4 Simple and Natural Remedies for High Blood Sugar
Just when we think we know all there is to know about health and longevity, we’re still being surprised.
For decades, we were convinced that dietary fat is what causes body fat and that we should minimize it in our diets at all costs. (Thank goodness that myth has gone the way of the dodo.)
Then we were bombarded from Atkins and Paleo camps with accusations that it’s carbohydrates that are the cause of all our ills. (Why is it always the most delicious macronutrients that get all the hate?)
That’s not to mention the rumors that any and all meat will shorten your life, that any and all alcohol is nothing but bad for you, that grains will reduce your mental capacity to that of an infant, that going without food for longer than three hours will throw your body into “starvation mode” and make it start hoarding body fat for the years of famine to come… we’ve made a lot of mistakes.
Slowly but surely, however, we’ve been making progress toward some unshakeable truths in nutrition: green vegetables are incredibly nutrient-dense and should make it to your plate every day. Fat is important for a litany of cellular functions and hormonal responses, and should also be consumed every day — in moderation. Calorie restriction has an extremely beneficial effect on body fat and longevity. And so does controlling your blood sugar and inflammation.
That last part isn’t quite as popular as far as health advice goes, but nonetheless extremely important.
“Doing your best to keep blood sugar stable and inflammation low will reduce your risk of not only diabetes, but a wide variety of cancers,” says Leyla Shamayeva, MS, RD, a New York City-based dietitian. “Chronic inflammation has also been linked to mental disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even depression.”
There are plenty of diet and lifestyle tips that are known to affect both of these areas of your health, and despite centuries of using them for medicinal purposes, there’s one method that continues to surprise the mainstream in its efficacy and simplicity: mushrooms.
What Causes High Blood Sugar?
Maybe this sounds like an easy question. “High blood sugar is caused by eating too much sugar, isn’t it?”
That’s actually not the whole story.
Carbohydrates like sugar do indeed cause blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels to rise. That causes the pancreas to release insulin to help move the sugar out of the blood and toward the organs where it’s needed most. (Usually it’s stored as energy in the muscles and liver.)
“Consumed on their own, unrefined carbohydrates like white sugar and white flour are referred to as having a high glycemic index,” says Shamayeva. “That means they digest very quickly, resulting in a spike in blood glucose and an accompanying “sugar rush” of energy — and crash later on. Consuming carbohydrates with protein and fiber slows digestion considerably, reducing the “glycemic load” of the overall meal.”
Short-term insulin spikes aren’t as bad as chronically elevated blood sugar, which can happen when instead of occasionally enjoying unrefined carbs, they form the basis of your diet. If you tend to consume mostly refined carbs and insufficient protein, fiber, or fat, your blood sugar will run high and your pancreas will need to keep releasing more insulin than it would otherwise. Eventually, the pancreas gets exhausted and stops being able to produce insulin properly.
What’s really important to take into account is the factor of insulin sensitivity. Basically, the more consistently high your blood sugar is, the worse you respond to insulin, and the more insulin the body has to release in order to have the same effect of moving the sugar into your organs.
And while consuming sufficient amounts of protein, fiber, and fat can drastically improve your insulin sensitivity, there are other diet and lifestyle factors that can help as well.
What Causes Inflammation?
Inflammation, meanwhile, is what happens when the body responds to a perceived attack. The immune system sends white blood cells — the ones that fight disease, damage, and foreign substances — to wherever they’re needed in your body so they can eliminate the cause of whatever's injuring your cells, clear out dead tissue, and start repairing tissue. It’s why a sprained ankle swells and turns red.
In theory, it‘s great. Problems arise when inflammation occurs when there is no threat and the body instead attacks its own healthy tissues. Arthritis is one example — the body’s immune system acts like healthy tissue is diseased or abnormal, causing joint pain and loss of mobility.
Then there’s chronic, low-level inflammation, which can be caused by diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Over the long term, it’s been been linked to a variety of dieseases such cancer, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer's, and diabetes.
“Inflammation and insulin sensitivity work together in a bad way,” says Shamayeva. “Inflammation causes poor insulin sensitivity and poor insulin sensitivity causes inflammation, so they make each other worse.”
Luckily, there are a few tips that science has strongly linked to less inflammation and a healthier insulin response.
4 Ways to Reduce Inflammation and High Blood Sugar
1) Eat more mushrooms
There are countless reasons why cultures all over the planet have used mushrooms as medicine for hundreds of years.
As mentioned above, improving blood sugar and inflammation is sometimes as simple as consuming more protein and fiber, and mushrooms typically contain almost as much protein as they do carbohydrates and about a third of the carbohydrate content is fiber. That means that a hundred grams of mushrooms provides 3.1 grams of protein, 3.3 grams of carbs, and 1 gram of fiber — a better carb-to-fiber ratio than whole wheat bread, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and many other foods that are typically considered “high fiber.”
