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Small Steps to Improve Blood Sugar

February 2007

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension of Union County

Does diabetes run in your family? Do you like sweets? It is probably wise for you to watch your sugar intake. The good news is that it is fairly easy to modify your diet to keep your blood sugar level under control. The one “rule of thumb” to remember is, the more processed foods you consume, the higher your blood sugar will be. On the other hand, the lower the sugar content and the higher the fiber content, the lower your blood sugar will be. The term “glycemic” index refers to glucose or blood sugar and is a measure of how carbohydrate foods like starches and sugars cause blood sugar to rise after eating.

Choose foods that have not gone through a lot of processing and limit your consumption of soft drinks, sweetened teas, juice drinks, and any sweetened beverages. These beverages will add significant amounts of sugar to your diet. Instead, drink water, low-fat milk and diluted juices in small amounts. Here are more ideas that are easy to follow to reduce blood sugar levels:

• Consume whole wheat or whole grain breads instead of low-fiber white bread.
• Eat breakfast each day and choose oatmeal or an oat based cereal. For variety, try a high-fiber cereal as an alternate.
• Choose cereals with little added sugar as your cereal of choice each day. Add ½ banana or berries for a high energy breakfast. Top with 1% or fat-free milk.
• Choose starchy foods carefully. Choose brown rice over white. Choose whole grain breads, crackers, pasta and snacks over those made with white flour.
• Add chick peas to salads, kidney beans to chili and casseroles, and use beans, lentils, and peas in soups, stews and salads. Beans and legumes are healthy foods that keep blood sugar in check. Legumes contain soluble fiber and help to keep blood sugar in control.
• Choose healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, dried fruit & nut mixtures.
• Prepare and eat lean protein such as skinless chicken breast, fish fillets, eggs, seafood, legumes, tofu. Watch the amount of high-fat cheese consumed.
• Consume small portions of food. Follow the recommendations of the Overeating carbohydrate rich foods will only raise your blood sugar level.

Take these small steps to eat healthy each day. Make sure you eat mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk and milk products. Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Keep your intake of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars to a minimum.

Keep these healthy eating tips in mind as you plan meals and snacks for yourself and others. Try not to eat more calories and fat grams than you need each day. Limit fried foods and snacks high in fat like chips. Consume meals and snacks at regular times every day. Use smaller plates so your meals appear larger than they actually are. Eat slowly and take your time so that you feel full at each meal. Remember that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full.

The bottom line is that tracking foods is helpful, but choosing lean protein foods, low-fat foods, and high fiber foods, will help to keep blood sugar stable. Remember, making small changes each day and being careful what you consume for meals and snacks will allow you to stay healthy and keep your blood sugar low and stable. Eat healthy, non-processed foods and watch how much you eat.

For more information, visit the following Web sites:

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Nutrition Facts Label

My Plate

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Weight-Control Information Network