What Should I Eat If My Sugar Is High? If you have high blood sugar, or diabetes, you may feel that you need to make drastic changes in how you eat. This is because a diet high in sugar is one of the main things that can raise your blood sugar levels. But there are ways to eat more healthily while still enjoying foods like fruit and desserts. Below we look at which foods can help keep your blood sugar under control.
High blood sugar causes
Sometimes the cause of a blood sugar spike is clear (“Yeah, I’ll have two more shots of tequila! Actually, just put it on my ice cream!”). But other times, the cause is a little more mysterious.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, losing sleep, skipping breakfast, not drinking enough water, or drinking coffee (even without sweetener) can cause blood sugar instability.
Even weirder, sometimes a sunburn can cause a spike! The pain of a burn causes stress, and high levels of stress can mess up your blood sugar. So bust out the sunscreen for the sake of your pancreas!
Other causes include eating high-sugar/high-carb foods, drinking alcohol, getting sick, and changing medication. A diet low in fiber and high in refined carbs or sugars and a sedentary lifestyle also make high blood sugar more likely.
Ways to get your blood sugar down
So, what can you do when your blood sugar gets too high? Here are some natural (and medical) ways to get your sugar back into a safe zone.
1. Time to go om
Stress causes all kinds of problems (how many times has a bad day caused you to say something you regretted?). Beyond affecting your food choices and leaving you feeling generally run-down or unwell, stress can actually cause your blood sugar to rise.
Since stress is problematic for your blood sugar in a number of ways, it’s best to do anything you can to lower your anxiety levels.
A great way to reduce stress is to meditate. A small study found that mindfulness meditation reduced overall anxiety, even after only one session. When you take time to clear your mind, breathe deeply, and get away from the many annoying stimuli of the world, your body relaxes and stress is reduced.
According to a 2014 study, patients who did yoga regularly had a significant decrease in their blood glucose levels, so consider adding a few Sun Salutations to your week.
Regardless of whether you choose a guided audio meditation or an hour in a yoga studio, taking time to clear your mind and reduce stress will help your blood sugar.
2. Make like Popeye
You might not get super strength from spinach like Popeye does, but taking in some high-fiber foods can help bring down your blood sugar. A 1991 study found that fruits, legumes, and other foods rich in water-soluble fiber helped balance blood sugar.
Those fiber-y foods slow digestion, which means the sugar from your meal isn’t hastily thrown into your bloodstream. Instead, the fiber helps everything break down more slowly, and there’s more time for the sugar to be properly absorbed.
A major review of diabetic studies found that a high-fiber diet (especially including fiber from cereals) may reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you can go to town on Lucky Charms. “Cereal fiber” refers to non-sugary, unrefined cereal grains. Bran cereal, oatmeal, or other whole grains will provide the diabetes-busting fiber you’re looking for.
Outside of spinach and cereal, adding black beans, sweet potatoes, avocados, nectarines, and other fruits and vegetables high in soluble fiber to your diet will help bring your blood sugar down.
3. Don’t dry out
“Drink more water” isn’t cutting-edge nutritional advice, but avoiding dehydration is surprisingly helpful for balancing blood sugar. A 2017 study found that low daily water intake led to high blood sugar.
When your blood sugar gets high, your body tries to flush out that extra sweetness as quickly as possible. That means you might end up peeing a lot more than usual.
And if you don’t replenish your body’s water supply, you don’t have an easy way to get the sugar out of your system. So, low water equals high blood sugar.
While U.S. dietary guidelines don’t suggest a daily amount of water to drink, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service recommends aiming for about 1.2 liters, or 6 to 8 glasses of water, per day.
Try setting an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to get that H2O. If you’re in the middle of a blood sugar spike, drink water immediately and try to stay hydrated for the rest of the day.
4. Electrolyte it up
In general, elevated blood sugar can wreak havoc on your electrolytes, meaning you can easily get low on magnesium, potassium, and phosphates.
If you’re having a blood sugar spike and urinating more than usual, you’re losing water and electrolytes. And since electrolytes are essential for maintaining adequate hydration, you’re going to want to keep them replenished.
For quick relief, reach for a low-carb electrolyte drink like Propel, low-sugar sports drinks, or low-fat milk. Just make sure to check the labels.
You can also up your electrolyte count naturally with small changes to your diet. Foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, nuts, and seeds provide the key minerals your body needs to stay in balance.
