My most urgent goal right now is to decrease my HbA1c %. I have another blood test scheduled in a couple of weeks. I’ll be able to analyse the progress I’ve made. I’ve been researching natural ways to:
- Repair my insulin sensitivity
- Decrease my blood sugar HbA1c%
Here’s 12 natural ways to decrease blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
1. Regular Exercise
Increased insulin sensitivity means your cells can more effectively use the available sugar in your bloodstream.
Exercise also helps your muscles use blood sugar for energy and muscle contraction (2).
Researchers recommend doing “exercise snacks” to lower blood sugar and prevent the damage that sitting all day can do (3).
Exercise snacks simply mean that you break up your sitting time every 30 minutes for just a few minutes throughout the day. Some of the recommended exercises include light walking or simple resistance exercises like air squats or leg raises.
There are many forms of exercise include weightlifting, walking, running, biking, dancing, hiking, yoga, gardening, walking your dog, walking your friends dog, swimming and anything else that raises your heart rate and gets you sweating. It has to be made part of your everyday life. Stuff happens in life which will interrupt your exercise schedule. Don’t worry about that. Just start again tomorrow. It’s particularly great if your exercise is a social activity with other people. This way it’s more motivating. Pick activities and people to do them with that will NOT be overly discouraging especially when you’re starting out.
I use my apple watch to track all my exercise. It sends me annoying pop up messages to spur me along throughout the day. I find this particularly effective at motivating me.
2. Curbing The Carbs
Carb intake strongly influences your blood sugar levels (4).
Your body breaks carbs down into sugars, mainly glucose. Then insulin helps your body use and store it for energy.
When you eat too many carbs or have insulin-function problems, this process fails, and blood glucose levels can rise.
That’s why both Diabetes Australia and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommend that people with diabetes manage their carb intake by counting carbs and being aware of how many they need (5, 6). Some studies find that this can help you plan your meals appropriately, further improving blood sugar management (7, 8).
Many studies also show that eating a low carb diet helps reduce blood sugar levels and prevent blood sugar spikes (9, 10, 11).
It’s important to note that low carb diets and no carb diets are not the same. It’s possible to eat some carbs while still in improving your blood sugar. However, prioritising whole grains over processed ones and refined carbs provides greater nutritional value while helping decrease your blood sugar levels (12).
3. More Fibre
Fibre slows carb digestion and sugar absorption, thereby promoting a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels (13).
There are two types of fibre: insoluble and soluble.
While both are important, soluble fibre has explicitly been shown to improve blood sugar management, while insoluble fibre hasn’t been shown to have this effect (14, 15).
A high fibre diet can improve your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and minimise blood sugar lows. (16).
Foods that are high in fibre include:
- whole grains
The recommended daily intake of fibre is about 25 grams for women and 30 grams for men. That’s about 14 grams for every 1,000 calories (17).
4. Drink water & stay hydrated
Drinking enough water could help keep your blood sugar levels within healthy ranges.
In addition to preventing dehydration, it helps your kidneys flush out any excess sugar.
One review of observational studies showed that those who drank more water had a lower risk of developing high blood sugar levels (18).
Drinking water regularly may rehydrate the blood, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce risk of diabetes (19, 20).
Keep in mind that water and other zero-calorie drinks are best. Avoid sugar-sweetened options, as these can raise blood glucose, drive weight gain, and increase diabetes risk (21, 22).
5. Use Portion Control
Portion control can help regulate your calorie intake and maintain a moderate weight (23, 24).
Consequently, weight management promotes healthy blood sugar levels and has been shown to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (25, 26, 27).
Monitoring your serving sizes also helps prevent blood sugar spikes (28).
Here are some helpful tips for managing portion sizes:
- measure and weigh your portions
- use smaller plates
- avoid all-you-can-eat restaurants
- read food labels and check the serving sizes
- keep a food journal
- eat slowly
6. Choose foods with a low glycemic index
The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly carbs break down during digestion and how rapidly your body absorbs them. This affects how quickly your blood sugar levels rise (29).