Mushrooms also have a very positive effect on the immune system, which is linked to decreased inflammation. In a 2009 study published in BMC Immunology, for example, five common varieties of mushrooms were shown to stimulate the in vitro production of TNF-α, which has a beneficial effect on immunity.
That said, there are many different ways in which mushrooms interact with the immune system. That’s why we recommend a wide variety of them based on your health needs — and include tasty recipes to match — in our cookbook Healing Mushrooms.
2) Lower your intake of Omega-6 fatty acids
You’ve likely heard a lot about the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high levels in fish and algae and in lower, less absorbable amounts in certain nuts and seeds.
"There are so many reasons why they're important," says Shamayeva. "There are a lot of links with mental health, like improving mood and memory and lowering the risks of depression and dementia. But their main link with disease prevention is that they're anti-inflammatory."
What you might not know is that as far as their effect on inflammation and insulin resistance, what you really need to be focusing on is your ratio of Omega-3s to Omega-6s.
A healthy ratio is somewhere in the area of 1:2, but the average person eats closer to 1:20. So while it’s a great idea to consume plenty of fatty fish and maybe even supplement with fish oil, you also want to limit your consumption of high Omega-6 fats like processed oils made from seeds and soybeans — the kind that's typically used to fry everything delicious at your average McRestaurant.
3) Drink more tea
The antioxidants in many variations of tea -- from mushroom to green -- have been shown in some studies to improve insulin sensitivity and nutrition partitioning.
What’s more, the polyphenols in mushrooms have been linked to improved immunity and lower levels of inflammation.
4) Exercise more
Don’t let anyone tell you that working out is all about vanity. It’s true that exercise does increase inflammation in the short term because you technically cause “microtears” in your muscles when you exercise, and you become “fitter” after the body repairs itself to withstand more damage.
But in the long-term, it decreases the kind of chronic or systemic inflammation that can lead to metabolic disease and insulin resistance, according to a 2017 study from the University of California - San Diego.
Just be careful not to overdo it — engaging in very intense exercise every single day can have a negative impact on immunity, according to two studies published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity in 2009. Use walking or other low-intensity exercise every other day to balance out the tough stuff.
3 Mushroom Recipes to Explore
TOTAL TIME: 15 TO 20 MINUTES
- 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger (or more, if desired), peeled and thinly sliced
- 10 whole cloves
- 5 cardamom pods
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 2 cups nut milk of your choice
- 1 teaspoon chaga extract
- 2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the ginger, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and 6 cups water. Bring a boil over medium heat. Boil for 1 minute, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
Maitake Ginger Chews
MAKES 20 “CHEW BALLS”
TOTAL TIME: 15 MINUTES PLUS 2 HOURS CHILLING TIME
- 30 small dried dates (about 2 loose cups), soaked in water for 2 hours and drained
- 1 tablespoon almond butter
- 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (from about one 5-inch piece)
- 1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1⁄4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1⁄2 teaspoon liquid stevia
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons maitake extract
- 1⁄2 cup crushed almonds
1. Using a clean, absorbent kitchen towel, squeeze most of the water out of the soaked dates.
2. Put the dates in a high-speed blender and add the almond butter, ginger, vanilla, salt, coconut oil, stevia, and cinnamon. Blend until smooth. (A Vitamix or other high-speed blender with a tamper stick works the best for this, but you can also use a food processor fitted with the S-blade.)
3. Form the dough into a large ball and place it in a large bowl. Cover the dough directly with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour.
5. In a bowl, combine the maitake extract and the crushed almonds, then spread the mixture on a plate. Roll the chew balls in the coating and transfer to a clean plate. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Store the balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days
Chocolate-Avocado Mousse with Turkey Tail
TOTAL TIME: 10 MINUTES, PLUS CHILLING TIME
- 1 ⁄2 cup unsweetened cacao powder
- 1 ⁄2 cup nut milk of choice (almond, hemp, coconut, cashew, etc.)
- 2 teaspoons liquid stevia
- 1 teaspoon turkey tail extract
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract Pinch of sea salt
- 2 large ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
- Dried fruit, nuts, or seeds of choice (optional)
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the cacao powder, nut milk, stevia, turkey tail extract, coconut oil, and vanilla. Set aside.
2. Place the avocados in a blender and puree until smooth. Add the cacao mixture and blend to incorporate. (If you opt to do this by hand, a handheld mixer will work just as well.)
3. Divide the mousse among four dessert bowls or ramekins. Refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours. Just before serving, top each mousse with dried fruit, nuts, or seeds, if desired. The mousse will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days