Maintaining normal blood sugar levels can help to prevent or delay serious, long-term health conditions. For example, high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) is linked with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and prediabetes.
Blood sugar levels are affected by various factors, including how active and hydrated you are, meal size, and how much sleep you’re getting. Luckily, this often means we can take control of our blood sugar levels by making some lifestyle changes.
With this in mind, here are 12 science-backed, natural ways to help you lower (and regulate) blood sugar levels.
Note: If you’re diabetic or are concerned about your blood sugar levels, it’s important to always speak with your GP before making any changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Why is it important to maintain healthy blood sugar levels?
We all need a certain amount of sugar (or glucose) in our blood to provide our cells with energy. However, having too much sugar in your blood over time can be dangerous for your health.
Symptoms of high blood sugar include weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, feeling very thirsty, and needing to urinate a lot. If left untreated, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels, nerves, tissues, and organs. It can also put you at risk of health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and other related conditions – like diabetic retinopathy (permanent damage to your eyes).
High blood sugar occurs when the body doesn’t have enough insulin (the hormone that helps blood sugar enter the body’s cells so it can be used for energy), or if your body can’t use insulin properly.
High blood sugar is a common problem for people with diabetes. Other conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome, pancreatic diseases, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can also cause high blood sugar levels.
Additional causes and risk factors for developing high blood sugar include stress, trauma, surgery, infections, taking certain medications, being inactive or overweight, and/or eating too much sugary or starchy food.
12 science-backed ways to lower (or regulate) blood sugar levels
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is important for health. And the good news is that there are various lifestyle changes that science has proven can help.
We’ll cover a few of these below…
1. Practise portion control
Practising portion control can help you to regulate your calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight.
This is important because research shows that weight management can promote healthy blood sugar levels, and has been linked to a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Practising portion control can also prevent blood sugar spikes.
Check out our article, 9 tips to prevent overeating and encourage portion control, for more information.
2. Add foods rich in chromium and magnesium to your diet
Research has linked high blood sugar levels and diabetes to micronutrient deficiencies, including in magnesium and chromium.
Chromium is involved in carbohydrate and fat metabolism, and research suggests that it can support healthy blood sugar regulation as a result. Examples of chromium-rich foods include broccoli, liver, seafood, potatoes, and whole-grain products.
Magnesium has also been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels. In fact, diets rich in magnesium are linked with a significantly reduced risk of developing diabetes. Meanwhile, low magnesium levels may contribute to insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance in people with diabetes.
Examples of magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens, tuna, whole grains, squash, and pumpkin seeds. Our article, Magnesium – what it is and why it’s important, has more information.
3. Manage your carbohydrate intake
Carbohydrate intake has a significant influence on blood sugar levels. This is because the body breaks down carbohydrates into sugars (mainly glucose), which insulin stores and uses for energy.
However, when you eat lots of carbohydrates or have insulin function problems, this process sometimes fails, which can cause blood glucose levels to rise.
As a result, for some people (often diabetics), regulating carbohydrate intake can help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. For example, studies have found that eating a low-carb diet can reduce blood sugar levels and prevent blood sugar spikes.
For inspiration, you might like to have a read of our article; 8 tasty and filling low-carb meals.
Note: It’s important to recognise that low-carb and no-carb diets are not the same. You can still eat some carbohydrates when monitoring blood sugar levels – and some carbohydrates contain vital vitamins, minerals, and fibre, which are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Steps like prioritising whole grains over processed grains and refined carbs can help lower blood sugar levels too.
4. Choose foods with a low glycemic index
The glycemic index (GI) of food measures how quickly carbohydrates are broken down during digestion and the rate at which your body absorbs them. Both of these factors affect how quickly your blood sugar levels rise.
High GI foods are broken down by the body quickly and cause rapid increases in blood sugar levels. Examples include chips, white bread, pizza, crisps, and cereals (unless they’re whole-grain).
On the other hand, low and medium GI foods take longer for the body to break down and cause a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels. As a result, studies have found that low and medium GI foods can help to regulate blood sugar levels and prevent spikes.
Examples of low to moderate GI foods include barley, bulgur, oats, beans, unsweetened Greek yoghurt, lentils, and wholewheat pasta. Check out these low-GI dinner recipes from BBC Good Food for inspiration.
Check out our article, Low glycemic (GI) diet – what is it and are there benefits?, to find out more about how you can work low GI foods into your diet.
