In this article we’ll take a closer look at what foods can help lower blood sugar both immediately, and over time.
While there isn’t one food that will magically protect your body from developing diabetes, there are some foods that research has proven can help promote healthy blood sugar levels over time. Keep reading to learn what foods help lower blood sugars, and which foods to eat in the moment when your blood sugar is higher than you’d like.
*This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services. This article and the links contained in it provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article is not a substitute for medical care. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or registered dietitian.*
What are normal blood sugar levels?
Before we get started, let’s review some definitions of what “normal blood sugar” means for people without diabetes:
- A normal “fasting” blood glucose taken first thing in the morning after waking up is 99 mg/dL or lower.
- A random blood glucose test taken anytime of the day without regard to the last time you’ve eaten should be under 200 mg/dL.
If you have diabetes (any type), your doctor will discuss specific blood sugar goals with you. These goals can vary based on a variety of factors.
Diabetes blood sugar levels for diagnosis
Blood glucose tests that show any of the following levels can be used to diagnose diabetes:
- Fasting blood glucose of 126 mg/dL or higher (100-125 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetes)
- Random blood glucose of 200 mg/dL or higher
How to reduce blood sugar levels over time
How to lower blood sugar (non-food related ways)
Most people assume that lowering blood sugar levels is only related to the food you eat. But, there are many other things that can impact blood sugar levels. These include: activity level, stress levels, hormones, and more. The following strategies have been proven to help reduce blood sugar levels over time:
- Be physically active on a regular basis.
- Consistently eat fiber rich carbohydrates.
- Drink water throughout the day.
- Manage stress levels.
- Monitor blood sugar levels regularly.
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.
List of foods that lower blood sugar levels (and promote blood sugar balance) over time
There are no foods that will immediately lower your blood sugar in the moment, but if consistently eaten over time, some foods have been proven to help promote stable blood sugars and lower average blood glucose levels.
So, what foods help lower blood sugar?
- Beans and lentils
- Salmon and other fatty fish
- Nuts and nut butters
- Seeds and seed butters
- Unsweetened yogurt and kefir
- Fermented vegetables
- Leafy greens
- Citrus fruit
Let’s take a closer look at each of these foods…
I use oats in a lot of recipes because they are a higher fiber and higher protein grain option compared to traditional flours. Oats are rich in soluble fiber which is known to help promote healthy blood sugar levels.
Beans and lentils
Similar to oats, beans are rich in fiber and protein, two nutrients we know help promote blood sugar balance. And more specifically, they offer a good amount of soluble fiber (like oats) and resistant starch. Both of these types of carbohydrate take longer for our bodies to digest and thus help promote more stable blood sugars.
Animal proteins: Salmon, other fatty fish, and eggs
Fatty fish (like salmon) and eggs are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and they also offer a quality source of protein and fat. Protein and fat both help buffer your body’s blood sugar response after eating and encourage stable blood sugars.
Nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters
Nuts, seeds, and their respective butters offer quality sources of protein, plant based fat, and fiber… all three of our blood sugar balancing nutrients we look for! These foods have been shown to not only help promote healthy blood sugar levels, but also keep you more satisfied and full for longer.
Fermented foods: yogurt, kefir, vegetables
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and others contain probiotics. A diet rich in probiotics can not only lower blood glucose levels, but also blood insulin levels according to some studies.
Leafy greens are a rich source of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as fiber and can be easily added to everything from smoothies to omelettes to salads. And as we discussed before, foods higher in fiber help promote healthy blood sugar levels.
Grapes, blueberries, and apples
One of the biggest myths that still exists about blood sugar management, is that people looking to balance blood sugar shouldn’t eat fruit. But, the truth is we have so much data to show that a diet that includes fruit is not only protective against developing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, but it can also help manage existing diabetes. Specifically, research has shown higher consumption of grapes, blueberries, and/or apples is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Avocados are not only delicious but they are high in plant based fats and fiber. Both of these nutrients slow down the absorption process and promote a steady supply of energy to the blood stream… aka, blood sugar balance!
And, there are many other foods that can also help lower blood sugars over time in addition to the foods I’ve listed above.
What can you do to lower your blood sugar immediately?
Discussing what foods help lower blood sugar over time does not address what we should do in the moment when blood sugars are elevated though. This discussion is often more relevant to people on insulin (type 1 diabetes and insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes), but can apply to all forms of diabetes.
How to reduce blood sugar immediately
How to lower blood sugar fast in the moment can depend on a variety of factors, but the following strategies are almost always helpful.*
- Go for a walk**
- Drink a large glass of water
- Take rapid acting insulin if directed by your doctor
*Extremely high blood sugar (>250mg/dL) can be a life threatening situation if ketones are also present. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can develop when blood sugars reach this level. Discuss your plan of action with your doctor if/when this happens. This includes knowing when it’s ok to stay home and treat your blood sugar and when you need to head to the emergency room.
**Exercise may not be appropriate if blood sugars are >250mg/dL. Discuss this with your doctor before trying to exercise when your blood sugar is this high.
What to eat when your blood sugar is high
Usually, you can still eat all the regular fat, fiber, and protein-rich foods you’d typically eat when your blood sugar is elevated. There is no need to restrict food or eliminate carbohydrates in these moments, but it does warrant being more aware of the foods you’re eating and really ensuring we’re filling your plate with complex carbohydrates and nutrient-rich protein sources. Next time your blood sugar is high and you’re wondering what foods help lower blood sugars or what to eat for your next meal try one of these meals:
- One Pan Citrus Glazed Salmon and Veggies
- Easy Chicken Salad with Grapes and Walnuts
- Low Carb Burrito Bowl with Guacamole
- Healthy Baked Chicken Fajita Casserole
- High Protein Turkey Chili
For more resources on managing diabetes and balancing blood sugars, check out the Diabetes 101 section of my website. We cover a variety of topics all related to balancing blood sugars!