Why are blood sugar levels so important?
Believe it or not, sugar does play an important role when it comes to supporting your body. This is because it can be converted into glucose, your body’s primary fuel source, and stored in your liver as glycogen so you can utilise it at a later date. Problems only arise when your bloodstream contains too much glucose which often happens as a result of what you are eating.
Humans in centuries gone by usually got all the sugar they needed from natural sources such as fruit, however, these days sugar is an extremely pervasive aspect of all of our diets, often appearing in everything from refined carbohydrates like bread, to more obvious sources such as chocolate, to supposedly healthy bottled smoothies.
This can create a real problem as you can see in the graph above. When your blood sugar levels become elevated, the hormone insulin will be secreted to help store this excess sugar, which can sometimes end up being stored as fat! Your blood sugar levels will then drop quite dramatically, which can stimulate feelings of fatigue and unfortunately, make you crave more sugar. As this vicious cycle continues, your body becomes more and more desensitised to insulin, possibly placing you at risk of becoming diabetic!
What can you do to break this cycle? Well, your diet can play a big role as in most cases it’s what you eat that influences your blood sugar levels. That’s why today I’ve decided to discuss some of my favourite foods that, in addition to a healthy lifestyle, might just help you to get your blood sugar levels under control.
1 – Avocados
The world seems to have fallen head over heels for avocados in recent years and it’s a trend that I’m definitely not complaining about. Not only are avocados chockfull of antioxidant vitamin E, they’re also an excellent source of unsaturated fatty acids.
These particular types of fatty acids have been linked to increasing your levels of healthy cholesterol, helping to prevent heart disease. It’s also thought that unsaturated fatty acids can have a positive influence on your blood sugar levels and some studies have even linked them with improving insulin resistance.1
Avocados also have the added benefit of being quite low in carbohydrates but high in fibre which is important as fibre can slow down the absorption of sugar, preventing a sudden spike from occurring in the first place.
My favourite avocado recipes:
Kale & Avocado Salad
Chocolate Avocado & Banana Pudding
2 – Cacao
Cacao? That sounds suspiciously like cocoa, the stuff that’s normally used to make chocolate and other sweet confectionaries. Well, cacao is related to cocoa in that both are derived from cacao seeds however that’s where the similarities end.
Cacao, unlike cocoa which is roasted at high temperatures, retains most of its inherent nutrients by being processed at far lower temperatures. This means that it has a much higher level of antioxidants, in particular a flavanol known as epicatechin. This compound has been shown to help your body secrete more insulin and enhances insulin’s response to increased blood sugar levels.2
This probably sounds like pretty good news if you’re fond of dark chocolate but, just because chocolate has a higher content of cacao, doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy. Quality really does matter!
3 – Cinnamon
One of the main problems with sugar is that it’s the most popular way of sweetening foods and not a lot of people are aware that there are alternatives, such as cinnamon.
Cinnamon is a popular spice that, while having impressive antioxidant properties, is an entrant on this list because of the role it plays in increasing insulin sensitivity. One study, in particular, found that a compound derived from cinnamon was capable of mimicking insulin3, positively affecting how glucose was transported to cells to be stored.
Not only does cinnamon help to improve how glucose is stored, it also helps to keep blood sugar spikes under control after meals. The exact method by which cinnamon accomplishes this feat is debated – some researchers have speculated that cinnamon may slow down how carbohydrates are digested.4
The good thing about cinnamon is that it does help to enhance the flavour of dishes, but as with cacao, it pays to use the right kind of cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is arguably the best type of cinnamon as it has the highest content of antioxidants.
4 – Garlic
Garlic is perhaps best known for its pungent odour but this popular meal addition should really be more widely praised for its numerous health benefits. Not only is it associated with boosting immunity, some studies have also found that garlic might play a role in lowering your fasting blood sugar levels.5
One report issued in 2012 even found that garlic had hypoglycemic effects but, since this trial was conducted on animals, it might not paint a completely accurate picture.6 Nevertheless, garlic is simple and easy to add to a wide range of savoury meals, from pasta dishes to soups.
My favourite garlic recipes:
Tomato, Garlic & Chickpea Soup
Butternut Squash Pasta
5 – Oat meal
Oatmeal is probably one of the more well-known foods on this list when it comes to lowering your blood sugar levels. It has a naturally low glycaemic index and its chockfull of fibre, helping to slow down the absorption of sugar. It’s also a pretty good source of energy so, when that afternoon slump hits, you don’t have to resort to cakes and biscuits!
The main problem with oatmeal though, is that many people prefer to buy it ready-made from the supermarket to save time. The issue I have with this is that it’s rarely just oatmeal you’re getting – usually it’s accompanied by a plethora of sweeteners, sugars, preservatives and artificial flavourings. This isn’t exactly ideal for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, which is why I always recommend making oatmeal from scratch, using your own toppings and sweeteners, like cinnamon!
6 - Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been making headlines for the last couple of years, with claims bouncing around that it can aid everything from dandruff to weight loss. However, some small studies have also indicated that apple cider vinegar could play a role in lowering blood sugar levels.
One of these studies looked specifically at how vinegar consumption could reduce fasting blood sugar levels when consumed with meals.7 This is very promising but it’s important to remember that, thus far, studies have remained small. Given the beneficial properties of apple cider, including more in your diet can certainly be beneficial but the idea of moderation is important too!
7 – Kale
When people think of a green leafy vegetable, they tend to gravitate towards spinach, an ever-popular option. However, when it comes to leafy greens, I prefer to shine some spotlight on kale.
This winter vegetable has an incredibly high fibre content (always a plus when it comes to stabilising your blood sugar levels!) and is rich in potassium, an essential mineral which can help to reduce your risk of heart disease. Similar to most leafy greens, it also contains an abundance of antioxidants although in this case,I want to focus on alpha-lipoic acid.
This antioxidant is famous for being able to help restore vitamin levels and prevent cell damage but recently, there is evidence that it could also play a role in lowering your blood sugar levels, possibly increasing insulin sensitivity and therefore reducing your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.8
My favourite kale recipes:
Sweet potato and kale soup
8 – Legumes
Legumes are a group of foods that usually encompass lentils, beans and peas. They’re known for typically containing high amounts of fibre, protein and complex carbohydrates – all useful nutrients when it comes to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels!
In fact, one study conducted in 2012 found that legumes were capable of improving glycaemic control when incorporated into the diets of type-2 diabetics.9 They also offer a healthier alternative when compared to refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and rice, being noticeably lower in sugar and higher in beneficial vitamins and minerals.
My favourite legume recipe:
Homemade Protein Packed Chickpea & Lentil Hummus
Cinnamon Sugar Chickpea Cookies