5. Add more fibre to your diet
Research has found that eating a high-fibre diet can be an effective way to regulate blood sugar levels. Unlike most carbohydrates, fibre isn’t broken down by insulin into sugar molecules, but passes through the body undigested.
As a result, studies suggest that increasing your intake of dietary fibre by two servings of whole-grain products every day could lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 21%.
6. Stay hydrated
For some people, keeping blood sugar levels within a healthy range could be as simple as drinking enough water.
As well as preventing dehydration, drinking enough water helps your kidneys to flush out any excess sugar through urine.
This scientific review found that people who drank more water had a lower risk of developing diabetes.
For inspiration and advice, you might like to read our articles; 11 tips for staying hydrated and why it’s important and 9 healthy and hydrating alternatives to water.
7. Add more probiotic-rich foods to your diet
Probiotics are a type of friendly bacteria that have impressive health benefits – including improved blood sugar regulation.
Research has revealed that eating more probiotics may reduce insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.
Studies have also found that blood sugar level improvement is more notable in people who eat various types of probiotics for at least eight weeks. So where possible, it’s worth incorporating a range of probiotic foods into your diet.
Examples of probiotic-rich foods include fermented foods like kefir, yoghurt, tempeh, and kimchi. For more inspiration, check out our article; 8 fermented foods for gut health.
8. Exercise regularly
Research has revealed that regular exercise can help to improve insulin sensitivity. Improved insulin sensitivity means that body cells are able to use sugar available in the bloodstream more effectively.
During exercise, blood flow to your muscles increases, which also raises the rate at which glucose is delivered to muscles. The more strenuous the workout, the longer your blood sugar levels will be affected. According to the American Diabetes Association, physical activity can lower your blood sugar for up to 24 hours or more after your workout, by making your body more sensitive to insulin.
If you haven’t yet found an exercise or activity that you love, the fitness and exercise section of our website is full of ideas; from running and cycling to yoga and Tai Chi.
Alternatively, experts recommend adding so-called ‘exercise snacks’ (a few minutes of exercise every 30 minutes) into your daily routine. This has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and help prevent build-up caused by sitting down all day. Recommended exercises include light walking and bodyweight resistance exercises like squats or lunges.
Note: While exercise can help to lower blood sugar levels, it can affect different people’s blood sugar levels differently, depending on their health and the type of exercise they’re doing.
If you have diabetes, you’ll need to take steps to control your blood sugar levels during a workout to make sure that they don’t drop too low or rise higher.
These steps include checking your blood sugar levels before a workout (a healthy target range to aim for before you begin is 4-7mmol/l), during a workout (every 30 minutes or so), and after. You can find out more about blood sugar levels and exercise on the Diabetes UK website.
9. Take steps to manage your stress levels
Research has found that stress can affect blood sugar levels. This is because when we’re stressed, our bodies release the hormones glucagon and cortisol – both of which cause blood sugar levels to rise.
For example, this study found that stress-relieving activities like exercise, meditation, and general relaxation lowered blood sugar.
10. Get enough good quality sleep
Getting enough good quality sleep is important for overall health. And scientific research has revealed that poor sleeping habits and lack of quality rest can affect blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, and increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Other research has found that sleep deprivation raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which plays an essential role in blood sugar regulation.
The sleep and fatigue section of our website is full of useful advice on how to improve sleep quality, with information on everything from how the circadian rhythm works to how to find the right mattress for you.
11. Take steps to maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a moderate weight promotes healthy blood sugar levels and reduces a person’s risk of developing diabetes.
For example, research has found that even a 5% reduction in body weight can improve blood sugar regulation and reduce the need for diabetes medication.
The diet and nutrition section of our website has plenty of useful tips for achieving a healthy lifestyle, including our article; 15 quick and easy diet swaps for a healthier lifestyle.
12. Consider eating healthy snacks more frequently
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is important for lowering our risk of various health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.
And luckily, science has shown that various lifestyle changes can make a significant difference when it comes to taking care of our blood sugar levels.
You might like to have a read of our article on type 2 diabetes, or head over to the general health and diet and nutrition sections of our website for more healthy lifestyle tips. If you’re concerned about your blood sugar levels, it’s important to seek advice from your GP.
What steps do you take to lower and maintain healthy blood sugar levels? Will you be trying anything from this list? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.