Though all electrolytes are important, a study from the University of Palermo found that while many diabetic patients were specifically magnesium deficient, most achieved better glucose tolerance with magnesium supplements.
To restore magnesium balance, you can take over-the-counter supplements. Or, to increase your mineral intake naturally, eat more pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, plain yogurt, spinach, and other high-magnesium foods.
5. Take a pass on the bread bowl
It’s obvious that sugary stuff leads to an increase in blood sugar, but starchy foods can do the same thing. Your body processes simple carbs quickly and turns them into sugar, and it needs a lot of insulin to absorb them. That means a bag of Doritos is as likely as a candy bar to cause a spike.
If you’re in the middle of a blood sugar spike, it’s best to curtail your carb intake. Check the glycemic index if you’re not sure about a food.
Surprisingly, popcorn and white potatoes are worse than ice cream, according to the index. If you stick to low-carb/low-glycemic-index foods, your blood sugar will return to normal much more quickly.
Ultimately, it’s best to limit your carb intake. A 2004 study found that a diet of 20 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 50 percent fat lowered fasting blood sugar and kept blood sugar from spiking after meals.
This was a very small study, but the results suggest that lower carb intake can lead to generally lower blood glucose. In general, most people with diabetes eat 40 to 45 percent of their calories in the form of carbohydrates. Choosing nutrient-rich sources of carbs is best.
Another promising study found that after two years on a low-carb diet, many participants with type 2 diabetes were able to manage their condition without medication or resolve it entirely.
While this does suggest you should scale back on carbs, it doesn’t mean you need to break up with them entirely. Instead, try to eat lots of whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, grains, and proteins, if you have access to those foods.
The occasional baked potato isn’t a problem, but frequent trips to the drive-through are not a good idea. Find a few veggie-and-protein-heavy meals and make them your go-tos.
Then, even if you have a little bread or pasta, your diet is still full of the stuff you need and your blood sugar shouldn’t skyrocket.
Healthy Diet Choices for People With Diabetes
To stay on track with your diabetes management, start with these 10 diabetes-friendly choices that can help keep blood sugar on target and provide nutrition to boot.
Oatmeal for Filling Fiber
Oatmeal contains beta-glucan, a heart-healthy soluble fiber, says the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This makes it a great food to prevent blood sugar spikes, Smithson says. The beta-glucan in oatmeal has also been shown to improve blood sugar control and increase feelings of satiety, according to the results of a controlled clinical trial published in the February 2021 Journal of Functional Foods involving patients with type 2 diabetes. Of course, not all oatmeal is created equal, so opt for a steel-cut or old-fashioned variety, Acharya says. Instant oatmeal can be loaded with sugar.
One-half cup of dry oats contains 150 calories, 27 g of carbs, 5 g of protein, and 2.5 g of fat, according to the USDA. That carb count may sound high, but keep in mind that oatmeal is a complex carb, which means it’s digested more slowly by the body and supplies a steadier release of sugar to the bloodstream, according to the American Heart Association. Each serving also contains a GL of 13, per Oregon State University.
Just remember that oatmeal is a carbohydrate, so you’ll need to practice proper portion control. A standard portion is ½ cup of cooked oatmeal. Enjoy it for breakfast, add it to a smoothie, or use it to make homemade granola bars, Acharya says.
Salmon for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Salmon is a rich source of key nutrients. A 3-ounce (oz) serving of cooked wild Atlantic salmon contains 155 calories, 0 g of carbohydrate, 21.6 g of protein, and 6.91 g of fat, according to the USDA. Because there are 0 g of carbohydrates, the GL is 0. Salmon is also rich in vitamin D, and getting a healthy dose of vitamin D is important, as low levels of the vitamin have been associated with type 2 diabetes, Smithson says.
The fish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. According to the American Heart Association, omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish, like salmon, can improve heart health, which, as mentioned, is especially important for people with diabetes because of their increased risk of heart disease.
Top your salads with grilled or broiled salmon, and try baking salmon patties, Smithson suggests.
Almonds for Magnesium
Almonds are another nutritious food for people with diabetes. One ounce of unsalted almonds contains 172 calories, 5.76 g of protein, 15.3 g of fat, and 5.78 g of carbs, according to the USDA. Almonds have a GL of 1.9, per the website Glycemic-Index.net.
