Did you get lab work back from the doctor and notice your blood glucose and HbA1C levels getting higher? Your doctor might have told you to “watch your diet” or “start eating healthier”, but that can seem overwhelming! In this article, we’ll go over strategies to lower your blood glucose and A1C with food and daily habits.
Understanding Blood Glucose and A1C
Blood glucose is a measure of how much glucose (a type of sugar) is in your blood at the moment of testing. When we eat carbohydrates (whole grains, refined carbs, sugar), our glucose will rise and then fall depending on the type of food and what else we ate. The reason you fast for 12 hours before the test is so it can measure glucose without food. Under 99 mg/dL is considered normal.
HbA1C measures your blood glucose over the past two to three months, which is a much better indicator of your blood glucose. When this starts to rise along with glucose, you might start hearing the term ‘pre-diabetes’. A result under 5.7% is considered normal.
There’s a lot you can do to lower your glucose and A1C, so let’s dive into the strategies.
3 Strategies for Lowering A1C
The strategies for lowering A1C focus on three main areas:
- A balanced diet of whole foods
- Managing stress
1. Create a Balanced Plate
The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is an ideal guide for what a “healthy plate” looks like.
- About ¼ of the plate is healthy proteins with no or low saturated fat. Plant proteins, such as tofu and legumes, help maintain stable blood sugar levels, and can also help you feel satisfied and stay full longer.
- About ¼ of the plate is whole grains, or complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, farro, and many more.
- Half of your plate is a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables to boost your vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Some fruits and vegetables, like berries and leafy greens, are particularly rich in compounds that can help regulate blood sugar levels.
High Fiber Helps Glucose
Fiber has a significant role in managing blood sugar. Soluble fiber, found in foods like oats, beans, and fruits, can slow down the absorption of sugar, preventing rapid spikes in glucose. Insoluble fiber, in many vegetables, grains, and beans helps maintain healthy digestion. Both types make you feel full, helping with overeating and cravings. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate is high in fiber.
A Note to Carbs
Many people believe that carbohydrates are bad. But that’s not necessarily true! It is refined grains that can drastically spike glucose and lead to weight gain. Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates that are digested more slowly, leading to gradual increases in blood sugar. These foods also provide a steady source of energy, helping you avoid sugar crashes and cravings. Whole grains are also high in fiber and B-vitamins that can help with glucose control.
2. Exercise Daily
Exercising daily is crucial for lowering blood glucose. As you move your muscles, they are taking glucose from your bloodstream to use as energy. Any type of movement is beneficial - walking, jogging, yoga, weight lifting, dancing, etc. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day.
3. Find Ways to Manage Stress
Stress raises cortisol levels, which affects blood sugar, especially in the long term. Finding ways to calm your body and mind each day will directly impact blood sugar (plus make it easier to make healthier eating choices). Try exercising, meditating, reading for fun, doing a hobby, or anything else that will help you disconnect and relax.
Foods to Include Regularly
- Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are packed with antioxidants and fibre, which can help improve blood sugar control. Blueberries, in particular, have been shown to improve insulin resistance and reduce blood pressure.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Including apple cider vinegar during meals, especially high-carb meals, can reduce spikes in glucose and insulin after eating. Using ACV in salad dressing or as a pre-meal drink (always diluted in water! Try 1 tablespoon of ACV to 2 tablespoons of water).
- Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, dark romaine, collards, mustard greens, and swiss chard are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium which plays a role in insulin regulation. Eating green leafy vegetables daily has been shown to significantly lower type II diabetes risk.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, and flax seeds provide healthy fats, fiber, and protein that help stabilize blood sugar levels.
- Green Tea: Green tea has many benefits - it is anti-inflammatory, increases glutathione (a major antioxidant), improves markers for heart health, and may stimulate fat reduction.
Combine most of these ingredients into one bowl - a salad! This makes it easy to enjoy nutrient-dense, balanced meals that you know are helping your body become healthier.
Alkhatib, A., Tsang, C., Tiss, A., Bahorun, T., Arefanian, H., Barake, R., Khadir, A., & Tuomilehto, J. (2017). Functional Foods and Lifestyle Approaches for diabetes Prevention and management. Nutrients, 9(12), 1310. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9121310
Basu, A., et al. (2010). Blueberries Decrease Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Obese Men and Women with Metabolic Syndrome. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(9), 1582-1587.
Carlson, J. J., Eisenmann, J. C., Norman, Ortiz, K. A., & Young, P. C. (2011). Dietary Fiber and Nutrient Density Are Inversely Associated with the Metabolic Syndrome in US Adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(11), 1688–1695. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2011.08.008
Carter, P., Gray, L. J., Troughton, J., Khunti, K., & Davies, M. J. (2010). Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 341(aug18 4), c4229. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c4229
Hadi, A., Pourmasoumi, M., Najafgholizadeh, A., Clark, C. C. T., & Esmaillzadeh, A. (2021). The effect of apple cider vinegar on lipid profiles and glycemic parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-021-03351-w
Martín-Peláez, S., Fitó, M., & Castañer, O. (2020). Mediterranean diet effects on Type 2 diabetes prevention, disease progression, and related mechanisms. A review. Nutrients, 12(8), 2236. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12082236
Nielen, M., Feskens, E. J. M., Mensink, M., Sluijs, I., Molina, E., Amiano, P., Ardanaz, E., Balkau, B., Beulens, J. W., Boeing, H., Clavel-Chapelon, F., Fagherazzi, G., Franks, P. W., Halkjær, J., Huerta, J. M., Katzke, V., Key, T. J., Khaw, K. T., Krogh, V., . . . Wareham, N. J. (2014). Dietary protein intake and incidence of Type 2 diabetes in Europe: the EPIC-InterAct Case-Cohort study. Diabetes Care, 37(7), 1854–1862. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc13-2627