High blood sugar occurs when your body cannot convert sugar in the blood to energy for cells. This is a common issue for those with diabetes, or those at risk. If you don’t lower your blood sugar, you will be at an increased risk for serious health complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss.
That’s why, if you already have diabetes, it’s important to frequently check your blood sugar to make sure your levels stay in a normal, healthy range.
Plus, about one-third of Americans have prediabetes — or elevated blood-sugar levels — and 84% of them don’t know they have it. If you have prediabetes, it’s also important to lower your blood-sugar levels to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Here are six ways you can lower your blood sugar over time:
1. Lose weight and exercise
The National Diabetes Prevention Program, designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is meant to help people lower their blood sugar over time to avoid Type 2 diabetes.
Participants in the program are encouraged to lose 7% of their body weight and exercise for 150 minutes a week. A clinical trial found that people who followed the program reduced their risk for Type 2 diabetes by 58% over three years.
2. Drink more water
Staying hydrated and drinking lots of water can help regulate blood-sugar levels.
“Drinking enough water rehydrates the blood and helps our kidneys flush out the excess sugar in our bodies,” says Dr. Lina Velikova, a medical writer who studies autoimmune diseases. It’s a much healthier alternative to other beverages, which often add excess sugar.
One 2011 study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that people who drank more than 1 liter of water a day were 28% less likely to have high blood sugar than those who drank less than half a liter.
For reference, the recommended water intake is 1.6 liters for women and 2 liters for men, but this can depend on body weight. Read more to find out how much water you are supposed to drink a day.
3. Limit carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have a big impact on blood-sugar levels. “The body breaks them down into sugars, which insulin then moves into cells,” Velikova says. “An unbalanced diet and increased intake of carbs might be … disrupting insulin function, causing blood sugar to rise.”
Counting carbs can help keep blood sugars in check — aim to get no more than 45% of your daily calories from carbohydrates. Not all carbs are created equal, however. Simple, refined carbs that contain sugar will spike blood sugar more than carbs with naturally occurring sugars and fiber.
4. Increase fiber
Moreover, eating carbs that are rich in fiber — like fruits and vegetables — can help lower your blood sugar.
A 2017 study published in the journal Advances in Obesity Weight Management & Control found that eating more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables — such as bananas, berries, and broccoli — could help lower blood sugar and reduce body weight.
To learn more, read about the best fruits for people with diabetes to eat.
5. Eat foods with a low GI
The glycemic index helps rank foods by how they affect blood sugar. Foods with a low GI release sugar slowly into your system, rather than flooding your blood with sugar all at once.
Aim for foods with a GI of 55 or less (you can find the GI number by searching online or asking your doctor for a list).
“Having a healthy diet is a proven way of keeping blood sugar within reasonable limits,” Velikova says. “I recommend eating foods that the body absorbs slowly, with a low and medium glycemic index, such as sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and most fruits, including berries and apples.”
6. Manage stress
Stress levels can also have a direct impact on blood sugar. When you’re stressed, hormones like cortisol increase blood-sugar levels and make your body less effective at using insulin.
“Eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water are excellent ways to reduce high blood-sugar levels,” Velikova says. “However, they won’t be enough if we stress a lot.”
If you have diabetes or may be at risk, it’s important to talk to your doctor about developing a treatment plan to lower your blood sugar and keep it under control.
While these lifestyle changes can be very effective, some people may also need to take medication, such as insulin or metformin, to effectively lower blood sugar