According to the USDA, they’re also high in vitamin E (with 6.67 milligrams [mg] in a 1 oz serving) and a good source of magnesium (with 76.8 mg in each serving). Almonds also contain fiber, which is an important nutrient for people with diabetes as it can improve blood sugar levels by slowing the rate at which sugar is absorbed, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The American Heart Association advises that diabetes makes you more likely to have high LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, so adding nuts to your diabetes diet is a smart move. Almonds are an excellent source of unsaturated fats, which can help lower your LDL cholesterol and raise your HDL, or “good,” cholesterol levels, Smithson notes.
Add almonds to salads or try a tablespoon of almond butter on apple slices as a snack, she suggests. Just watch your portions since the calories and carb count can really add up if left unchecked, and steer clear of packaged nuts that may contain added sugar and salt.
Oranges for Pectin
An orange is an excellent source of pectin, a soluble fiber that has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels, Smithson says. Although they’re sweet, oranges are actually low on the glycemic index (GI), according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and have a GL of 4, per Oregon State University.
Do factor in that one orange isn’t exactly a low-carb food, Smithson notes. It contains about 18 g of carbs, plus 72 calories, 1.45 g of protein, and less than 0.2 g of fat, according to the USDA.
Oranges provide other key nutrients, including vitamin C. Opt for the whole fruit instead of juice for more fiber and antioxidants that may help prevent cell damage, Smithson adds, as well as decrease any effect on blood sugar.
Beans for Plant-Based Protein
Beans are a great source of soluble fiber and an inexpensive source of protein that is low on the glycemic index, making them ideal for preventing big swings in blood sugar levels, Smithson says. “A higher fiber content in foods is beneficial for slowing the rise in blood glucose levels because it takes longer for your system to break down the fibrous foods,” she explains.
A ½ cup serving of black beans has about 19 g of carbohydrates, 110 calories, 1 g of fat, and nearly 7 g of protein, according to the USDA. It has a GL of 7, according to Oregon State University.
The ADA calls beans (including black, navy, kidney, and pinto varieties) a superfood for people with diabetes and recommends draining and rinsing them before eating to get rid of much of the added salt.
Try eating beans in soups, tacos, Indian curry dishes, pilaf dishes, and salads, Acharya suggests.
Kale for a Variety of Vitamins and Minerals
Of all the leafy greens you could enjoy on a diabetes diet, kale is the superstar, Smithson says. The ADA names it a superfood, because it offers a slew of essential nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E, and K, iron, calcium, and potassium.
Plus, it’s low in calories and carbs. One cup of raw kale contains about 9 calories, 1.1 g of carbs, and less than 1 g of protein and fat, according to the USDA. The GL is very low, around 1 or 2.
Smithson adds that kale contains bile acid sequestrants. These can lower LDL cholesterol, as shown by research published June 2017 in Preventive Nutrition and Food Science. Smithson suggests tossing kale into a salad, steaming it, or baking it into chips.
Dark Chocolate for Flavonoids
Limiting sugar is important when managing diabetes, so it may sound surprising to learn that dark chocolate can be part of a diabetes-friendly diet. But consider this: A review looked at studies involving more than 114,000 people and found that those who ate the most chocolate had a 31 percent lower risk of diabetes and a significantly reduced risk for heart disease and stroke compared with people who ate the least. And a separate study found that having about 10 g of flavonoid-rich cocoa powder a day (about 1.5 tablespoons) could lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with diabetes.
Look for dark chocolate ideally with at least 85 percent cacao, Acharya says. One ounce of 85 percent dark chocolate contains 136 calories, 1 g of protein, 14 g of fat, and 12 g of carbs, according to the USDA. Dark chocolate has a GL of 2.76, based on a glycemic index of 23, according to Beyond Type 1.
Be sure to keep in mind that chocolate also contains fat and sugar, so limit yourself to one small square (about 1 oz) a day, Smithson cautions.
Cinnamon as a Smart Sweetener
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Another possible management tactic is to incorporate new flavors in your plate by way of diabetes-friendly spices, and when it comes to sweetening food, consider adding cinnamon to the top of your list. One study suggests the spice is associated with a drop in fasting blood sugar levels, while cinnamon may help increase insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, and lower LDL cholesterol. But ultimately, results may vary from person to person, depending in part on the type and amount of cinnamon used.
Cinnamon won’t add much nutrition wise — according to the USDA, it doesn’t contain calories, protein, fat, or carbohydrates and has a GL of 0 — but your taste buds will thank you and your blood sugar levels may improve, to boot.
