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5 Evidence-Based Ways to Lower Blood Sugar Naturally

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N

Medically Reviewed by Natalie Olsen, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-EP

Published on March 2, 2022

Keeping blood sugars in check can help prevent a myriad of health problems. Fortunately, research on diet and lifestyle offers real-life clues for natural blood sugar control.

Written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Anastasia Climan is a registered dietitian whose career progressed into public health, corporate wellness, and private practice roles. She earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of Connecticut's Coordinated Undergraduate Dietetics Program in 2011. She's led wellness initiatives on HIV/AIDS, children's health, and diabetes.
Medically Reviewed by
Natalie Olsen, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-EP
Registered Dietitian, Certified Exercise Physiologist
Natalie is a registered dietitian, functional medicine practitioner and certified exercise physiologist with over 15 years experience in the health and wellness industry and holds a Master's degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine through a collaborative program provided by the University of Western States and the Institute of Functional Medicine.
5 Evidence-Based Ways to Lower Blood Sugar Naturally
Photo credit: iStock.com/Cecilie_Arcurs

Every organ and body system depends on the bloodstream to deliver oxygen and essential nutrients, like glucose. Glucose, a simplified unit of energy, helps fuel our brain, muscles, and nervous system. (1)

Insufficient glucose (low blood sugar) can quickly put us in a life-threatening situation. But on the other hand, high glucose levels cause damage throughout the body, leading to potentially severe consequences down the road, such as kidney damage, heart disease, and even blindness. (2)

Since insulin is the hormone primarily responsible for blood sugar control, strategies that enhance our natural sensitivity to insulin (or prevent “insulin resistance”) help target the root cause of high blood sugar before other signs and symptoms develop. (3)

Here are some science-approved ways to lower your blood sugar by working with your body instead of against it.

1. Eat More Fiber

Fiber is a vital component of plant foods that delays the release of sugar during digestion.

Eating fiber not only buffers rapid blood sugar fluctuations but can also deter overeating, which may help reduce excess weight gain (a known contributor to insulin resistance).

Daily fiber intake recommendations vary by age and sex.

The daily recommendations for those age 50 and younger are 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. For men and women older than 50, the suggested amount is 30 grams for men and 21 grams for women. (4)

However, studies show that while most people understand fiber is essential, only 5 percent of Americans consume adequate amounts. (5)

High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and beans. To help boost your fiber intake, you could:

  • Add nuts and seeds to cereal, yogurt, or salads.
  • Check the food label on bread for “100% whole grain.”
  • Choose frozen or fresh berries as a sweet snack.
  • Fill up at least 1/2 of your plate with fresh or cooked vegetables.
  • Grab popcorn or make roasted chickpeas for a crunchy snack.
  • Keep the skin on apples and potatoes.
  • Replace white rice with brown rice or quinoa.
  • Replace white pasta with a high fiber variety such as whole wheat, chickpea, lentil, or bean pasta.

There are two different types of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps lower cholesterol and inflammation.
  • Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It helps move things through the digestive tract and prevents constipation.

Most naturally high-fiber foods contain a mix of both. However, focusing on soluble fiber may be especially beneficial for blood sugar control.

As soluble fiber forms a gel by mixing with digestive fluids (like chyme), it slows down the digestive process and absorption of sugar. (6)

Beans, lentils, ground flaxseeds, psyllium, oatmeal, oranges, and Brussels sprouts are excellent soluble fiber sources. (7)

2. Choose Healthier Fats

When you think of the different types of fats, like butter versus olive oil, the first thing that probably comes to mind is heart health.

But it turns out that heart-healthy fats can also support better blood sugar control.

Studies have connected the dots between high inflammation levels and insulin resistance. (3) Additionally, it appears that some dietary fats produce pro-inflammatory effects, while others are anti-inflammatory.

Examples of pro-inflammatory fats include high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fats, like palmitic acid and arachidonic acid. (3)

Conversely, omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA, may help reduce insulin resistance on a molecular level. (3)

Research on PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) points to an association to lower intakes of healthy fats. PCOS is a female endocrine disorder characterized by central obesity, infertility, and insulin resistance. (8)

It’s common for women with PCOS to have elevated blood sugar levels and chronic low-grade inflammation.

Compared to women without PCOS of the same age and BMI, those with PCOS showed a dietary pattern higher in saturated fat and lower in monounsaturated fat. (8)

In particular, the PCOS group appeared to eat less extra virgin olive oil and nuts. This study is one of many supporting a Mediterranean-style eating pattern for better health and glycemic control.

The American Diabetes Association recommends limiting saturated and trans fat found in high-fat animal products (cream, bacon, butter, poultry skin) and processed foods (fried foods and those containing hydrogenated oils). (9)

Replacing steak with salmon, cooking with olive oil, and adding chia or flaxseeds to your recipes can help boost your intake of omega-3s and keep inflammation at bay.

Dig Deeper: Foods That Are Very High in Omega-3

3. Build a Regular Exercise Habit

There’s a lot of debate over the best form of exercise. Some people swear by weight lifting, while others prefer a morning jog.

However, the truth is both aerobic exercise and strength training work to keep blood sugar levels down. (10)

Exercise accelerates the movement of glucose from the bloodstream and into the skeletal muscle through the GLUT4 transporter. (1)

Immediately after a strenuous workout, the body is up to five times more efficient at utilizing blood glucose. (10)

The most significant benefit starts to taper off after 30 to 40 minutes post-exercise, but studies show insulin sensitivity improvements can last for up to 48 hours. (1)

Getting some movement after a meal, such as going on a short walk, has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood sugar response. (11)

Experts generally recommend a combination of cardiovascular and muscle-building exercises for blood sugar control. (10)

But ultimately, any form of physical activity you can commit to has potential benefits.

