6 Ways You Can Reduce Blood Sugar Spikes After Meals

Controlling blood sugar isn't all about what you eat. Sometimes, it's about what you do — specifically, what you do after you've finished a meal.

You may already know that sweet foods and refined carbs, like white pasta and sugary pastries, can spike blood sugar levels shortly after you eat them, while low-sugar foods, like high-fiber leafy greens and lean proteins, will stabilize your blood sugar and prevent those swings.

However, managing blood sugar is not just about the foods you're eating (or not eating, for that matter). It's also about your lifestyle habits around those meal times.

What you do with your body after eating a meal often counts as much toward your healthy blood sugar goals as what you eat during that meal. Blood sugar levels can be affected by habits that either benefit or hinder blood sugar balance. Plus, as practices become more habitual, they're harder to change. The damage (or the benefits) of those habits will multiply.

If your blood sugar numbers are elevated, or if you have diabetes, the best time to act to help reduce your blood sugar is now, before bad behaviors become further "automated" into your lifestyle. Read on to find out why blood sugar rises, what habits may make it worse, and what you can do to improve your blood sugar levels.

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Why Does Blood Sugar Rise, Exactly?

A number of things contribute to rises (or even decreases) in blood sugar on a daily basis. Food is chief among those things.

"Simple carbohydrates, like sugary drinks or candy, will be digested and absorbed quickly, which will raise blood sugar more than a mixed meal with protein, high fiber carbohydrates, and fat," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook.

Protein, fat, and fiber together will slow digestion and thus create a more blunted rise in blood sugar, with less drastic spikes, or even a steady elevation.

"For example, a bagel with jelly that's nearly all carbohydrates should increase blood sugar more than an egg with whole-grain toast and berries, even if the calories are the same," Harris-Pincus explains.

"It's also important to know that all carbohydrates are not created equal, so certain foods like beans and oats, which contain soluble fiber, can help control blood sugar, and strawberries and wild blueberries have been shown to help with insulin resistance as well," Harris-Pincus says.

Still, all bodies differ, so keep in mind this is just a general rule of thumb. It's a good idea to monitor your blood sugar after meals for several weeks to gain a better understanding of how your blood sugar responds to foods.

"Every person has a unique body and will react differently, so it takes trial and error to learn how you respond," she adds.

Discuss a meal plan routine with your physician and dietitian, and ask about some blood sugar-friendly options that will help you control your blood sugar rise. You may not have to swear off the occasional donut or chocolate chip cookie, but it's important you understand what those sweets can do to your blood sugar stability.

6 Things You Can Do to Help Manage a Post-Meal Blood Sugar Spike

Here, a few do's and don'ts for post-meal activities, when your blood sugar will likely rise. These practices can help you avoid higher marks and focus on maintaining stability and keeping levels in check.

1. Don't sit on the couch or lie down right after a meal.

While you may want to plop on the couch and turn on the television after a long day of work and a satisfying meal, you should resist the urge to become sedentary. (Laying down can induce acid reflux symptoms, too.)

"Sitting on the couch or laying down after a meal will likely make blood sugar worse because you are sedentary and your muscles aren't burning off the extra glucose in your bloodstream," Harris-Pincus explains.

Plus, it is a common GERD trigger, so be wary if you are prone to indigestion after eating a meal, especially one containing trigger foods, like acidic tomato sauce on pizza or pasta, for example. Wait a bit before nestling under the covers.

2. Don't skip breakfast.

Dinner isn't the only meal you should be worried about. All meals and snacks can raise blood sugar, and the first meal of the day — or the lack of a meal — can have a significant impact on your blood sugar for the rest of the day.

"Skipping breakfast can affect your blood sugar later in the day, where some research has shown that people who skip a morning meal have higher post-meal blood sugar after lunch and dinner too," Harris-Pincus says.

She adds, "It's important to balance your breakfast with at least 20 grams of protein, complex carbs, and heart-healthy fats."

Think: an omelet with avocado, bright colored veggies and spinach with lean turkey sausage, and a slice of whole grain toast.

3. Don't shortchange your sleep.

Getting enough sleep at night is crucial for overall health and wellbeing, but especially for blood sugar control. Sure, one night of shortened or interrupted sleep may not have a detrimental effect, but don't kid yourself that you can get away with too little shut-eye regularly without it causing an imbalance in blood sugar levels.

"It's recommended that we snooze for seven to nine hours per night, and missing out on quality sleep can trigger stress hormones that increase blood sugar levels," Harris-Pincus explains.

Plus, stress is unhealthy in general, and it can lead to an increase in cravings, moodiness, physical discomfort, GI distress, and higher risk of disease, among other various concerns.

4. Go for a walk after you eat.

Beyond avoiding the couch, there is something you can actually do to help your blood sugar levels after a meal. Lace up those sneakers, and go for a walk to help balance blood sugar levels further. You'll even walk off some of those calories, as an added perk.

"Taking a walk after a meal will help to minimize the rise in blood sugar since your muscles will use that glucose for fuel," she explains.

Something quick, like 10 to 20 minutes, will do the trick, and it's a bonus if you can get outdoors for some fresh air and exposure to nature, which may further boost your mood and help you de-stress.

5. Eat the majority of your calories early in the day.

Dinner may be thought of as the biggest meal of the day, but if you have elevated blood sugar, you should stop thinking of things that way. And don't "save" your calories for a big meal either.

"Eating more of your calories earlier in the day can improve blood sugar levels since our bodies follow a circadian rhythm where we process food better during daylight hours," Harris-Pincus explains. "People who eat a larger breakfast and lunch with a smaller dinner have been shown to improve blood sugar more than people consuming the same amount of calories but during evening hours."

Plus, when you jam everything in later in the evening at dinner, especially if you eat dinner close to bedtime, your belly might feel too full, and GI distress could prevent you from falling asleep comfortably.

6. Make sure to eat fiber at meals and snacks.

When you eat refined white flour, such as pizza crusts, pasta, or crackers, your body is taking in carbs and sugars only and will experience more significant spikes in blood sugar, as there's no fiber to keep levels stable or to slow digestion.

"Focus on fiber-rich foods to not only manage a post-meal rise in blood sugar but also to assist with gut health as well," Harris-Pincus says.

Indeed, eating fiber-rich and blood sugar-friendly foods will promote your body's gut-healthy bacteria, which can further help to balance blood sugar, while keeping your digestive system regular. High-fiber foods include fruits with skin, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains, as well as other fortified cereals.

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