Chelsey Allen, RHN
If you're concerned about balancing your blood sugar levels, look to nature. Check out fibre, apple cider vinegar, and cinnamon, just a few of the natural blood sugar regulators.
Our sense of balance, energy, and well-being is largely governed by blood sugar levels. In a stress-wired, grab-and-go world, poor diet and sedentary habits can easily dismantle this fine balance. Blood sugar is highly relevant for many Canadians, notes naturopathic doctor Landon McLean. He remarks that blood sugar fluctuations may not always present a diabetic picture, yet they’re a common thread in the typical North American diet: low blood sugar conditions (hypoglycemia), compromised immunity, higher stress, adrenal fatigue, lowered athletic performance, and post-meal sugar cravings. Beyond integrating physical movement and diet clean-up, we can turn to these five natural blood sugar regulators that are naturally equipped to lend support in our body’s blood sugar balancing act.
Found abundantly in fruits and vegetables of the red, purple, and blue hue variety, anthocyanins are a family of water-soluble plant pigments. A rich source of antioxidants, anthocyanins have been studied for their protective role in offsetting inflammation and the onset of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, dietary antioxidants such as anthocyanins can protect pancreatic cells and microvasculature from oxidative stress caused by high blood sugar. Since these plant compounds are high in soluble fibre, they act as a buffer to inhibit certain digestive enzymes, thus slowing the rapid breakdown and release of carbohydrates into blood glucose. Foods brimming with anthocyanins include berries, eggplant, black currants, red cabbage, and dark beans. Incorporating these nutrient-dense plant foods into the diet, along with high quality sources of protein and fats, will help deter blood sugar swings. This encourages a consistent energy flow, especially as our seasonal daylight hours dwindle.
Renowned for its therapeutic prowess in the body, apple cider vinegar has demonstrated positive effects in increasing insulin sensitivity and prompting cells to metabolize glucose. Acetic acid, the active compound in apple cider vinegar, halts the digestion of carbohydrates by slowing down gastric emptying and increasing the uptake of glucose by tissues. Studies have also shown that acetic acid can lower blood sugar through its effect on enzyme activity. Consuming vinegar at bedtime, in particular, has been successful in lowering next-morning fasting blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Other research indicates that acidic foods such as freshly squeezed lemon juice or lacto-fermented foods such as sourdough and kefir may also enhance our glycemic response. All the more reason to include apple cider vinegar in your next homemade salad dressing, kale chip recipe, or balancing immune elixir.
Fibre may be our blood sugar’s closest ally. McLean explains that “dietary fibre is the most clinically relevant tactic for blood sugar balance. It works to dilute the sugar contents of the stomach, which delays gastric emptying and allows this process to occur over a consistent period.” These positive effects are likely attributed to the viscous properties of soluble fibre and the slower macronutrient absorption from the gut. Extensive studies examining the role of soluble fibre have demonstrated a decrease in post-meal blood sugar by an average of 20 percent. Both soluble and insoluble fibre are integral to healthy digestion, and we can optimize our blood sugar balance by including more filling fibrous foods such as leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, low-glycemic fruits, chia, hemp, ground flaxseed, and psyllium.
Chromium is an essential micromineral for glucose metabolism, and it plays a role in accelerating the action of insulin. Supplemental chromium has been shown to improve glucose tolerance, or the rate at which the body is able to clear sugar from the blood. Eliminating refined and processed carbohydrates from the diet tends to have this effect as well. Although many whole foods contain chromium, the amount supplied is generally minimal. Optimal sources of chromium include broccoli, organic eggs, barley, oats, green beans, onions, and nuts. One cup of broccoli contains approximately half the daily recommended serving of chromium.
Cinnamon’s versatile flavour adds a warm undertone to a variety of dishes, but can it truly promote blood sugar balance? Past research has shed murky light on exactly how cinnamon works to boost insulin sensitivity. Recent findings continue to stir up skepticism, yet some have offered a closer glimpse into the correlation between cinnamon and blood sugar. One study isolated the polyphenols in cinnamon as a positive influence on the fasting glucose rates of people with type 2 diabetes. In another study, 22 subjects with metabolic syndrome were divided into two groups and given either 500 mg per day of an aqueous extract of cinnamon or a placebo for 12 weeks. Subjects taking capsules of the aqueous extract recorded lower fasting blood glucose in comparison to the placebo group. Positive changes in glucose control and insulin sensitivity were also seen in a study group of healthy males after just two weeks of daily cinnamon supplementation. Despite this progress, results were swiftly reversed upon cessation. While a generous dash of cinnamon on our buckwheat porridge may have a mild therapeutic effect, more long-term research is required to substantiate claims of its physiological role.
For those with type 1 diabetes—an autoimmune disease—nutrition and fitness are essential in managing blood sugar. However, because in type 1 diabetes the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, daily injections of insulin are required. Type 2 diabetes is a condition involving lifestyle factors and insulin resistance. Both conditions can lead to complications such as cardiovascular disease, retinopathy, and neuropathy.