There are multiple ways to lower blood sugar, but not every strategy works for everyone. Some people need medication such as insulin; others need lifestyle changes in their nutrition and exercise habits; maybe you’ll need all of the above to help manage your blood sugar levels. Be sure to talk to your doctor about which approach is right for you.
Whether you live with diabetes or not, it’s important to know how your blood sugar is trending. In fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine, recently recommended screening for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes to begin at age 35—five years younger than its previous recommendation. Why? In addition to the increasing prevalence of diabetes, it’s becoming clear that the earlier you can identify diabetes and learn how to lower your blood sugar, the better your chances are of avoiding long-term complications of the condition.
So, whether you’re getting acclimated to life with diabetes, been living with diabetes for a while, or you’re looking to take some preventative steps to keep your blood sugar levels healthy, here are some ways to lower your blood sugar (and, once you get started or once you’re in a groove, work with your One Drop coach to help you stay on track).
Add Exercise Habits to Your Lifestyle
When you exercise regularly, your insulin sensitivity increases, which, in turn, improves your body’s ability to use glucose, explains Susan Juechter, a registered dietitian (RD) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). As your muscles contract during exercise, the cells inside those muscles will use glucose for energy. The key term here is “regularly;” in other words, it’s better to take a 20-minute walk five times a week rather than log just one or two long days at the gym. You want to aim for frequency and add moments of fitness in, as often as you can.
Plus, for those who take insulin, “exercise may reduce how much insulin you need immediately before and after exercise or even long-term,” adds One Drop coach Alexa Stelzer, CDCES and registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN).
While there are benefits to both aerobic exercise and resistance training, the latter specifically can promote muscle growth, adds One Drop coach Amy Crees, RDN. “The more muscle, the more glucose can be put to use,” she says.
That said, though, it’s important to check your blood sugar before and after a workout to understand how your body responds to different types of exercise. For example, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) causes small tears in the muscle fiber and, as it heals, makes muscles stronger. “However, when you’re not used to intense exercise, it takes longer to recover and, as a result, the muscle cells don’t use insulin as well, potentially raising blood sugar” in the short-term, explains Juechter. Walking may be better if you’re just getting started with exercise since it’s less intense.
As frustrating as it can be to see your numbers go up after exercise, know that you’re still getting the long-term, glucose-lowering benefits of physical activity, even if you’re seeing short-term rises, notes Stelzer. Talk to your One Drop coach to figure out an exercise routine that works for you.
Start Carb Counting with a Method that Works for You
When your body digests carbohydrates, they break down into glucose to fuel your cells, thus raising your blood sugar levels. If you don’t live with diabetes, your insulin response kicks into gear to keep your blood sugar from rising too high. But, if you do live with diabetes, your body doesn’t make insulin as effectively (or, in some cases, at all).
That’s where carb counting comes in: Keeping track of your carbs means reducing the risk that your blood sugar levels will spike.
In case you don’t know, you can count carbs in more than one way. Counting by grams, for example, entails reading food labels and measuring portion sizes to calculate the total number. “This method is usually the most accurate, although it does require doing some math,” says Stelzer.
Another strategy is to count carbs by “choices,” which involves memorizing what portion sizes of food are equivalent to 15 grams of carbs. “Many people have a written list of ‘carb choices’ they can reference, and they aim to consume one to four ‘carb choices’ per meal,” explains Stelzer. For example, half of an English muffin is considered one “carb choice,” as is half of a cup of potato or pasta salad, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While less accurate than counting grams, counting “carb choices” can be an option when you can’t or don’t want to read nutrition labels (for instance, when you go out to eat).
There’s also what’s known as the diabetes plate method, in which you divide a nine-inch diameter plate into three quadrants: Fifty percent of the plate is reserved for non-starchy veggies, 25% of the plate is used for protein, and the last 25% is for carbs. Even though it’s simple, Stelzer says the plate method isn’t recommended for those using mealtime insulin-to-carb ratios, given that it’s not likely to be a highly accurate measure of carbs. “But it may be sufficient for those who are just trying to eat a semi-consistent carb amount to keep blood sugars stable or manage weight,” she adds.
Eat More Fiber
Fiber can benefit your health in multiple ways, depending on the type of fiber you eat: soluble or insoluble.
Soluble fiber creates a gel-like substance that moves smoothly through the digestive system and, along the way, helps to lower cholesterol, keep you full for longer, support digestive health, and lower your blood sugar by slowing your body’s absorption of sugar, explains Crees. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand (a.k.a. “roughage”), doesn’t dissolve in water the way soluble fiber does, but it can still benefit digestive health by making bowel movements more regular and reducing constipation.
While soluble fiber plays a bigger role in slowing your body’s absorption of glucose (and therefore lowering blood sugar levels), it’s a good idea to strike a balance between both types of fiber in the foods you eat.
“When it comes to fiber-rich foods, the first thing I would recommend is variety,” says Crees. “Although we tend to be creatures of habit, it can be helpful for satisfaction and also for digestive health to mix things up.”
