Blood sugar or blood glucose is sugar that the bloodstream carries to all the cells in the body to supply energy. Blood glucose regulation is the result of teamwork between the fat tissues and muscles in the body, along with the brain, liver, pancreas and the small intestine, as well as a host of hormones, including insulin. Diabetes develops when the efficiency of one or more members of the regulating team is compromised, leading to elevated blood glucose. If it’s too high over time, it can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels; and if it’s too low, it can cause extreme fatigue.
Blood glucose temporarily rises after a meal, as food is broken down for use by the body. This surge triggers the production of insulin, which signals the cells in the body—particularly those in fat, muscles, and the liver—to absorb any extra blood glucose, either burning it as energy or storing it for later use. As cells absorb glucose, its concentration in the bloodstream stops increasing and starts to move towards the target range, explaining why blood sugar tests are taken before and after fasting.
“Keeping blood sugar level is of utmost importance,” states nutritionist Dr Siddhant Bhargava. “The normal values range between 70-100 mg/dl. Higher levels of glucose require more insulin to break it down, putting additional pressure on the pancreas to generate more of the hormone. The only way to keep insulin secretion moderated is to not keep spiking your blood glucose levels and maintaining a balance,” he adds. This increase can result in type 2 diabetes and PCOS (in women). Elevated blood sugar levels can also cause increased triglycerides, which are not great for cardiac health. Talking about the complications that crop up when blood sugar is not maintained, Gita Ramesh, joint managing director, Kairali Ayurvedic Group, says, “Besides the most obvious diabetes, you may suffer from heart ailments, kidney failure, eye problems, obesity, neurological disorders and various gastrointestinal diseases.” On the other side, falling blood sugar levels mean your body will not have enough energy to perform daily tasks. Blood sugar determines how you age and which diseases you can prevent.
Increased thirst, frequent headaches, blurred vision, weak bladder and fatigue are the early signs of imbalance in blood sugar levels. The liver controls blood sugar when you are not eating, and the pancreas controls blood sugar when you are. When glucose and insulin levels are high, the liver responds by absorbing glucose. If there is excess sugar already stored, then the liver doesn’t even get to burning fat. If you increase the functionality of the liver, by lowering your consumption of alcohol and junk food, you can reduce the stress on the pancreas (which produces insulin).
The key to managing blood sugar levels, especially if you are dealing with aberrations, is to be conscious of what’s on your plate. Plan small, regular meals so that there is no drastic insulin surge (often post binge eating) that your system has to deal with. What you get from carbohydrates, fats and proteins are sufficient for someone leading a moderately active life. If you have too much sugar in your body, and not enough potassium, it gets converted to fat. That’s why it pays to include potassium-rich sources in your diet. If you are trying to maintain blood sugar levels, the best diet is one which is your basic, healthy diet. “According to Ayurveda, food is the primary medicine that helps to normalise any health-related issue. Type 2 Diabetes can be managed and even reversed with modifications in one’s lifestyle habits,” explains Ramesh, who authored The Ayurvedic Cookbook with the aim to offer traditional recipes that are high in nutritional and medicinal values. Traditional Indian recipes, wherein meat is cooked with spices, has its roots in food compatibility. For instance, cinnamon improves insulin sensitivity and lowers blood glucose levels.
Since lowering blood sugar levels also helps in weight loss, many weight watchers look to a diabetic diet (one which restricts insulin spikes) for reference on what to eat. A nutrient-rich, low-carb diet works best for those diagnosed with diabetes. The core of a diabetes diet actually is the glycemic index (GI), which is a value given to foods based on the influence they have over blood sugars in the body. In simple terms, foods low on GI (55 or lesser) tend to release glucose slowly and steadily into the bloodstream, thereby balancing the insulin levels. Foods with a high GI spike insulin production as they release sugar immediately. However, the focus of a diabetic diet should not be just on GI values but preparing meals with a low GI load. “Never ever have simple sugars like honey or jaggery alone. These should always be coupled with another food source, or there will be an instant elevation in blood sugar levels,” advises Dr Bhargava.
Here are some foods that can help more than others to prevent and even reverse diabetes. And what’s more? They also help you manage weight and get healthier and smoother skin.