The GI divides foods into low, medium, and high GI and ranks them on a scale of 0–100. Low GI foods have a ranking of 55 or less (30, 31).
Both the amount and type of carbs you eat determine how a food affects your blood sugar levels. Specifically, eating low GI foods has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes (32, 33).
Some examples of foods with a low to moderate GI include:
- unsweetened Greek yogurt
- whole wheat pasta
- non-starchy vegetables
Furthermore, adding protein or healthy fats helps minimise blood sugar spikes after a meal (34).
7. Try to manage your stress levels
Stress can affect your blood sugar levels (35).
When stressed, your body secretes hormones called glucagon and cortisol, which cause blood sugar levels to rise (36, 37).
One study including a group of students showed that exercise, relaxation and meditation significantly reduced stress and lowered blood sugar levels (38).
Exercises and relaxation methods like yoga and mindfulness-based stress reduction may also help correct insulin secretion problems among people with chronic diabetes (39, 40, 41).
8. Eat foods rich in chromium and magnesium
High blood sugar levels and diabetes have been linked to micronutrient deficiencies. Some examples include deficiencies in the minerals chromium and magnesium (42).
Chromium is involved in carb and fat metabolism. It may potentiate the action of insulin, thus aiding blood sugar regulation (43, 44, 45, 46).
Chromium-rich foods include:
- whole grain products
The mechanisms behind this proposed connection are not entirely understood, and studies report mixed findings (47, 48, 49).
Magnesium has also been shown to benefit blood sugar levels. In fact, diets rich in magnesium are associated with a significantly reduced risk of diabetes (50).
In contrast, low magnesium levels may lead to insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance in people with diabetes (51, 52, 53).
That said, if you already eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods and have adequate blood magnesium levels, you likely won’t benefit from taking magnesium supplements (54).
Magnesium-rich foods include:
- dark leafy greens
- squash and pumpkin seeds
- whole grains
- dark chocolate
9. Eat probiotic-rich foods
Probiotics are friendly bacteria that offer numerous health benefits, including improved blood sugar regulation (55, 56, 57, 58).
Research shows that probiotic intake may lower fasting blood sugar, glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), and insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes (59, 60, 61, 62).
Interestingly, studies have found that improvements in blood sugar levels are more significant in people who consume multiple species of probiotics and for at least 8 weeks (63, 64).
Probiotic-rich foods include fermented foods, such as:
- yogurt, as long as the label states that it contains live active cultures
10. SPICE THINGS UP
Herbs and spices were used for their medicinal properties long before they were introduced into cooking.
However, it was not until the past few decades that scientists began examining their health-promoting properties.
Herbs and spices including fenugreek, turmeric, ginger, and garlic have shown promising results for increasing insulin sensitivity.
- Fenugreek seeds. They’re high in soluble fibre, which helps make insulin more effective. Eating them whole, as an extract, or even baked into bread may help increase blood sugar management and insulin sensitivity (65, 66, 67).
- Turmeric. This spice contains an active component called curcumin, which has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It seems to increase insulin sensitivity by reducing free fatty acids and sugar in the blood (68, 69).
- Ginger. This popular spice is linked to increased insulin sensitivity. Studies have found that its active component gingerol makes sugar receptors on muscle cells more available, increasing sugar uptake (70).
- Garlic. In animal studies, garlic has appeared to improve insulin secretion and has antioxidant properties that increase insulin sensitivity (71, 72, 73, 74).
These findings for herbs and spices are promising however more studies need to be done.
11. Add a pinch of cinnamon
Cinnamon is a tasty spice that’s packed with plant compounds. It’s known for its ability to reduce blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity (75).
For example, one meta-analysis found consuming 1/2–3 teaspoons (1–6 grams) of cinnamon daily significantly reduced both short- and long-term blood sugar levels (76).
Studies suggest that cinnamon increases insulin sensitivity by helping receptors for glucose on muscle cells become more available and efficient at transporting sugar into the cells (77, 78).
Interestingly, some studies have found that cinnamon contains compounds that can mimic insulin and act directly on cells (79, 80).