeing the numbers right in line. Can lifestyle changes help? Yes, says Jill Weisenberger, Lifescript's nutrition expert, and other top diabetes doctors. Check out their 10 tips to lower your blood glucose. ...

If you have diabetes, lowering blood sugar isn't just a short-term goal: Doctors believe that it consistently helps prevent or delay diabetes complications, including kidney, eye and nerve diseases.

Most of these diseases require 10 or more years to develop, but "it's still worth aggressively managing blood sugar levels to slow the onset of complications," says Edward Geehr, M.D., Lifescript Chief Medical Officer.

Here are 10 tips to keep your readings on target:

1. Spread out your meals.

"I always tell my patients to spread their food out over the day, keeping carbohydrates consistent," says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., and Lifescript's nutrition expert. "Don't eat small meals so you can save up for a big dinner."

Avoid fasting or skipping meals, even on weekends or other days when your schedule is hectic. It'll give your body enough time to regulate blood sugar levels and keep them even.

How many carbs per meal are ideal?

"It's tailored to each individual," says Weisenberger, who factors in medication, hormones and other key information for each patient.

A typical starting point is 45 grams per meal for women and 60 grams for men (15 grams per snack). From there, make adjustments according to your blood glucose readings.

2. Eat more food with resistant starch.

Resistant starch -- found in some potatoes and some beans -- bypasses the small intestine, gets metabolized by the good bacteria and then behaves as dietary fiber in the large intestine, Weisenberger says.

"Even after your next meal, your blood sugar will be lower," she says. "It's called the 'second-meal effect.'"

You'll find it in a potato that has been baked and then cooled, but not in a warm potato. So a half-cup of potato salad will bring on better blood sugar readings than the same amount of warm mashed potatoes.

Black and kidney beans also have natural resistant starch.

3. Bring on the beans.

Can something as simple and inexpensive as beans really help with diabetes control?

Yes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Beans digest slowly, resulting in only a small rise in blood glucose levels. Several studies have shown that eating 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups of cooked beans daily improves diabetes control.

Beans also are an excellent source of folate, which is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, a common diabetes complication. Eating 1-3 cups of cooked beans a day will lower total cholesterol 5%-19%.

Sneak beans in soups and salads, or eat them as a side dish.

But introduce them gradually into your diet, the ADA says. Chew thoroughly, drink plenty of liquids to aid digestion and take enzyme products such as "Beano" to avoid gastrointestinal distress.

For convenience, go for canned beans, which require less preparation time and are as healthy as dried.

4. Cook up cactus.

The paddle-shaped nopal cactus (also known as "prickly pear") slows carbohydrate absorption and lowers post-meal blood glucose readings in people with type 2 diabetes, according to some studies. In Mexico, nopal is used for treating the disease.

According to a 2007 article in the journal Diabetes Care, the cactus is very high in soluable fiber, and, when eaten with other foods, slows the rate at which sugar from the meal enters the bloodstream.

Nopal, popular in central Mexico, is boiled, grilled, fried or mashed and added to soups and stews.

It's available in supplements, but be careful: Some people experience gastrointestinal distress, and it hasn't been studied extensively in the U.S. as an oral extract. Always talk to your doctor before trying this or any other supplement.

5. Get more sleep.

Poor or limited sleep affects body chemistry and getting more shut-eye helps with blood sugar control, Weisenberger says.

People who get fewer than 6 hours a night consistently are 4.5 times more likely to get abnormal blood sugar readings than those who slept longer, according to a study by the University at Buffalo, N.Y. Adults typically need 7-9 hours a night.

Lack of sleep is also linked with other health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

More than a third of people with type 2 diabetes have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where a collapsed airway causes a person to repeatedly stop breathing during sleep, according to James Herdegen, M.D., director for Sleep and Ventilatory Disorders at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

"Studies have demonstrated that type 2 diabetics who also suffer from OSA can dramatically reduce their glucose levels by getting treatment," he says.

OSA can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a mask worn during sleep that sends air through the airway to keep it from collapsing.

Check out more sleep disorders here.

6. Lose a little weight.

Carrying around those extra pounds causes insulin resistance, keeping the blood sugar lowering hormone from working.

Your weight-loss goals don't have to be enormous either, Weisenberger says. Some of her patients have seen improvements in blood glucose readings with only a 5-pound loss.

7. Manage stress.

When you're stressed out, your body creates a lot of stored energy - glucose and fat - so cells can use it when called into action.

In diabetics, this extra energy doesn't make it to the cells, so glucose piles up in the blood and results in high readings, according to the ADA.

How can you burn off tension?

Yoga and meditation have helped lower blood sugar levels in her patients, Weisenberger says.

The ADA also recommends creating your own stress-relieving routines: talking with a supportive friend, taking a warm bath or shower, watching an enjoyable movie, listening to music or taking a walk.

8. Get moving.

Exercise normalizes blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes (but not type 1).

"In type 2, exercise helps improve insulin resistance," says James Beckerman, a Portland, Oregon cardiologist. "The end result is lower blood sugars."

But exercise is important for both types because it helps prevent heart attack, stroke or diminished blood flow to the legs.

Because exercise can immediately reduce blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics, work with your health care team to determine the right amount of activity and timing for insulin.

A combination of resistance and aerobic exercise may be the most beneficial, Beckerman says.

9. Fidget more.

That's right. It's OK if you can't sit still.

Mayo Clinic researchers studied how thin people burn calories and found that they have more "spurts" of daily activity, such as fidgeting, than heavier people. Just how much? Up to 350 more calories per day.

Add these short bursts of activity to your daily routine:

  • Park your car at the back of the lot and walk to the store's door.

  • Return your grocery shopping cart to the supermarket door.

  • Walk to your neighbor's house instead of calling her.

  • Walk your outgoing mail to a farther mailbox.

  • Do some sit-ups or pushups during TV commercials.

  • 10. Eat breakfast.

    We've all heard that breakfast is the day's most important meal, and this is especially true for those who have diabetes. After fasting 8-12 hours, your body needs food to balance blood sugar levels and injected insulin from the previous night.

    Besides, eating breakfast can help overweight people with type 2 diabetes shed extra pounds.

    Of the 4,000 participants In the National Weight Control Registry who maintained at least a 30-pound weight loss for about 5.5 years, almost all said they ate breakfast daily.

    So what's the best breakfast? One with carbohydrate, protein and fiber, according to the ADA.

    Good options are cereal or an English muffin, low-fat milk or yogurt and fruit. (Save high-fat foods, such as bacon, sausage and eggs, for special occasions.)

    And think beyond the breakfast box: Leftover chicken breast with fruit is just fine too, the ADA says.

    What if you're not usually hungry for breakfast? Then make your previous night's meal smaller, so you'll wake up hungry, the ADA says. It will spread your carbohydrates more evenly throughout the day, leading to better blood-sugar control.

    Still unsure? For more advice, speak to a diabetes educator or other member of your health care team and visit the ADA Web site.

    For more about diabetes: LifeScript
    To follow LifeScript on Twitter: @LifeScript

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