Here are some soluble fiber-rich foods that can help you maintain lower blood sugar and prevent spikes:
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potato
And here’s a handful of foods with non-soluble fiber to promote healthy bowel movements:
- Green beans
- Whole grains
- Wheat bran
- Fruit peels (e.g., the skin of an apple or pear)
Practice Stress Management and Mindfulness Techniques
When you’re stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which can make blood sugar levels rise.
“Cortisol triggers the liver to release sugar into the bloodstream,” explains Stelzer. “From an evolutionary standpoint, this dump of sugar into our bloodstream used to be helpful because it provided a large, readily available source of energy to our muscles, making it easier to run or fight in response to a stressful situation.”
However, continues Stelzer, when you’re chronically stressed, elevated cortisol levels can contribute to chronically elevated blood sugars.
Managing stress, of course, means working certain habits into your lifestyle, whether it’s meditation, regular exercise, a creative hobby like painting or writing, or a combination of all of the above. (Find out how the power of mindfulness can help manage the stress of a chronic condition.)
Aim to Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you struggle to manage your weight, your insulin needs are likely higher, says Crees. Healthy weight management, however, puts less stress on the pancreas, meaning less insulin is required to regulate blood sugar. “In other words, weight management can reduce insulin resistance and promote insulin sensitivity,” explains Crees.
Sustaining a healthy weight is crucial in both preventing and managing diabetes. Research shows that weight management can reduce your chances of developing diabetes by nearly 60%, and for those who already live with the condition, even a loss of just five to 10% of body weight can improve fitness, reduce A1C levels, decrease the need for medication, and boost heart health.
Much like many other strategies for lowering blood sugar, there’s no singular “best” approach to weight management. What’s certain, though, is that you can’t go wrong with combining regular exercise and healthy eating patterns.
To find routines that work for you, become a One Drop Premium member and explore our personalized plans, one-on-one coaching features, and much more.
Take Medication If Recommended By Your Doctor
“Medications are usually started if you’re unable to reach blood sugar targets through diet and lifestyle interventions,” explains Stelzer.
However, it’s important to note that using glucose-lowering medication doesn’t mean you’ve “failed” in your health journey, adds Stelzer. “It’s very possible that, even with healthy eating and exercise, the body just isn’t able to maintain blood sugars in a healthy range without the help of a medication.”
Of course, living with type 1 diabetes means lifelong use of insulin to manage your health. But insulin injections can also be used for people living with type 2 diabetes, especially when blood sugars are very high or other medications aren’t working to lower your blood sugar.
Other common medications for type 2 diabetes include metformin (which reduces insulin resistance and the amount of sugar produced by the liver) and sulfonylureas (which stimulate the body to make more insulin). You can also manage type 2 diabetes with dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors (which help you produce more insulin and reduce how much sugar is released by your liver), sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors (which reduce how much sugar your kidneys absorb), and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists (which simultaneously help you produce more insulin and reduce how much sugar is made by the liver).
How to Lower Fasting Blood Sugar
As its name suggests, a fasting blood sugar test measures your blood sugar after an overnight fast, and it’s commonly used by a doctor or other provider to diagnose diabetes. A fasting blood sugar of 99 mg/dL or lower is considered normal; 100 to 125 mg/dL suggests you may live with prediabetes, and 126 mg/dL or higher means you’re likely living with diabetes.
If you’re interested in lowering your fasting blood sugar, know that it’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy, says Juechter. “Recommendations are individualized for improving fasting blood sugar,” she explains, noting that monitoring your blood sugar over time can help you better understand your unique trends.
But with monitoring must come action as well—whether you’re reducing carbs at dinner, shifting dinner to an earlier time, removing or adding a bedtime snack, or going for a walk after dinner. Whatever steps you decide to take, be sure to do so one at a time so you can see exactly how different lifestyle habits affect your health, says Crees.
“Trying out one strategy at a time when it comes to improving fasting blood sugars in the morning is going to make it easier to identify what works for each individual,” she explains. “If we change four different things and see vast improvement in our numbers, it’s hard to say what really created that change.”
Predictive insights about blood sugar can make that trial-and-error process a little easier, notes Crees.
“Checking blood sugars is all about data, but what’s really important is what you learn from that data,” she explains. “If you log a meal and you receive a predictive insight that your blood sugar is likely to increase in X hours, you might start to make that connection between what you’re eating and how your blood sugar responds. Or, let’s say you go for a walk after lunch and receive a prediction that your blood sugar is likely to remain steady; that connection between exercise and blood sugars might become stronger.” Seeing that relationship between action and outcome makes it easier to not only opt for healthy choices, but also maintain them over time.
To start making those connections yourself, check out One Drop’s Complete Diabetes package, which includes a Bluetooth-enabled glucose meter, test strip plan, and One Drop Premium membership with one-on-one coaching and all the predictive insights you need.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Rachel Head, MPH, RDN, CDCES, clinical operations manager at One Drop, and Alex Hickey Robinson, RDN, CDCES, health coach and clinical content lead at One Drop.