Nothing’s worse than sitting down to a meal, enjoying it to its every last bite and then suffering blood sugar swings shortly after. You’re either super-hyped up and crash and burn later (likely due to a large intake of sugar or refined carbs), or you’re dead tired from overeating on too many fatty foods that can disrupt healthy insulin levels. When you eat, your insulin levels naturally spike to help deliver nutrients to your cells. This is what gives you energy from the food you eat. When too much fat is eaten, insulin doesn’t reach the cells appropriately like it should. Carbs give the body energy, but subsisting off sugary foods alone is also not a good idea because we also need a little healthy fat, plenty of  fiber, and some protein to help slow down the release of insulin, which keeps our blood sugar steady. Oily, greasy foods, fast foods, processed foods, and sugary foods can all upset your blood sugar for this reason. But even some seemingly healthy foods can upset your blood sugar levels  if you’re not careful. Brain fog after a meal, headaches, fatigue, and constant cravings may all be a sign your blood sugar isn’t working as optimally as it could be. If that’s the case, it’s time to take some action.

First, you’ll need to see a medical professional you trust to rule out medical conditions like diabetes, hypoglycemia, or other types of health concerns that can be affected by your blood sugar. Next, you’ll also want to focus on how to build meals that support your blood sugar. This doesn’t mean avoiding carbs or fats, it simply means learning how to eat proper portions of each food, and what foods can serve your blood sugar best.

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Try these tips:

1. Choose Whole Foods First

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The basis of any blood sugar friendly meal always starts with real food. Your body can easily recognize whole foods, it knows how and what to do with them during digestion and assimilation of nutrients, and these foods will support not just your blood sugar, but also your whole body. No processed stuff, just clean, fresh foods. Try making your own salad dressing since most bottled varieties have added sugars and highly processed soybean oil, make your own yogurt instead of buying processed yogurt with added sugars, make a bowl of porridge instead of choosing cereal from a box, and avoid sweetened non-dairy milks or regular dairy milk since they can both spike your blood sugar. Learn to enjoy fresh greens, vegetables, fruits, 100 percent whole grains, beans, legumes, and nuts and seeds instead of things in a box or a frozen meal.

2. Don’t Try to Subsist Off Fruit Alone

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There’s alot of buzz about fruit-based diets right now as being the best way to eat, with some people eating bananas all day, and others just eating mostly fruit until dinner. While everyone’s bodies are different and this may work for some, this isn’t normally the case for everyone. We were given vegetables, greens, nuts and seeds for a reason – to eat them! Though fruit contains fiber, most all vegetables have way more fiber than fruit, more nutrition, and they don’t impact your blood sugar the same way. Fruit is definitely a healthy food, but don’t try to subsist off of it alone if you notice you feel lightheaded, fatigued, or have trouble concentrating. If you make fresh juice or smoothies, also opt to include more greens than fruit instead of making your juices and smoothies fruit-based. Drinking that much sugar without a substantial amount of fiber and nutrients like magnesium found in greens, can upset your blood sugar levels and leave you with a crash later. (It can also upset digestion for some people too.)Your hormones and blood sugar need some protein and healthy fats to thrive, so learn to eat them all in balance instead of just relying on fruit at all (or most) or your meals.

3. Add a Fiber-Rich Green

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A good rule for building healthy meals is to always include something green. Of course, we don’t expect you to start adding spinach to your oatmeal (unless you think that’s cool, which if so, more power to you!), but you should aim to include greens with at least two of your meals per day. This is easy to do if you love green smoothies, salads and soups, but it’s also simple to do with grain-based meals. Just sauté some greens or add them raw to a bed of grains for a delicious veggie bowl. You can also use them to make raw wraps if that’s something you enjoy. Why greens? They’re a great source of fiber, magnesium, protein, iron, calcium, B vitamins, zinc, and potassium. Fiber and magnesium support your blood sugar, and iron, B vitamins, and protein help you focus, provide energy, and will also support insulin levels.

4. Keep Portions in Mind

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You needn’t start weighing your food (how boring!), but you should consider the portion sizes that you eat. Eating too much at meal time past the point of being full can severely upset your insulin levels. Your pancreas has to pump out much more insulin to deal with the overload of food and it can cause you to be fatigued shortly after. It can also end up causing insulin resistance in the body where your body doesn’t use insulin at optimal levels, which can even lead to Type 2 diabetes. Stop eating when you’re satisfied, but not stuffed. This isn’t always easy, but your body will thank you without being under so much digestive distress after meals.

5. Learn How to Plate Your Nutrients

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Ideally, your meal will be half fresh vegetables and/or greens, ¼ will be some type of healthy complex carb such as quinoa, sweet potatoes, oats, wild, brown or black rice, and roasted squash just to name some of the most popular options, and the other 1/4 portion of your plate should be something with some protein and healthy fats. Protein, small amounts of healthy fats and plenty of fiber help stabilize your insulin levels and slow down the relase of insulin from the carbohydrates that you’re eating. Good options for protein and healthy fats include: some pumpkin or sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, some grains such as quinoa, teff and oats, or beans and legumes of your choosing. If you have trouble digesting beans and legumes, stick with seeds or whole grains until your body learns to adjust. (Greens also contain protein, so you don’t need to worry about getting enough.)

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If you’re having something such as oatmeal or quinoa porridge for breakfast, then aim to include some fresh produce (like high-fiber berries or apples), along with some flax or chia seeds and maybe a few raw almonds too. Making a smoothie? See how to make a filling, healthy smoothie that will support your blood sugar here. This will give you produce, healthy complex carbs, and a little protein at the same time. Of course, there’s a little leeway here and there for building your meals. Measuring everything isn’t need so  long as you keep fresh produce (greens, vegetables and/ or high-fiber fruits), a healthy complex carb (root vegetables, whole grains) and a small portion of protein (beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.) at each meal.

If you keep these 5 tips in mind, drink plenty of water, manage your stress, avoid excess caffeine and late nights, then you’ll be well on your way to taking care of your blood sugar – guaranteed.

Also see: Important Nutrients for Healthy Blood Sugar Levels and 5 Surprising Habits That Raise Your Blood Sugar for More Tips.

Lead Image Source: Daniel Dudek-Corrigan/Flickr

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