Blood sugar, or blood glucose, is a type of sugar found in the bloodstream. Blood glucose is vital to the healthy working of almost all the cells in our body to supply them with energy. Blood sugar levels change over the course of the day, with the biggest factor controlling that, being the food we eat. Whenever we eat carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta, rice, fruit and sugar, our body breaks it down into glucose after which it is absorbed into the bloodstream. It is this digestion and absorption that causes a rise in blood glucose after a meal. In a healthy body, glucose levels fall back to normal after a few hours of eating, thanks to the effects of insulin.
If blood sugar levels stay too high and don’t fall back to normal levels after a meal, this can cause damage to the body over the long term. So good blood sugar control is important and it becomes even more important if a person has diabetes. Even without diabetes, a person can have a condition known as insulin resistance where insulin is not effective in removing excess glucose from the bloodstream. Over time, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes
Lifestyle factors for blood sugar control
There is much you can do to keep blood sugar levels healthy with the most important being your diet. Even though carbohydrate foods cause a rise in blood sugar levels, it doesn’t mean you need to avoid these foods. A healthy diet can include plenty of good sources of carbohydrates foods high in fibre. Eating more in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines will have you eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and wholegrain. Eating regular meals can also help spread the spikes in glucose levels over the day.
Carbohydrate-containing foods can be rated on a scale called the glycaemic index (GI). This scale ranks carbohydrate-containing foods based on their effect on blood sugar levels over a period of time – usually two hours. Carbohydrate foods that are quickly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream have a high GI whilst those which are slowly digested and absorbed have a low GI. Low GI foods include wholegrain bread, oats, apples, and lentils. Examples of high GI foods include white bread, short-grain rice, potatoes and watermelon.
Being active is also a key factor in blood glucose balance. Our muscles use glucose so this helps in using up excess blood sugar. Exercise also lowers the risk of many diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Exercise is also related to body weight as the more weight someone is carrying, especially around the abdomen, the more difficulty they can have in effectively regulating blood glucose.
The role of chromium in glucose balance
An important nutrient in blood glucose metabolism is the mineral chromium. Chromium helps enhance the action of insulin, so is important in lowering blood glucose. Broccoli, grapes, potatoes, and meat are relatively good sources of chromium. There has also been some research looking at how chromium supplements can help control blood glucose levels with a recent review of 25 clinical trials finding a favourable effect of chromium supplementation on glycaemic control in people with diabetes.