How blood sugar is regulated
Your hormones maintain blood sugar balance. This balance ensures that the body has enough energy available when you need it and it’s primarily maintained by hormones, primarily insulin and glucagon, and to a lesser extent some others we will mention in a moment.
Made in and released from the pancreas, insulin lowers blood sugar by instructing cells throughout the body to take in glucose (sugar). As glucose enters the cells to be used as energy or stored as glycogen, there is less left in the blood.
Glucagon makes blood sugar rise. When blood sugar levels are too low—typically several hours after you eat—the pancreas releases glucagon. Glucagon instructs the liver and muscles to turn stored glycogen back into glucose and release it into the bloodstream.
There are other hormones involved in this process, too. Amylin and somatostatin inhibit the secretion of glucagon to lower blood sugar. Epinephrine, cortisol and growth hormone make blood sugar rise, as glucagon does. Hormone changes that come with age make a difference, too: Our average baseline blood sugar levels tend to go up as we get older.
General guidelines for healthy blood sugar
1. Seek sources of chromium and magnesium
Chromium helps to improve insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to use glucose more efficiently. Magnesium also helps to regulate insulin sensitivity and supports the transport of glucose into cells, which helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
You can get plenty of magnesium from greens, avocados, and dried legumes. Most fruits and vegetables are good sources of chromium, but you’ll find especially high quantities in broccoli and green beans.
2. Lean on foods that have a low glycemic index
The glycemic index (GI) measures how food affects our blood sugar. It’s based on how fast the body breaks any carbohydrate-containing food down into glucose. Higher numbers (70 – 100) indicate that food will cause a faster increase in blood sugar levels, while lower ones (< 50) represent foods that cause a more gradual rise – and typically a softer fall.
Learn more about the glycemic index of different foods here.
3. Reduce refined sugars in your daily diet
Cutting down on foods made with refined sugars can be a good habit to get into if you’re trying to keep your blood sugar in check. Examples of refined sugars are sucrose, glucose and high-fructose corn syrup.
4. Load up on fiber
High-fiber foods, especially those packed with soluble fiber, have been shown to help keep blood sugar balanced. You should get enough by eating a diet rich in plant-based foods. It’s actually best to start the meal with fiber and eat the carbs later because fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which helps prevent blood sugar spikes.
5. Add cinnamon
Cinnamon and cinnamon extract can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels when used as part of your diet.
6. Stay hydrated
Low water intake is associated with high blood sugar risk. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water daily will help keep your blood hydrated and keep that risk low.
7. Exercise often
Moving your body requires energy, which usually means your cells have to use the sugars available in your bloodstream (thereby decreasing blood sugar). Studies have found that exercise can make your body more sensitive to insulin for around 12-24 hours following a workout.
Getting a daily workout in and moving your body throughout the day can help keep blood sugar well-regulated. Even a 15-minute walk after each meal will make a difference.