How to Balance Your Blood Sugar

by Lacy Kuester MS, MPP, RDNNutrition

Maintaining optimal blood sugar levels is essential for both overall health and cognitive health. In regards to Alzheimer’s disease, an imbalance in blood sugar levels can drive cognitive dysfunction and directly contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s disease Subtype 1.5, or Glycotoxic Alzheimer’s. A key part of re-establishing health to prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s includes creating blood glucose homeostasis. Below we summarize the science behind blood sugar imbalance and some of the natural methods that you can utilize to balance your blood sugar levels.

Insulin Sensitivity, Insulin Resistance, and Balanced Blood Sugar

Insulin is a hormone released by your pancreas when it senses that you have consumed sugar. It acts like a friendly doorman, opening the gates into your cells and allowing the sugar to leave your bloodstream. This is key for two reasons: 1) your cells need sugar for energy to perform their functions and 2) if the sugar remains in your bloodstream, it can wreak havoc on your circulatory system. You want your cells to be sensitive (responsive) to insulin when it comes to open the door in order to keep this system working correctly. Unfortunately, poor diet and lifestyle habits can cause your cells to become resistant (unresponsive) to insulin, meaning the insulin becomes less effective at opening the cell for sugar. Insulin resistance is a contributing factor not only to developing diabetes but also to some subtypes of Alzheimer’s disease, specifically subtype 1.5, Glycotoxic Alzheimer's. One goal of the Bredesen Protocol is to encourage diet and lifestyle choices that keep your blood sugar balanced.

Nutrients that Balance Blood Sugar Naturally

Certain nutrients have properties that naturally balance your blood sugar. Some keep your blood sugar levels low when you fast, others prevent spikes in blood sugar following meals, and others help improve the insulin sensitivity of your cells. All are beneficial and worth incorporating into your diet when working towards a goal of balancing your blood sugar. Here are some of the best nutrients to balance blood sugar:

Ceylon Cinnamon (3)

Effect: Balances blood sugar levels when taken before meals

Best Sources: As little as ¼ teaspoon of ground Ceylon cinnamon or 250mg of cinnamon extract taken as a supplement before meals (up to twice daily) is effective

Hibiscus (4)

Effect: Lowers fasting glucose levels

Best Sources: Hibiscus tea (aim for two cups per day)

Soy (2)

Effect: Improves insulin sensitivity

Best Sources: Choose organic soy products like tofu, tempeh, and edamame

Magnesium (1, 2)

Effect: Lowers fasting glucose levels; Improves insulin sensitivity

Best Sources: Organic green vegetables; Nuts ; Wild-caught salmon

Chromium (1, 2)

Effect: Lowers fasting glucose levels; Improves insulin sensitivity

Best Sources: Organic broccoli; Pasture-raised turkey breast; Organic green beans

Vanadium (1, 2)

Effect: Lowers fasting glucose levels; Improves insulin sensitivity

Best Sources: Mushrooms; Black pepper; Parsley

Diet and Lifestyle Habits to Balance Blood Sugar Naturally

Balancing your blood sugar cannot be achieved just by eating the specific foods above. Your overall diet and lifestyle choices have the most significant impact on your blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. The following recommendations are important for individuals who want to balance their blood sugar and improve their cognitive health (1, 2):

Consume an organic, plant-based diet rich in a variety of vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables (veggies other than those like potato, corn, and peas) should cover at least half of your plate at meals. Their fiber-rich content will slow your digestion, helping to prevent spikes in your blood sugar. While research shows that consuming 50g of fiber per day has the greatest benefits for our health, most Americans consume only 8g per day. Try to incorporate a wide variety across your day at each meal to get the maximum benefits of all of their phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While still beneficial for overall health, starchy veggies can raise your blood sugar, so you should limit your intake to one serving (about ⅓ to ½ cup) per meal. Choose lentils, beans, or sweet potato, which are full of fiber and phytonutrients that make them worthwhile additions to your plate.

Choose low-glycemic fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth. Dark-colored berries are your best bet. They give you the sweet satisfaction of a fruit without the rush of sugar into your bloodstream. When consuming fruit, it’s important not to eat them alone if you suffer from glycemic issues or insulin resistance. Pair them with a healthy protein source and non-starchy veggie to slow their digestion and release of sugar into your bloodstream. Limit your intake to one serving per meal (about 1/4 cup of berries) or speak with your dietitian to determine exactly how many servings of fruit will best meet your needs.

Choose fat sources rich in Omega-3s. Wild-caught fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, etc.) are great sources of these fats as are plant-based oils, particularly extra virgin olive oil. Avoid processed foods, which contain trans fats and saturated fats. These are famously harmful for your cardiovascular health but may also contribute to insulin resistance.

Focus on soy, lean meat, fatty fish, and nuts for protein. Pasture-raised poultry and eggs, nuts, organic soy, and fatty fish like those described above are great protein sources that also provide healthy fats.

Exercise. Exercise has the same effect as insulin on your cells: it opens them up and shuttles sugar inside. That means that, even if you are insulin-resistant, you can balance your blood sugar just by moving your body more. Try to incorporate an hour of movement into your day at least five days a week, and do your best to walk right after a meal to help the sugars you consume enter your cells more easily.


References:

Kligler, B., Lynch, D., & Kligler, B. (2003). An integrative approach to the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 9(6), 24–32. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/71365228/

Kohlstadt, I. (2013). Advancing medicine with food and nutrients (2nd ed.). Boca Raton: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis.

Mang, B. (2006). Effects of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA, and serum lipids in diabetes mellitus type 2. European Journal of Clinical Investigation, 36(5), 340–344. https://doi.org/info:doi/

Pillai, S.S. & Mini, S. (2016). Hibiscus rosa sinensis linn. petals modulates glycogen metabolism and glucose homeostasis signalling pathway in streptozotocin-induced experimental diabetes. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 71, 42–48. doi:10.1007/ s11130-015-0521-6