Let’s talk about blood sugar management today. Sounds boring, huh? Not at all, really. Done right, taking steps to lower blood sugar can be highly empowering. Sweet numbers on a blood sugar log will bring a smile to your face faster than an ice cream cone in July.
I know a lot of you who take pills for your diabetes feel powerless to change a high blood sugar reading, so you’d rather not know that your sugar is high—but there are things you can do to lower your blood sugar that don’t involve opening your medicine cabinet. Here are my top ten tips for lowering blood sugar:
1. Test, Don’t Guess
The first step—the mantra of dLife from the very beginning—is test, don’t guess! To master your blood sugar, you must first know where it is. And if you only check first thing in the morning, you’re cheating at solitaire. If you want to truly master your blood sugar, you should fearlessly seek out your very worst, highest numbers. That means checking after meals. Don’t let that high number flashing on your meter get you down. Rejoice that you’ve found it. It’s just a problem to be fixed—and as you roll out the rest of these tips, those high numbers, like the walls of Jericho, are going to come a-tumblin’ down.
2. No More Monochrome Meals!
While there’s no such thing as a diabetic diet anymore, there’s only so much your system can handle at once when it comes to foods that turn into sugar quickly. Here’s my advice: deprive yourself of no food, but limit yourself to one carb portion per meal. Carbs tend to be white in color: things made of flour (including pasta), potato, rice, and sugar. Oh, and corn is pale yellow, so it’s a white food, too. If you make sure every meal has only one white food, you’ll lower the blood sugar impact of the entire meal. If you want a baked potato, that’s not the meal to have a dessert with. If you want some ice cream, keep the meal to a pork chop, some green beans, and some cottage cheese (along with cauliflower, the only white-colored food that isn’t on the white foods list).
3. The “E” Word
You’ll need to use the dreaded E-word: exercise. But don’t freak out on me. I’m not saying you should go out and buy a treadmill or a gym membership. Rather, look for every excuse to exercise your body. Just use it whenever you can during the normal course of the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther from the door. Go fly a kite…on a calm day. At night, circumnavigate the couch during TV commercials.
4. Totally Lose It
Lose a pound. Or four. You don’t need to be supermodel skinny to improve your blood sugar. If you lose 7 percent of your weight, you’ll improve your insulin resistance. That will lower your blood sugar across the board, and dramatically reduce after-meal spikes. How much weight is that, really? Well, it depends on how much you weigh, of course. If you tip the scales at 200 pounds, 7 percent is 14 pounds. You could easily shed that in six months, simply by eating fewer bites per meal. I know we were taught as children to clean our plates, but it’s far better to throw some food away than to eat more than we need to. It’s only wasteful to eat what our bodies don’t need.
5. Pretend You’re at a Fancy Restaurant
When you eat out at a nice place, what comes first? Oh, right. The so-perky-you-want-to-strangle-her girl named Brittany whose pleasure it is to serve you today. But I was talking about the meal itself. Most non-fast-food meals start out with a good salad. What could be healthier? Salads are generally low in both calories and carbohydrates. That means they are good for controlling blood sugar and controlling waistline expansion. An added bonus: if you get filled up with salad, you’ll be less hungry when it comes to the rest of the meal—so you’ll eat less of the stuff that’s “bad” for your blood sugar log. Eating less of that other stuff will help you with Tip Number 4.
6. Start Drinking
I want you to start drinking. A lot. Of water. (Sorry for the letdown.) In fact, I want you to drink only water. Never, ever, ever drink a calorie. Stick with water, and drink a lot of it. It’s good for you, and like an early salad, water can help keep hunger at bay. I’d also like you to avoid diet sodas, at least on a regular basis. Though they don’t have any calories, diet sodas cause folks who drink a lot of them to have a harder time losing weight. No one is sure why.
7. Ask Your Doctor If a Dog Is Right for You
Yeah, odd prescription, I know, but dog owners are more active than non-dog owners. Why? Well…picture those big, brown, sad eyes pleading with you: Pleeeeeeeeeease take me for a walk. Frankly, most of us have a hard time with self-motivation. We’re tired, overworked, and stressed out—but we’re human beings. There’s a root word of humane in there somewhere. Often, we will do for others what we won’t do for ourselves; and pets are the hardest to say no to, because of the whole issue of interspecies communication. You can rationalize with your kid about why you’re too busy to play in the park with her, but your dog isn’t going to take no for an answer.
8. See What Else Is in the Medicine Cabinet
You need to take your medicine, but sometimes, meds for the other things that ail you can raise your blood sugar. We’ve got a list of them here. If you take one or more of these, talk to your doctor about alternative meds that could control your other conditions without affecting your blood sugar. Remember that everyone is different. Just because you take a medication on the list doesn’t mean that it raises your blood sugar—or, if it does, that it raises it enough to worry about. If your doctor says it’s safe to do so, you can stop taking a suspect med for a few days, carefully monitor your blood sugar, and see if it improves. If you want to be a proper scientist, you should then re-start the med to see if the sugar goes up again. And don’t try this at home! Do it only under your doc’s guidance.
9. Chill Out
Back in the really old days (like in the Paleolithic), life had some challenges. Like saber-tooth tigers. What happened when your ancient ancestors encountered a saber-tooth cat? I imagine they threw their hands up in the air, screamed, and ran like hell. To assist in the running like hell, their bodies would dump sugar into their blood for extra energy. To this day, our bodies still do that. The problem is that the modern saber-tooth tiger is the overdue electric bill, the dropped cell phone call, the dinnertime telemarketer, and the annoying neighbor. You can’t run away from any of these tigers. The extra sugar just sits in your body. But you can learn to defeat this ancient biological fight-or-flight response by learning how to relax. You’ll need to make time for you. It might be a warm bubble bath in the evening, a good book at lunch, aromatherapy candles, or even kickboxing. Take that, saber-tooth tiger. Bam!
10. Tuck Yourself in Early
Not getting enough sleep will raise your blood sugar…and most Americans don’t get enough sleep. But you have to. This is medicine for your diabetes, so you need to do what “Doctor” Wil tells you. And you need to do two things to get a good night’s sleep. First, you need to budget enough time. That means eight hours, for most folks. The second thing you need to do is purify your bedroom—and that means getting all the electronic gadgets out. Your bedroom is a place to sleep. It does not need a TV. It does not need a computer. It does not need a cell phone.
So, there you have it—ten simple things you can do to lower your blood sugar. Notice anything special about these tips? Right! There’s nothing special about them at all. They aren’t bizarre. They aren’t difficult. You don’t have to change your entire life. These are things you can integrate into the daily life you already live now. And once they become habits—healthy habits—you’ll have taken blood sugar management into your own hands.
Wil Dubois is a diabetes treatment specialist with the Pecos Valley Medical Center in New Mexico, a rural non-profit clinic. He has type 1 diabetes, and is a health columnist and author who has published over 275 articles and four award-winning diabetes books.