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- Lowering A1C can reduce your risk for developing nerve damage, vision problems, heart disease, and kidney disease.
- Exercising regularly and making the right food choices can support lowering A1C naturally.
- Being flexible with your approach to nutrition is a key to making long term changes to your A1C.
Did you know that it's possible to lower A1C without medication? While it’s not simple, it’s extremely beneficial. Lowering your A1C can reduce your risk for developing diabetes-related complications such as nerve damage, vision problems, heart disease, and kidney damage.
Note: People living with type 1 diabetes require insulin to manage their blood sugar. Some people with type 2 diabetes might still require an oral or injectable medication, even with balanced eating and exercise habits. Regardless of which type of diabetes you live with, it’s always a good idea to create your diabetes management plan in collaboration with your healthcare provider.
1. Keep a simple food diary for five days.
Making changes to your nutrition in ways that support lowering A1C is a common approach. Food choices can impact average blood sugar levels and lower A1C levels naturally (here’s a quick guide explaining the difference between the two).
How many of the items in your grocery cart are simple, minimally processed foods as opposed to processed food choices?
When you write down the exact foods you eat every day for five days, ask yourself:
- How many times a day am I eating fresh vegetables and fruits?
- How many times a day am I eating or drinking items containing sugar? Remember, even “healthy” products (e.g. yogurt and dressings) can have tons of added sugar.
- How often am I paying attention to my body’s hunger and fullness cues, eating just enough to fill me up without overeating?
- How do different food combinations affect me? Think about both how you feel and how your blood sugar responds.
2. Eat more plants—and fewer processed carbs.
This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve heard that eating more plant-based foods and vegetables is good for your health. But when it comes to managing diabetes and lowering A1C naturally, it’s crucial.
Now that you’ve had a chance to look at what you’ve been eating in your food diary, choose one meal and one snack to improve.
Maybe you’ll decide to swap your coffee shop beverage and muffin for an at-home meal of two eggs scrambled with spinach, peppers, and onions.
Or maybe try ditching the sugar-loaded store-bought energy bar for broccoli and cauliflower florets and an array of cheeses.
You can even try switching out cereal—which is often high in processed carbs—for a handful of nuts and carrots.
A Health Coach Shares 5 Tips for Making Plant-Based Nutrition More Approachable
3. Get moving, but start slowly.
If you haven’t been exercising at all, remember to start small.
Even just one 15-minute walk before or after a meal five days a week can do wonders for your blood sugar and help you lower A1C naturally. A walk is especially helpful after meals while your body is digesting what you just ate.
When you find yourself thinking, “I’m too tired for a walk! I just want to sit and relax in front of my favorite show!” That's OK, too. You can still get some movement in by just standing up and walking in place while watching TV.
Everyone starts somewhere! While beginning a habit can be hard, exercise can provide a boost in your mood that may leave you looking forward to your next workout. Learn how creating a habit loop can be the key to lasting change.
5 No-Equipment Exercises for a Quick Total-Body Workout
4. Be flexible with your nutrition.
Be sure to include some of the foods you love on the path to lowering your A1C naturally. A plan based on perfection, seven days a week for every waking hour is extremely hard to maintain. Do what you can to stick to an eating plan that is realistic to maintain over the long term.
After you’ve looked at just how often you’re consuming foods that don't fit your health goals, take time to decide what your most valued treat might be. For some, it’s fresh bread and butter, while others might prefer a bowl of ice cream.
Take small steps to cut back on these choices when you can. For example, instead of two scoops of ice cream every night after dinner, aim for one scoop a night until you’re ready to cut back even more. In the end, you may land on having one scoop three days a week or two scoops one day a week.
Lowering A1C naturally does not require perfection. It just calls for small improvements in your overall approach to nutrition.
Checking Perfectionist Thinking In Chronic Condition Management
5. Take your time.
It’s almost impossible to change everything about how you’re eating and exercising overnight, and stick to those changes. Evolving your relationship with food and exercise—and your entire body—takes time.
If you give yourself the time and freedom to explore, be curious, and have fun with learning about new ways of cooking, eating, and exercising, you might develop some new interests and hobbies.
View lowering A1C naturally as a long-term goal, rather than an upcoming deadline.
When to Consider Diabetes Medications and Insulin
You may be wondering when it’s time to consider taking medication to manage diabetes.
“The first sign of needing to start a medication to help lower your blood sugars is an elevated A1C level that is not responding well to your efforts to eat a healthier diet, exercise more, and lose weight," explains Jody Stanislaw, ND, CDCES. "If those changes aren’t lowering your blood sugars over the course of three to six months, it’s time to talk about medication.”
Metformin, an oral medication, is the most common starting treatment for blood sugar levels that are above goal range. Depending on how high your blood sugar is and your health history, your healthcare provider may also recommend a different type of oral medication or a non-insulin injectable that can provide protective benefits to your heart and your kidneys. It’s also possible that insulin may be recommended as an initial treatment.
A Beginner’s Guide to Insulin
Dr. Stanislaw has lived with type 1 diabetes herself since childhood.
“Starting insulin early in your diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can help some patients actually improve their own insulin production by increasing your body’s natural beta cell function,” adds Dr. Stanislaw.
This isn’t guaranteed to be effective for everyone, but it may be helpful in reducing fear around starting insulin early. The goal is to control your blood sugar consistently.
“High blood sugars create damage throughout the body, especially to the precious beta cells, which are the cells that make insulin. People should be more fearful of high blood sugars than insulin injections.”
Having to begin injections is often seen as a permanent path, but Dr. Stanislaw explains that it’s simply a powerful tool to help get blood sugars immediately into a healthier range, while continuing to make improvements in your lifestyle like nutrition, exercise, and weight-loss.
Eventually, a patient who has adopted those healthier lifestyle habits may reduce their need for medication. In some instances, it may be possible for them to stop taking medications altogether.
While it may not be simple to lower blood sugar and A1C levels without medication, it is possible and may be worth a try for you. Be sure to check with your doctor and don’t make any changes to your medication routine if you are already on medication. Speak with your healthcare provider if you think medication may be right for you.
If you aren’t taking any medications, and want to continue on that path, then make sure you are mindful of your choices, and consider working with a One Drop clinical health coach to get the encouragement you need to stick with your plan.
Whether it’s with medication, natural lifestyle changes, or some combination of the two, you deserve to feel your best while managing your health.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Alexa Stelzer, RDN, LD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.