Try adding cinnamon to tea or sprinkled on top of fruit, Acharya says.
Vinegar for a Healthier Salad Dressing Base
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The potential health benefits of vinegar are still under investigation, but previous research found that vinegar helped improve insulin sensitivity to high-carb meals in people with diabetes or insulin resistance. The findings suggest that vinegar’s effects on the body are similar to the effects of the commonly used diabetes drug metformin (Glucophage, Glumetza).
And a study published in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine found that vinegar slowed the absorption of sugar. Two ounces of apple cider vinegar added to a high-carb meal improved fasting blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, researchers found.
A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar contains 0 calories, 0 carbohydrates, 0 protein, and 0 fat, per the USDA. The lack of carbohydrates means it has a GL of 0.
Try using it as a base for a homemade salad dressing, Acharya says.
Green Tea for Polyphenols
Tea has been used medicinally in Japan and China for thousands of years, but its exact health benefits in treating or preventing ailments like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are unknown, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yet some research offers clues as to how green tea in particular may impact insulin resistance and blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
For example, a prior review cited research that suggested people who drank six or more cups of green tea per week were 33 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who consumed only a cup of green tea per week. The review cited a study that suggested those who drank green tea regularly for more than a decade had smaller waistlines and a lower body fat composition than those who didn’t consume green tea regularly. The super-brew also contains polyphenols, antioxidants shown to regulate glucose in the body, which may help to prevent or control diabetes, according to a review published in the July 2019 Current Neuropharmacology.
Emergency Highs: How to Lower Blood Sugar Quickly
When your blood sugar level gets too high — known as hyperglycemia or high blood glucose — the quickest way to reduce it is to take fast-acting insulin. Exercising is another fast, effective way to lower blood sugar.
In some cases, you should go to the hospital instead of handling it at home.
Very high blood sugar levels can result in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when insulin levels are low. This is a medical emergency.
Symptoms of DKA include:
- shortness of breath
- breath that smells fruity
- nausea and vomiting
- a very dry mouth
If you aren’t sure what to do, call your doctor to get instructions on administering a dose of insulin, and for advice about whether to go to the emergency room.
This article looks at ways to lower your blood sugar quickly, when to go to the emergency room or see a doctor, and tips for managing high blood sugar.
Emergency Highs: How to Lower Blood Sugar Quickly
This video shares ways to lower your blood sugar quickly, when to go to the emergency room or see a doctor, and tips for managing high blood sugar.
Best ways to lower blood sugar quickly
When treated early, you can bring high blood sugar levels down and prevent complications, including DKA.
Some sources suggest that drinking water or eating a high protein snack can quickly lower your blood sugar levels, though there isn’t enough research to support this.
If you have high blood sugar and need to lower it fast, try the following methods:
Take your insulin as prescribed
High blood sugar occurs when your body has too little insulin, or your body can’t use insulin properly. Administering insulin can bring your blood sugar levels down.
Talk to your doctor about how much rapid-acting insulin you should administer when your blood sugar is high.
You may want to check your blood sugar about 15–30 minutes after taking insulin to make sure your blood sugar is going down and that it’s not dropping too low.
Exercise is a fast and effective way to lower your blood sugar levels.
Exercise can lower your blood sugar for 24 hours or more after you’ve finished. This is because it makes your body more sensitive to insulin.
Physical activity causes the body to demand glucose for energy. As a result, the cells deliver glucose to the muscles and blood sugar levels usually drop.
For this to work, you need a form of exercise that gets your heart pumping faster than usual. This can include walking at a quick pace.
Importantly, if your blood sugar is above 240 mg/dl, you should check your urine for ketones. If ketones are present, do not exercise, because this can make your blood sugar rise even higher.
Exercising when you have ketones in your urine increases your risk of complications from high blood sugar.
If you have type 1 diabetes, your doctor will likely recommend you check your blood sugar before exercising. You can do this with at-home urine ketone testing kits, which are available online.
While exercise is an effective way to lower your blood sugar throughout the day, some types of exercises — particularly short bursts of strenuous activity — can briefly increase blood sugar levels.
This is because strenuous activity activates the body’s stress response, causing a release of glucagon to power the muscles.
If your ketone levels are high, avoid strenuous exercise and try some light exercise, like walking, instead.