How to improve your HBA1c the healthy way

There are many ways to keep your blood sugar in check, below are ten of the best ways you can get started with today. I use all of these in my everyday management of my diabetes and they can be incorporated easily by adding one at a time and sticking with it to see how it works for you. I started incorporating these into my daily routine when my HBA1c was at 75mmol and over the last 4 years I have reduced that down to 40mmol and I have lost over 40 kgs. The key with health changes like these is to incorporate them on a daily basis and make it an important habit. 

Watch your carb intake and ensure the quality  A low carb diet doesn’t need to mean no carbs. You can still enjoy some of the more natural carbohydrates and those that don’t cause the blood sugars to spike straight after eating. These should be low GI options and have less of an impact on blood sugars.  Low GI options should make up most of your daily intake and High GI enjoyed occasionally as part of a healthy & balanced diet. 

Low GI carbs (to include in small amounts) 

  • Pumpkin

  • Oats (wholegrain) 

  • Lentils

  • Beans 

  • Chickpeas 

  • Brown Rice

  • Green Vegetables (broccoli, spinach 

  • Fruit (eg. mixed berries, kiwifruit, apricots) 

High GI carbs (to avoid mostly - only occasionally) 

  • White rice 

  • White bread 

  • Chips

  • Biscuits

  • Cakes 

  • Potatoes 

  • Fizzy Drinks (coke, lemonade, fanta etc) 

These carbohydrates can be part of a low carb diet – provided they are consumed in a smaller portion (aim for a fistful each time) Notice how you feel after consuming these types of carbs. If you feel tired, sluggish or hungry within a short period of time it may be best to keep these for special occasions or at times when they are suitable (ie. Before sport or exercise) Ideally high GI foods should be kept to a minimum for people with diabetes. 

Blood glucose levels rise rapidly with high GI foods as you can see from this graph and low GI have a different response leaving you with better-balanced blood sugars after 1-2 hours after eating. 

Exercise often Exercising as often as you can is highly beneficial for a whole host of reasons – and the most vital reason to a diabetic is to gain control of our blood sugar levels, lower the need for more insulin and be able to cope with having carbohydrates in our diet. 

The key with exercise is consistency but most importantly finding what works for you. If you have a passion for walking or doing high-intensity circuits that is absolutely fine but make sure it is an activity you get enjoyment out of - not one that you dread. Make movement part of your everyday routine too by parking further away from work or the shop you are going to. This incidental movement can help you burn calories throughout your day rather than just when you choose to exercise.

Another important point about exercising is the impact on your blood sugars. It is important to pay attention to how exercise impacts your blood sugars. High-intensity exercise tends to increase your blood sugar level as opposed to low-intensity activity such as walking. 

High-Intensity Exercise & Blood Sugars You will notice with high-intensity exercise that your blood sugars will raise initially during the exercise and stay elevated for a few hours post-exercise. This is different for everyone though. It is best to keep an eye on your blood sugar levels before/after your session to understand the impact the exercise has.  High-intensity exercise includes:

  • High-intensity interval training.

  • Tabata training.

  • Running.

  • Speed walking.

  • Hillwalking.

  • Climbing stairs.

  • Jump roping.

  • Cross-country skiing.

High-intensity exercise has its place in your weekly exercise routine. Add in 2-3 exercise sessions a week which could include any of the above. I usually enjoy doing circuit training. 

Low-Intensity Exercise & Blood Sugars Great examples of low-intensity workouts include walking, cycling and even swimming. 'If you wanted a low-intensity interval workout in a gym, a long walk on a treadmill at a steady pace followed by a low resistance cycle on a watt bike.  I find low intensity exercise very beneficial when trying to get blood sugars down or when I have had a particularly carby meal. It helps to regulate blood sugars after a high peak. 20 - 30 minutes of walking can help maintain regular blood sugar levels for hours after consuming high carb foods. 

Optimal Weekly Exercise Regimen  Day 1: Low intensity exercise - 30 minutes + ie. walking, swimming, light jogging  Day 2: High intensity exercise - 20-30 minutes. Ie: circuits  Day 3: Low intensity exercise - 30 minutes + ie. walking, swimming, light jogging  Day 4: High intensity exercise - 20-30 minutes. Ie: circuits  Day 5: Weight / Strength training - 30 - 45 minutes focussing on different muscle groups. Ie. arms / back / legs / core / chest  Day 6:  Low intensity exercise - 30 minutes + ie. walking, swimming, light jogging  Day 7: Weight / Strength training - 30 - 45 minutes focussing on different muscle groups. Ie. arms / back / legs / core / chest 

Increase fiber intake Fibre is incredibly important for a range of reasons. Fiber is a necessary component of a healthy diet and is required for normal bowel movements. There are two types of fiber - soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. It is also found in psyllium, a common fiber supplement. Some types of soluble fiber may help lower risk of heart disease.  Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. There are many benefits associated with increasing the amount of good fibre in your diet. Including: 

  • Normalizes bowel movements. Dietary fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it. 

