Proper blood sugar regulation is vital to all aspects of health. It affects energy production, the integrity of organs and blood vessels, hormone balance, mood, and cognitive function. When blood sugar is out of whack, you experience more oxidative stress, glycation (which leads to impaired elasticity of blood vessels and tendons), and swings in mood and energy.
Left to its own devices, blood sugar dysregulation can lead to hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels), insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and finally to type 2 diabetes. Thankfully, if you are experiencing blood sugar issues, there are strategies to help level things out. These include reducing stress levels, increasing daily movement, and getting enough quality sleep.
Here we’re going to focus on eating foods that contain nutrients that support normal blood sugar.
Among a laundry list of other essential roles, these nutrients have also been shown to play an important part in metabolism and supporting normal blood sugar regulation. Regularly including foods that contain these nutrients in your diet can help ensure you’re getting adequate amounts to support healthy blood sugar levels and metabolic flexibility.
This is a good time to mention supplements. Supplements can certainly play a role in maintaining health or helping with specific medical issues and there is a time and a place to use them, but ideally, you’re getting the vast majority of these nutrients from your diet. While it can be challenging to overdose on vitamins and minerals from your diet, it can be too easy to take more than you need in supplement form. This can lead to serious problems.
Remember – you can’t supplement your way out of a crappy diet and stressful, inactive lifestyle. So I encourage you to dial in your diet, stress management, and regular activity before reaching for any supplement bottles.
Amino acids that support blood sugar regulation
This functional amino acid is the precursor to nitric oxide. It plays a key role in many functions of the body including maintenance, growth, and immunity. It has been shown to be effective at improving glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity, endothelial function, and oxidative stress. Studies suggest that doses of about 8g/day of arginine can be useful at inducing these benefits. Most animal foods that are high in protein have decent amounts of arginine, as do some nuts and seeds. These are some suitable options to try and include in your diet to boost arginine intake. The amounts below are averages and based on 3 oz servings.
- Pumpkin seeds – 4,500mg
- Watermelon seeds – 4,150mg
- Beef – 2,100mg
- Almonds – 2,100mg
- Turkey – 1,800mg
- Pork – 1,700mg
- Chicken – 1,400mg
Vitamins that support blood sugar regulation
Vitamin A plays a key role in the production and activity of adrenal hormones. Not getting enough of this fat-soluble vitamin can hinder gluconeogenesis, and the body’s ability to produce glucose from protein and fat. This can result in low energy levels. Vitamin A may also help improve hyperglycemia, glucose tolerance, and improve insulin sensitivity.
There are two forms of vitamin A—retinol (preformed vitamin A found in animal foods) and carotenoids (found in plant foods). Some carotenoids, like beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, can be converted to retinol.
Men: 3,000 IU
Women: 2,333 IU
Pregnant: 2,567 IU
Breastfeeding: 4,333 IU
Some of the best food sources of vitamin A include liver from just about any animal, shrimp, eggs, whole milk, and yogurt. Carotenoids can be found in carrots, pumpkins, apricots, broccoli, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Important note: you must include some fat with your carotenoid-rich foods to enhance their absorption. Without that fat, the activity of those carotenoids will be a fraction of that of preformed vitamin A.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
This coenzyme plays a supporting role in the production of energy by assisting the enzymes that break down carbs and glucose for fuel. Because of this, and the beneficial effects it has on glucose and insulin levels, it is of particular importance to diabetics. In addition to helping with energy production, thiamine may also help protect against diabetes-related complications such as the development of atherosclerosis, kidney disease, nerve damage, and diabetic retinopathy.
Good natural sources of thiamine include acorn squash, asparagus, beans, chia seeds, flax seeds, green peas, hemp seeds, macadamia nuts, oatmeal, pork, and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Another coenzyme, this water-soluble vitamin assists in the production of energy, the breaking down of proteins and fats, and optimizing the body’s ability to metabolize other vitamins and nutrients. It is essential for the proper functioning of the pancreas and helps protect against oxidative stress. Maintaining adequate levels of riboflavin is also important in reducing weight-related chronic inflammation.
Foods rich in riboflavin include clams, dairy products, eggs, fatty fish, green vegetables, lean meats, mushrooms, nuts, and organ meats.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Pantothenic acid is essential in the utilization of carbs and fats, playing a key role in the production and storage of energy. It is a key precursor in the synthesis of coenzyme A (CoA), which is an essential cofactor that has a central role in energy metabolism. Adequate CoA levels help maintain whole-body glucose homeostasis and metabolic flexibility.
The top two richest sources of pantothenic acid are shiitake mushrooms and avocadoes. Other good sources include organ meats, sunflower seeds, eggs, chicken, broccoli, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Like other B vitamins, pyridoxine plays an important role in the production of fuel and energy. It is involved in over 100 enzyme reactions, most of which involve the metabolism of protein. However this extremely versatile vitamin also actively participates in glucose and fatty acid metabolism.
Side note: vitamin B6 (like calcium citrate) may also be beneficial for the prevention of calcium oxalate kidney stones by helping to prevent oxalate from being absorbed.
Men (age 19-50): 1.3mg
Men (age 51+): 1.7mg
Women (age 19-50): 1.3mg
Women (age 51+): 1.5mg
Some of the best sources of vitamin B6 include fish, organ meats, turkey, beef, chicken, chickpeas, potatoes, and bananas.
Minerals that support blood sugar regulation
Glucose tolerance factor, the biologically active form of chromium, enhances insulin activity, increases the uptake of blood sugar by our cells, and is key in regulating carbohydrate metabolism. Even a mild deficiency can result in dysregulation of blood sugar, eventually leading to insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Men (age 19-50): 35mcg
Men (age 51+): 30mcg
Women (age 19-50): 25mcg
Women (age 51+): 20mg
The chromium content in food can vary widely depending on soil and water conditions and manufacturing processes, which can make it difficult to determine the content in foods. With that said, the richest sources tend to be brewer’s yeast, beef, turkey, broccoli, apples, green beans, banana, peas, carrots, and eggs.
This essential element is involved in the activation of enzymes that regulate blood sugar and plays a role in maintaining the normalization of the action of insulin. Deficiency may affect carbohydrate metabolism and cause defects in normal blood sugar processes. Because of this, manganese may help protect against the development of metabolic syndrome.
Rich sources include clams, mussels, nuts, legumes, leafy greens, black tea, and oatmeal.
This mineral plays a role in supporting insulin secretion, helping to maintain normal blood sugar levels, and may lower the risk of developing diabetes. Adequate potassium levels are needed for proper insulin secretion from the pancreas. Low potassium levels impair insulin release, which could result in glucose intolerance. Lower levels have also been associated with higher fasting glucose, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
Adequate Intakes (AI)
There are many foods rich in potassium, including apricots, lentils, prunes, raisins, potatoes, kidney beans, avocado, bananas, salmon, cod, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, asparagus, apples, and coffee.
Bonus: A promising nutrient that may not deliver
For over 30 years, studies have shown that vanadium may help lower elevated blood glucose to normal levels. It appears to help correct several diabetes-related defects in the way some folks’ body processes carbs and fats by enhancing the effects of insulin. It should be noted that these studies did use daily amounts of 75-300mg. This is way over the estimates of tolerable upper intake levels set by the National Academies of Sciences of 1.8mg/day. Using the large amounts used in those studies for a long time could result in serious side effects, including kidney damage.
When it comes to supporting normal blood sugar levels, eating a wide variety of minimally processed whole foods is key. Focusing on foods that are rich in these micronutrients will provide your body with the nourishment it needs to function optimally while helping to prevent unhealthy swings in blood sugar.