So there I was, minding my own business, exercising daily, eating my veggies, avoiding soda drinks for decades and rarely indulging in desserts. Yet, last year, my doctor told me I had diabetes 2, and if I wasn’t careful it would lead to a number of health risks, including possible blindness. Yes, high blood sugar runs in my family, but I was following the USDA nutritional pyramid carefully. Why was I sick when I was trying to do everything right?
The fact is that nutrition science is changing, and that old nutritional pyramid is simply outdated. (In my case, it was killing me.) But by making certain dietary changes, I was able to lose 30 pounds (and keep it off), lower my blood sugar A1C levels (7.5 to 5.9 in one year) and reduce my risks for other health problems like high blood pressure, obesity and Alzheimer’s.
Now, it’s important to track your diet and know what raises your own blood sugar levels, as we all have different food sensitivities. Let your doctor know you’re following these tips, in case your diabetes medication (particularly insulin) needs adjustments. However, these seven tips really worked for me – and many others swear by this advice. So, if you have high blood sugar, give these seven tips a try and see if they work for you too.
1) Count the Carbs (Not All the Same) - Here's a confession: I used to be a carb addict. I loved whole grains, ancient grains, whole wheat crackers, pasta, rice, buckwheat and oatmeal. I loved these simple carbs so much I accidentally drove up my blood sugar to unhealthy levels. Now I'm on a low-to-no grain diet. This made a huge difference in my blood sugar levels.
Instead of simple carbs, focus your carb consumption on complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables, some fruits (like berries) and nuts in small amounts. These complex carbs are packed with nutrients, but they digest slowly in your body and don't jack up your blood sugar when included with moderate amounts of protein. Remember: vegetables often have double the fiber as grains. You'll get plenty of fiber from this eating approach, and your blood sugar will thank you.
2) Don’t Fear Fat (Some Essential) - Isn't it ironic that when scientists started downplaying the dangers of sugar in the 1960s and put the blame on fat, we all started to gain weight? Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 7 out of 10 Americans are overweight or obese. Obviously, something strange is going on.
Here's the truth. Fat doesn't make you fat. In fact, some fats are essential, such as linoleic and linolenic acid. These are important for blood clotting, brain development and controlling inflammation. The latest science now shows that healthy fats such as grass-fed beef, olive oil, nuts and seeds, oily fish and butter are very important to a nutritious diet. If you see the words "low fat or no fat," keep away. Often, the lower the fat in dairy, the higher the sugar. And sugar is the thing you want to avoid.
3) Clean Proteins + Good Fats + Some Veggies/Fruit = Healthy Meals - When I started to control my blood sugar with my diet, the first thing I learned was the importance of food combinations. In other words, every single meal I eat includes moderate amounts of clean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates in the form of vegetables or a little fruit. Don't eat carbs alone, or your blood sugar will rise.
For me, maintaining that balance between protein, fats and complex carbs did three things: First, it kept my blood sugar level and healthy. Second, the meal satisfied me completely, so I didn't feel starving shortly afterwards. Before I was either starving or stuffed. Now I'm just comfortable after a meal. Third, this way of eating helped me lose weight; 30 pounds in fact. So I'm at my ideal weight right now without starving or counting calories. I don't diet. I just eat effective food combinations, and I focus on quality ingredients.
4) Sugar is Sugar is Sugar (Lots of Names) - Did you know that there are more than 61 names for sugar? It's hidden everywhere. (Learn more in this free list.) Even if you are eating something savory, there's probably sugar in that package, believe it or not.
Yes, honey and molasses are more nutritious than other forms of sugar, but they are still sugar. They still raise your blood sugar. They still need to be managed like any other sugar. Your best bet is to cut out all added sugar as much as possible. Avoid packaged foods, where sugar hides in more than 74 percent of the products, according to UC San Francisco's SugarScience. Most importantly, eat real foods. Not something from a package. Often the "healthy" food packages have as much as 6 or 7 tablespoons of hidden sugar.
5) Watch Your Alcohol (Red Wine Often Best) - Want a drink? Skip the grain-filled beer, and lean instead toward a glass of red wine, which has significantly less carbohydrates. White wine and champagne are delicious in hot weather, but be aware they have more carbs than red wine. Limit them to special occasions. And if you simply can't give up beer completely, settle for a "taster" of your favorite every once in a while. Sometimes just a small taste will satisfy your cravings. Aim to limit your alcohol to one glass (women) and two glasses (men) per day, and be sure to take a couple days off each week too.
6) Exercise Half-Hour Daily (Hour Even Better) - One of the first things I noticed was the importance of exercise in lowering blood sugar. Contrary to what I'd learned, exercise didn't make me lose weight, as much as changing my diet. (I was already exercising at least 5 times a week, when I was 30 pounds heavier.)
But the exercise definitely strengthened my heart, toned my muscles, relieved my stress and dropped my blood sugar levels. Even if you can only squeeze in a half-hour dog walk, don't skip exercise for best results. An hour a day is best, but boosting your physical activity will definitely help. Exercise is vitally important to reduce diabetes 2 risks.
7) Make Friends with Ranchers and Farmers (You Need Them) - Around the United States, there are a lot of farmers and ranchers working hard -- often two jobs -- to provide the best quality ingredients available. When you cook from scratch or eat real foods, it really matters about the freshness and quality. After all, your meal is only as good as your raw ingredients.
It's easier to grow large fields of grain, soy and corn, than it is to grow organically raised vegetables. Science shows there are significant health differences between beef conventionally raised or grass fed its entire life. And if you've never tried a chicken egg raised out on the field, you should remedy that right away. When the ingredients are this healthy and delicious, your meals don't have to be complicated to be special.
Keep these family farmers, ranchers and butchers in business by supporting them with your food dollars. I'm not wealthy, but I invest my food dollars towards helping these fine people stay economically sustainable. The more you eat this way, the more you'll realize how much you really need these folks.