  • Helps maintain bowel health. 

  • Lowers cholesterol levels. 

  • Helps control blood sugar levels. 

  • Aids in achieving healthy weight

Increase water intake Your body uses water in all its cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate its temperature and maintain other bodily functions. Because your body loses water through breathing, sweating, and digestion, it's important to rehydrate by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water. Water is critical to how you feel on a daily basis and most of the time when people feel hungry or are low in energy water is often the answer to these concerns.  So how much water should you be drinking? As a general rule of thumb you should have at least 8 glasses per day but coffee / black tea and alcohol do not count towards your daily intake but herbal tea does. 

Eat Low GI foods GI or Glycemic Index is the impact of a given carbohydrate on your blood sugar levels and how quickly the body breaks down the sugar into your bloodstream. A low or lower GI diet is vital for anyone with or without blood sugar problems. A low GI diet has a number of potential health benefits, including reducing blood sugar levels, aiding weight loss and lowering your risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It is a great place to start when you are looking to improve your health. 

What are some differences between low, medium and high GI foods?

  • low GI (less than 55) – examples include soy products, beans, fruit, milk, pasta, grainy bread, porridge (oats) and lentils

  • medium GI (55 to 70) – examples include orange juice, honey, basmati rice and wholemeal bread

  • high GI (greater than 70) – examples include potatoes, white bread and short-grain rice.

Choose low GI foods where possible and aim to include higher GI carbohydrates when necessary to bring blood sugars backup and on special occasions. The less the better and kept as a treat. 

Control stress levels Elevated stress levels are directly linked with higher cortisol. Cortisol levels increase when we feel stressed and poorly controlled stress levels can lead to weight gain. The body has a system of hormonal checks and balances that may actually promote weight gain when you're stressed out. 

So how can we control our stress levels?

  • Exercise - at least 30 mins a day - try to add in a mixture of low intensity and high intensity exercises. Walking is also a great exercise that you can do daily

  • Meditation - breathing has a positive impact on the level of cortisol in the body 

  • Music - listen to happy and positive music

  • Talking / Socialising with friends 

  • Find a hobby that you enjoy. 

Prioritise your sleep.  Sleep is critical for our overall health and wellbeing. Poor sleep is a major risk factor for obesity and weight gain. A major review found that short sleep duration increased the likelihood of obesity by 89% in children and 55% in adults. Poor sleep also increases your appetite which is most likely caused by the impact of sleep on two important hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin. It is often a vicious cycle which I am sure you have experienced yourself when you have a bad night sleep you often feel hungrier the next day you eat more and then you sleep worse because you have eaten the wrong foods and the cycle continues. 

So what are some ways you can improve your sleep quality?

  • Avoid stimulants after midday

  • 1 - 2 hour gap between eating and sleeping

  • Take a warm shower or bath before bed

  • Take a magnesium supplement 

  • Avoid blue light an hour before bed (phones / computers / tv)

  • Have a cup of herbal tea

  • 10 minutes of legs up the wall 

  • Meditation before bed to wind down the mind

  • Make the room as dark as possible 

  • Aim to go to sleep before 10pm. 

Balance acidity levels Balancing your acidity levels is one of the greatest things you can do to help with weight loss. The alkaline diet is widely popular and for good reason. The Alkaline Diet is plant-based and discourages added sugar, so it may help your weight and health, although not because of the pH. People who eat balanced, plant-based diets tend to have lower risks of chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. Of course portion size comes into play when considering any type of diet but there are benefits between eating more of an alkaline diet than acidic.

So what are some examples of acidic and alkaline diets?

Acidic (limit and balance) 

  • meat.

  • grains.

  • dairy.

  • unsprouted beans.

  • sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

  • nuts.

  • carbonated drinks.

  • alcohol.

Alkaline (include often) 

  • Green Leafy Vegetables. Most green leafy vegetables are said to have an alkaline effect in our system.

  • Cauliflower and Broccoli. 

  • Citrus Fruits.

  • Seaweed and Sea Salt. 

  • Root Vegetables. 

  • Seasonal Fruits. 

  • Nuts.

  • Onion, Garlic and Ginger.

These are all guides to get you started and on the right path to improving your blood sugar control and overall HBA1c. Start slowly and see what habit you can change and stick with and notice how it impacts how you feel and how well your blood sugars and energy levels are. 

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Auckland, New Zealand


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