Controlling Blood Sugar


Diabetes is becoming very common in the United States and in other parts of the world, too.

It’s an interruption in the way your body can use the carbohydrates you have consumed.

Carbohydrates are one of the three “macronutrients,” or main categories of food sources we have, the other two are fat and protein. When we eat carbohydrates, there is a hormone our body releases called “insulin,” a diabetic’s body has a hard time keeping up with the carbohydrates that need to be digested and utilized for energy.

Carbohydrates are the main source of the preferred fuel our body needs, called “glucose,” which is a type of sugar.

After we eat, digestion makes the fuel we need available to our cells. Insulin acts like a key that opens the cells to let the fuel in. When there isn’t enough insulin, the glucose stays in the blood and this is where the high blood sugar that your doctor or nurse is concerned about comes from. With nowhere else to go, the sugar builds up in the blood and is then filtered through the kidneys into our urine and passes from our body unused.

Insulin is produced in an organ called the pancreas, and there are several reasons that there may not be enough insulin. Sometimes the pancreas just doesn’t produce enough, and sometimes what is produced just isn’t working properly. At any rate, when the glucose is eliminated unused, we are losing our main source of energy.

While genetics and diseases affect the presence of diabetes, there are also lifestyle factors within our control, that can affect it too. This includes food choices and whether we move our bodies or don’t.

“Sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine.” – Mark Hyman

Food and Blood Sugar

First, all foods are not created equal!

Not all foods have an adverse effect on blood glucose levels. Proteins and fats are unlikely to affect your blood sugar very much. The foods that are least likely to cause a blood glucose spike are non-starchy vegetables! Plus they are rich in micronutrients, phytochemicals, fiber and vitamins. Mixed/combination foods will cause a lower rise in blood glucose after eating compared to the remaining food group, carbohydrates.

The foods that have the most effect on glycemic levels are carbohydrates. It does not matter where the carbohydrates come from so much as how much you are eating pertaining to glucose levels.

Remember, complex carbohydrates and whole grains are nutritionally superior to processed food items. Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that is the preferred source of energy for human bodies. It is the source of energy that is converted most easily to energy.

When we eat carbohydrates, the digestive end product is glucose which is absorbed into the bloodstream and is either used for energy or is stored. It is the glucose that insulin is supposed to move into the cell for energy use. Low or no insulin means the process is absent or impaired in people with diabetes.

All carbohydrates are not equal but all will affect blood sugar levels. The more you eat, the greater the effect. Eating a bagel with butter and jelly along with juice (>60 g CHO) will cause a pretty big jump in your blood sugar level.  A wiser choice would be Ezekial toast and avocado spread.


Don’t worry about the fat for now. Fat is not going to cause a significant rise in blood sugar. Since fat and protein will slow the digestion of the carbohydrates, it’s good to mix your foods, including fiber. Other foods that have a lesser effect on blood sugar levels are foods high in fiber such as whole grains, most vegetables, and fruits.

The impact of fruits on blood sugar can be tricky. Different people react differently to different fruits. Some people say they experience huge spikes from eating an apple and others with minimal reaction. Your body’s response can be ascertained by checking your blood sugar two hours after eating any food that may cause you concern.

Regular fruit juice is best limited for a person with diabetes. Remember, fructose is a monosaccharide and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. In fact, it can raise blood sugar rapidly so that it is recommended to treat hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

The bottom line is not that you can’t eat sugar, but remember that sugar is a carbohydrate and it is how much you eat that matters. When looking at a food label, note the number under total carbohydrates. Total carbs is the number that you need to look at. On average, try to select foods with less than 30 g total carbohydrates per serving size. Pay attention to the serving size and the total carbs, and you will be able to keep track and plan your meals.

For most people, a diet of roughly 50% carbohydrates, 20-25% protein and 25-30% fat is best. Your physician, nurse or diabetes educator can help you plan your carbohydrate count for meals and snacks. You’ll usually find that an ideal situation is about the same number of carbohydrates for each meal, three times a day at about the same time each day. Add in carbohydrate-planned snacks and you’re in the zone.
Ask your provider if the “divided plate” method would work well for you. The divided plate method is a plate with a source of protein in about 25% of the plate, complex carbohydrate in about 25% of the plate and 50% non-starchy vegetables with a beverage and a fruit.

The divided plate method can be seen at this website, published by the American Diabetes Association:

As more and more people are either eliminating or diminishing animal-sourced protein in their diets, the question is asked about vegetarian options for protein. This is where a consultation with your health provider or your diabetes educator can be helpful. An ideal amount of protein is about 1/3g per pound of body weight, not as much as you would believe!

Once you know the number of grams of protein that should be included in your meal plan, you can then safely choose from many wide sources to be sure you are getting what you need.

As nutritional science advances, we understand that proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water, fiber, and nutrients are vitally important both to our general health, and when combined with a  nutrition plan, are powerful medicine.

If you have a difficult time or don’t fully understand, you can reach out to your provider or work with your health coach who understands how to coach to your own goals and support you in your program.

Here is a sample menu that shows how easy it is to meet your protein needs in a plant-based diet:

You will want to adjust these percentages if you’re engaged in strength training or weight loss.  More protein is necessary when building lean muscle math and eliminating fat.  For best results:

For Lean Muscle Building – 100-120 mg/dl

Fat Burning – 80-100 mg/dl

To keep your body from storing fat, you want to be sure not to eat to many carbs or calories.

To keep your body from burning muscle, you want to avoid skipping meals.

Test Your Blood Sugar

Blood sugar testing is done so that you know how your blood glucose is metabolizing. It gives valuable information on specific adjustments that may be made to your nutritional plan. Most people with diabetes test once or twice a day, but some only test weekly. It all depends on how steady your blood glucose is.

Your blood sugar levels can give you insight on adjustments. If, for example, your blood sugar is high before your planned meal, you may want to cut back on the carbohydrates and have more non-starchy vegetables. Over time you’ll know how to make these changes intuitively.


Exercise is a well-documented intervention. Far from being complex, the best and most common exercise for most people is about 30 minutes of mid-level exertion walking at least 5 days a week. It’s even better to add in cardio and weights.

Exercise will help in several ways; balancing blood sugar is one. But more importantly, cardiovascular health is improved and maintained with some form of aerobic exercise. During more strenuous exercise, you may need to plan to have a form of complex carbohydrate ahead of time, and perhaps a source of simple carbohydrate available if you feel weak or light-headed.


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