Achieving this goal means finding ways to exercise that you enjoy.

Learning a skill or choosing an activity you like (such as tennis, roller skating, swimming, dancing, or climbing) makes working out feel less like work and more like a fun hobby.

In addition, signing up for a class, hiring a personal trainer, or inviting a friend to join you can provide the accountability needed to stick with a new exercise routine.

If you’re new to working out, remember to start slow. Jumping in too fast can lead to injuries and set you back.

Instead, take your time to build up your stamina and strength while celebrating your progress along the way.

Ultimately, aiming for 150 minutes per week of physical activity may decrease the chances of developing type 2 diabetes in those at risk by up to 58 percent. (1)

For people already living with type 2 diabetes, getting more exercise can lead to partial or complete remission in 11.5 percent of cases after one year. (1)

Certainly, it’s never too late to start making positive changes.

4. Get Enough High-Quality Sleep

Sleep is an often underrated cause of high blood sugar.

Several studies have confirmed that sleep deprivation can put you on the fast track to insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar, even after just a few bad nights. (3)

Disordered breathing at night, such as obstructive sleep apnea, impair sleep and blood sugar control. (12)

If you already have diabetes or prediabetes, high or low blood sugars make it harder to get a good night’s sleep.

One reason sleep issues lead to blood sugar problems is not sleeping enough increases cortisol levels and inflammatory markers, like C-reactive protein. (13)

Higher inflammation means greater insulin resistance.

For example, in one study, healthy adolescent males showed signs of insulin resistance after three nights in a row of sleeping for four hours per night compared to nine hours per night. (14)

Unfortunately, a restful night’s sleep doesn’t always come easily, particularly for shift workers. Proper rest is often elusive for those required to stay awake through the night or work on a rotating schedule. (13)

However, carefully planning time for naps and physical activity can help you feel your best on an irregular schedule.

Some basic sleep tips for setting up your environment for better sleep include using a white noise machine or earplugs if noisy neighbors or housemates are keeping you up. (15)

Use a fan or adjust your heat settings to aim for a comfortable bedroom temperature, and put on a humidifier if your room is dry.

If light is creeping in from your bedroom (natural sunlight or artificial light), use blackout curtains or an eye mask to prevent light from disrupting your body’s circadian rhythm. (15)

Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and late-night snacks also support better sleep quality.

Additionally, some research suggests that intermittent fasting (only eating during a specific window of time) can be good for sleep and blood sugar levels. (16)

Finishing your last meal at least a few hours before bed can give your body time to digest before sleep.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you’d like to try intermittent fasting (especially if you currently take medication for diabetes). Some evidence suggests eating earlier in the day is more beneficial than eating late in the evening. (16)

Dig Deeper: Evidence-Based Tips for Sleeping Better at Night

5. Learn to Cope with Stress

Stress is part of life. But the way you deal with it can have a profound impact on your health. Both chronic (long-term) and acute (immediate) stressors adversely affect glucose metabolism. (2, 17)

While you can’t necessarily avoid stressful situations, learning healthy management strategies can minimize harmful physical effects.

Chronic stress raises cortisol levels over time, creating insulin resistance by preventing fat and muscle tissues from absorbing glucose from the bloodstream. (2)

In addition, when cortisol stays high for an extended time, body fat can accumulate at the waistline, causing another independent risk factor for insulin resistance and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). (2)

Acute stress can also increase the rapid development of insulin resistance. A study on animal models under acute stress showed an alteration in the liver’s response to insulin, which can affect whole-body glucose metabolism. (17)

Other studies on mice point to a clear connection as well. Not only does short-term stress boost cortisol levels, but it also spikes several other inflammatory markers linked to insulin resistance. (18)

Furthermore, there’s also research to suggest that stress impairs the pancreas’ ability to make insulin. (19)

So whether insulin isn’t working well or the body isn’t producing it in the first place, the outcome is the same: high blood sugar.

If you’re prone to overindulging in alcohol or treats when stressed, these habits can further exacerbate high blood sugar issues. (19)

Instead, finding healthy coping strategies can help you navigate life’s ups and downs while protecting your physical health and emotional wellbeing.

Start by checking off the previous items on this list, like nourishing your body with nutritious food and carving out time for physical activity and rest.

If something is troubling you, journaling is a proactive way to work through your feelings.

You could also pick up a relaxing hobby, such as tai chi, yoga, reading, meditation, painting, or playing an instrument.

Finally, seeking connection and support in your local community, online, or with a qualified therapist can help you feel better equipped to face life’s challenges. (19)

Dig Deeper: Evidence-Based Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

The Bottom Line

High blood sugar can negatively affect every part of the body. Therefore, maintaining blood sugar levels within the normal range is essential for good health.

Aside from eating a nutritious diet filled with plenty of fiber and healthy fats, remember to care for your body and mind.

Prioritizing exercise, sleep, and stress management are sometimes underrated ways to keep your hormones running smoothly and your blood sugar under control.

Even if you have diabetes and require medication, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

The various factors affecting blood sugar regulation are interrelated and should be viewed holistically.

Making daily choices to help lower blood sugar levels can positively influence your mental, emotional, and physical at any stage of your journey.

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At WellnessVerge, we only use primary references for our articles, including peer reviewed medical journals or well-respected academic institutions.

  1. Exercise and Regulation of Carbohydrate Metabolism:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4727532/
  2. Investigation of the Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Insulin Resistance in a Chinese Population:
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    https://lipidworld.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12944-015-0123-1
  4. Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet - Mayo Clinic:
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    https://diabetesjournals.org/care/article/36/10/3262/30770/Three-15-min-Bouts-of-Moderate-Postmeal-Walking
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