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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.
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.
6. Try glutamine (no, not that kind of glute)
Here’s a diabetes fun fact: People with diabetes often have lower levels of glutamine, according to a study from Tianjin Medical University.
Glutamine is an amino acid that helps your immunity and intestinal health, and it’s a general building block for the proteins in your body. Since glutamine tends to be low in people with diabetes, taking a supplement may help lower blood sugar.
The TMU study found that glutamine supplements made insulin even more effective, meaning blood sugar went down more easily (though it’s important to note that the study used rats).
A small study on humans had similar results. So while more research needs to be done before glutamine has a scientifically supported thumbs-up, we still think it has a promising start.
7. Get trendy with apple cider vinegar
If you do a quick Google search, you’ll see that apple cider vinegar (ACV, as the cool kids call it) is good for pretty much everything. You can use it to tone your skin, clean your pipes, and possibly lower your blood sugar!
A clinical review found that taking ACV daily could reduce blood glucose levels. Unfortunately, most of the trials were very small and some had mixed results.
But since you’ve probably got it in your house anyway, try taking a swig or two before meals, testing yourself, and seeing if a little ACV shot works for you (for bonus points, add a dash of cinnamon).
8. Go pro(biotic)
Probiotics aren’t just for keeping you regular. By reintroducing healthy bacteria in your intestines, probiotics may be able to help with inflammatory and metabolic issues. And there’s a chance those tiny bacteria can help bring your blood sugar down.
A clinical review found that daily probiotic use significantly decreased blood sugar. So if you’ve considered trying probiotics for digestion or inflammation issues, it just might help regulate your blood sugar along the way.
9. Get a little bitter (melon)
Another promising option (though it might not sound too appetizing): bitter melon.
We’re not talking about leftover cantaloupe at the salad bar. It’s a fruit mostly used as a natural remedy (in other words, you won’t find it in many smoothie recipes).
The melon contains a blood sugar-lowering substance called charantin as well as polypeptide-p, which has insulin-like effects.
In preliminary studies, bitter melon supplements helped reduce blood sugar in mice. Just make sure to talk to your doctor about this (or any) supplement before adding it to your diet.
10. Keep it cool
Remember all that stuff about staying hydrated? Well, when you get really hot, that hydration goes out the window, and your blood sugar could rise.
Extreme temperatures and high humidity aren’t fun for anyone, but they’re even more detrimental to people with diabetes. To avoid overheating and triggering a spike, do your best to stay cool when the temp is high.
You probably already do this during the day — not too many people think, “Oh, hey, let me just walk in the 100-degree sun for hours in my flip-flops and tank top. What fun!” — but it’s easy to get overheated at night while you sleep.
Be sure to wear breathable fabrics, get blackout curtains to keep the heat and light out of your room, and turn on the AC (or bust out the fan) to keep the temp comfortably low.
And by low, we mean a Goldilocks zone between 60 and 67 degrees, which will help you stay cool, sleep more soundly, and get more much-needed REM sleep.
11. Catch more Zzz’s
Speaking of sleep, not getting enough may directly relate to higher blood sugar. A 2015 study found that patients who got four hours of sleep or less for three nights in a row had higher fatty acid levels in their blood.
Usually, fatty acid levels naturally recede at night. But when people didn’t get enough sleep, the acids remained in their blood. That’s bad news since those acids make insulin less effective, which means your blood sugar goes up.
Also, a lack of sleep tends to increase stress and cravings for sugary foods — both of which are bad for blood sugar. So if you’ve had too much candy or just want to get your blood sugar down, go to bed!
Getting at least seven hours a night will help regulate your hormones, fatty acids, and stress. Try going to bed at the same time every night and putting screens away an hour before snooze time.
12. Dance the high away
Physical activity is one of the best ways to regulate your blood sugar and prevent spikes, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to walking.
A 2013 study found that dancing helped decrease blood glucose levels more effectively than walking or using conditioning machines.
Translation: Boogying down to Lizzo is good for your health. (We knew it!)
To be fair, the study found cycling and running to be slightly more effective than dancing in lowering blood sugar. Though walking was the least effective, it did still reduce blood glucose. Just be careful not to do intense exercise midspike, which can be dangerous.
Bottom line: If you’re feeling the symptoms of high blood sugar and you have someone who can go with you, take a short walk. To prevent future spikes, make time in your schedule to shake it to your favorite song or ride your bike. Any kind of movement will help keep your blood sugar in a safe zone, so pick whatever is most enjoyable and get moving.
13. Follow doctor’s orders
If you take insulin and you are experiencing a blood sugar spike, you may need additional short-acting insulin. Make sure you’re following your doctor’s orders.
You don’t want to give yourself unnecessary doses, but you also don’t want to let your blood sugar get too high when an extra dose could easily put you back in the safety zone.
It’s important to check your blood sugar regularly, take your medication regularly, and see your doctor — you guessed it— regularly. Staying on top of your numbers can help you avoid a spike or take care of one before it gets dangerous.
It’s annoying but true: The best way to lower your blood sugar is to avoid a spike in the first place.
Eating whole foods that are low in sugar and exercising regularly will help keep your blood sugar in check. This can be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes, but medications may also be necessary to keep blood sugar in a healthy range.
To avoid food-based spikes, try to steer clear of added sugars in your diet. The FDA recommends consuming less than 200 calories a day from added sugars.
That sounds pretty simple, but when you realize that 16 ounces of orange juice has 240 calories (and even though it’s natural sugar, that’s a whopping 60 grams of sugar), it’s easy to see how sugar consumption gets out of hand.
It’s best to avoid all sugary drinks and check the labels. There are hidden sugars in everything from bread to turkey slices, so double-check your favorite foods to make sure you aren’t getting any unnecessary sweetness.
Diet, exercise, and a good night’s sleep are your best friends for blood sugar control. Staying hydrated, eating fiber and whole grains, and getting regular exercise will help lower your blood sugar in the short term and keep your glucose balanced overall.
Remember to always consult your doctor and a registered dietitian/nutritionist before making any major diet changes and to monitor symptoms that may need immediate medical attention.