How to Avoid Blood Sugar Spikes and Crashes, From an Expert
If you’re familiar with the pattern of blood sugar spikes and crashes sending you on an energy roller coaster throughout the day, then maintaining a normal blood sugar level may be a challenge for you. While everyone experiences some amount of ebb and flow of blood sugar after we eat and in the hours between meals, a dramatic spike and drop in blood sugar can disrupt your day, causing fatigue and the craving for carbs, making it hard to lose weight or maintain healthy body weight.
Grabbing that quick-fix sugary snack is the worst response to a blood sugar crash since it creates a second surge and the body responds by releasing insulin, the hormone that signals to the cells to use the energy or else it will instruct the body to cart extra fuel off to be stored as fat.
Knowing how to keep blood sugar steady in the first place is the best way to avoid that spike. Fortunately, there are foods that lower blood sugar naturally. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels not only makes you feel good, and energized, but it’s also good for long-term health. High blood sugar is associated with insulin resistance, the condition in which your cells stop listening to the signal from insulin, causing more and more insulin to be released, which can lead to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, increased heart disease risk, and prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
What causes blood sugar spikes?
All foods raise blood sugar since it’s part of the normal digestion process. So elevated blood sugar after eating a meal is perfectly normal. Blood sugar fluctuates differently from person to person, and these fluctuations often come in the form of spikes, meaning a rapid rise in the amount of sugar in the blood after eating foods high in carbohydrates. When we eat sugary carbs, like donuts, chips, and white bread, the body breaks these simple carbs down into sugar that circulates in the blood as glucose.
When glucose enters the bloodstream, blood glucose levels rise, triggering the release of insulin, the hormone that makes it possible for glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter the cells to be used as energy or stored for later use.
In people with diabetes, there either isn’t enough insulin or it isn’t functioning properly, so they need to regularly monitor blood sugar levels because it’s important to keep glucose at a safe level. Research shows that everyone, even people without diabetes, or who consider themselves healthy and fit, experience blood sugar spikes, often without knowing it.
This can be a problem because high blood sugar levels, when prolonged, may not only lead to symptoms, such as fatigue, excessive thirst, constant hunger, frequent urination, and nausea, it can contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance, or prediabetes, which can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. More than one in three adult Americans, or about 96 million people, have prediabetes, yet more than 80 percent don’t know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How to keep blood sugar stable
Eating high carb foods, particularly simple carbs made from refined grains, like white bread, white rice, and pasta, and are high in sugar, like sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts, are the most likely culprits behind blood sugar spikes.
“Choosing carbs such as whole-grain bread, versus white bread, will ensure that you’re taking in more fiber, which will help to control blood sugar levels, says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based dietitian and owner of Master the Media in Stamford, CT. Gorin also recommends combining carbohydrates with protein, fat, and/or fiber to help keep blood sugar levels stable for longer. “So instead of just having apple slices for a snack, pair them with peanut butter so that the fat and protein from the nut butter helps to keep the food in your system for longer — which helps to prevent blood sugar spikes and ddips,” says Gorin.
Foods to Lower and Regulate Blood Sugar
Whole Grain Foods are made with less processed ingredients, they keep more of their fiber, which is absorbed more slowly during digestion and helps stabilize blood sugar. Studies have shown higher consumption of whole grains is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. A recent review of studies showed that long-term consumption of whole-grain millets significantly lowered post-meal and fasting blood sugar levels, especially when compared to refined grains, such as wheat and milled rice. Look for these whole grains and more in their whole form or ingredients in bread, pasta, crackers, and cereals.
- Whole wheat and stone-ground whole wheat (durum, emmer, einkorn)
- Rice (brown or wild)
Nuts and Seeds are rich in dietary fiber, plant proteins, and unsaturated fatty acids—all the macros nicely packaged into unprocessed goodness that is convenient and delicious. Research supports eating nuts to positively influence healthy blood sugar levels, as well as weight control and heart health.
Choose raw or roasted nuts and nut butter in their most unprocessed form, avoiding those added sugars, sodium, and additives. Enjoy as a go-to snack, and use them to top salads, side dishes, plant-based dairy yogurt, and to make your own nut butter, dressings, and sauces.
- Sunflower seeds
- Pine nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Flax seeds
Add more legumes to your diet
Legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas, are packed with fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates—essential components to slow digestion and support healthy blood sugar levels. Evidence suggests a positive effect on blood sugar, especially in people with diabetes. Including more of legumes in your diet is a great way to add healthy variety and keep blood sugar steady and under control.
Available dried, canned, and frozen, legumes are easy to cook, quick to prepare, and can be added to any dish, notably, chickpea hummus, chilis, curries, and almost any Mexican dish. Just steer clear of products with added sugars.
- Black beans
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- Black-eyed peas
- Pinto beans
- Navy beans
- Lentils (red, brown, yellow, green)
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Green beans
- Snow peas
Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber
Fruits and vegetables contain natural complex carbs but are also rich in fiber. They are also nutrient-dense, with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, plus plant compounds, making them beneficial for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Variety is key: Eat more cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage, which all contain sulforaphane, a plant compound associated with reducing blood sugar.
Antioxidant-rich berries, such as raspberries, which are associated with reducing post-meal blood sugar in people with diabetes; to citrus fruits which contain the plant compound naringenin, known to have anti-diabetic properties; and apples, which have quercetin, a plant compound which may help reduce blood sugar.
You can’t go wrong by boosting your intake of fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen, dried, or canned. These picks have been specifically called out in the research for their blood sugar benefits.
- Brussels sprouts
- Citrus fruits
- Fermented veg (kimchi, sauerkraut)
To ensure you’re hitting the mark, Gorin says, “Plan out your meals and snacks to contain sources of fiber, protein, and/or healthy fat. For instance, a meal could be brown rice (fiber) paired with tofu (protein), sesame oil (healthy fat), sliced almonds (protein, healthy fat, fiber), and veggies (fiber).” Along with eating the best foods for healthy blood sugar, Gorin advises eating every three to five hours, which can help keep blood sugar levels stable.
Bottom Line: Eating a diet rich in plants can help maintain healthy blood sugar.
Eat legumes, fruits, vegetables and greens to keep blood sugar stable and avoid spikes and drops throughout the day for better energy, to avoid weight gain and feel optimally healthy.
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