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8-Step Diabetes Diet Planning: Manage Glucose Levels Naturally for Metabolic Syndrome

If you’ve been told you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes but you’re not sure what to do next, here are some first steps…

About 3 million people in Canada are diagnosed with diabetes. Of that total, 90% of those have type 2 diabetes which is a chronic disease, wherein the cells in body are not taking in enough glucose (sugar) and instead the glucose is remaining in the bloodstream causing hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

Glucose, a simple sugar, is the body’s main energy source. Insulin is the hormone responsible for triggering cells to uptake glucose. It will also trigger the short-term storage of glucose in the liver as glycogen and then in the fat cells as long-term storage.

The high blood sugar in type 2 diabetes can either be caused by insulin insufficiency or insulin insensitivity or a combination of both. Type 2 diabetes can cause many complications including heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, kidney disease, eye damage and even amputation. It can be difficult (but not impossible) to manage diabetes once you have been diagnosed.

However, if you have what is called pre-diabetes, pre-metabolic syndrome, or a family history of diabetes, there are some preventative habits and diabetes diet planning tips you can implement to reduce the likelihood of it developing further into full-blown diabetes.

1. Know Your Body

If you have diabetes, type 1 or 2, then chances are that you already test your blood sugar regularly.

However, if you have pre-diabetes or are at risk of diabetes, you may not be testing your sugar. A fasting glucose test taken with a regular blood test can give a good general picture of how your body metabolizes glucose. However, the only way to understand what is happening in the body on a day-to-day basis is with an at-home glucose monitor.

Keep a log of what you are eating and drinking and how it effects your blood sugar levels. This will provide better insight into how your body is managing glucose.

2. Manage your Carbohydrates Intake: Low Carb vs. Slow Carb

Anyone with diabetes or prediabetes is often told to eat less sugar, but this is easier said than done. If your blood sugar is high, either due to a lack of insulin or insulin insensitivity, this means one thing. The sugar is not getting into the cells where it is needed. Meaning you’re eating, but your cells are still hungry for more sugar.

The exception of course being our brain cells, which luckily don’t need insulin to absorb sugar. Cutting out all or most carbohydrate-rich foods may lead to hunger pains, irritability, and sugar cravings, which will have you reaching for the cookies at 10 PM. This is not a sustainable plan, particularly if you are not replacing the carbohydrates with fats, such as in a ketogenic diet.

Before trying low-carb go with slow-carb.

This means consuming carbohydrates that take longer to metabolize, so the body can handle it. This can be accomplished by eating “sugars” in the form of complex carbohydrates. Then pair these carbohydrate-rich foods with other foods high in protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.

The other macronutrients such as proteins and fats can also help to slow down the absorption of glucose. A typical blood sugar balancing meal consists of a complex starch such as whole grains, beans and legumes, a protein (beef, chicken, fish, etc.), lots of non-starchy vegetables (spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower etc.) and a healthy fat (nuts, seeds, olive oil, butter, avocado, etc.).

The graphic below is a good visual for how to build a slow-carb blood sugar balancing meal as part of diabetes diet planning.

The fats also help to provide energy. However, some may find that their blood sugar levels are still high when consuming whole grains. This is where the low carb option may be a better route. If you need to opt for low carb, then it’s important to replace the carbohydrates with an alternative fuel, which is ketones from fats.

A Healthy Blood Sugar Balancing Meal

This high-fat low-carbohydrate diet means keeping track of a macronutrients to ensure the body is in ketosis. Teetering between ketosis and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can lead to low energy, dizziness and nausea. This can be especially dangerous if you are taking insulin injections or medication to lower blood sugar.

Severe low blood sugar can lead to ketoacidosis and even a diabetic coma. As a ketogenic or low carbohydrate diet can be more difficult to follow, this is why we suggest trying a slow carbohydrate diet first. If you choose to try a ketogenic diet, we recommend consulting a physician and monitoring blood sugar levels carefully.

3. Understand Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

As discussed above, there are two main factors that will affect how your body will metabolize glucose and your blood sugar levels:

  1. How fast the glucose reaches the blood stream
  2. How much glucose overall (g of sugars)

How quickly or the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream after a food is eaten is dependent on a few different factors. The type of carbohydrate consumed is one factor. The only carbohydrate the body uses for energy is glucose. Therefore, the body must breakdown complex carbohydrates into glucose before it can be absorbed, this slows down the process. Fibre further slows down this process. Even other simple sugars such fructose (a sugar found in most fruits) must be converted to glucose by the liver.

So, a food high in fructose will reach the blood stream slower than a food higher in glucose.

For example, grapes contain high amounts of glucose compared to other fruits such as apples. This is why an apple is a more blood-sugar balancing fruit than grapes. Again, fibre will help to slow down this process, so the sugar from an apple will reach the bloodstream slower than the sugar from apple juice.

This can be difficult to keep track of, which is why we have glycemic index rates.

Glycemic index rates measure how much a food will raise your blood sugar. Foods are ranked on scale of 1 to 100, comparing foods to pure glucose, which scores 100.

In general, consuming foods of a glycemic index below 55 is a good start to managing blood sugar levels.  Charts containing glycemic indexes can be a helpful guide for determining food choices, particularly when it comes to fruits.

It can also help you choose the best sweetener if you are able to have some small amounts of sugar alternatives.

For example, cane sugar, which is a sucrose (a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose), has a glycemic index of 60.  However, coconut sugar has a glycemic index of 35. Therefore, by just switching from cane sugar to coconut sugar, you are slowing down the rate by almost half.

The important thing to remember about consuming sugars of any kind is that it will all end up in the bloodstream eventually, which is why there is another way to measure the effect of a food on your blood sugar-glycemic load.

Glycemic load considers the amount of total glucose a meal will provide, as well as how quickly it will reach the blood stream. Glycemic load is calculated by multiplying the glycemic index by the total carbohydrates and dividing by 100.  This can give you a better picture of what you are eating.

A good example is watermelon. Watermelon has a high glycemic index of approximately 80, however about half a cup of diced watermelon will contain approximately 5 g of carbohydrates meaning the total glycemic load will be about 4, that is:

80 Glycemic Index x 5g carb = 400, then divide by 100 = 4 Glycemic Load

This is considered a low glycemic load. This is generally how glycemic load is defined:

  • Low Glycemic load (low GL): 0 to 10
  • Medium Glycemic load (med GL): 11 to 19
  • High Glycemic load (high GL): 20 and over

While you may not want to calculate glycemic load for every meal, it may be a good idea to have glycemic index and glycemic load charts with suggested serving sizes kept on the fridge for quick reference. There are also apps available now that will help you calculate and track these numbers on the go.

4. Manage Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is our stress hormone, so what does it have to do with blood sugar?

The main role of cortisol is to increase blood sugar, that’s how are body deals with long term stress. So high cortisol levels could also be contributing to higher blood sugar levels, in addition to insulin issues.

Here are some tips for reducing cortisol levels:

  • Avoid low blood sugar. Just because you have metabolic syndrome doesn’t necessarily mean your blood sugar can’t drop low. Keep track of your blood sugar and monitor dips as well as spikes.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine.
  • Reduce stress with meditation, breathing exercises, work-life balance and setting boundaries.
  • Take adaptogen herbs or adrenal formulas to reduce stress.

For more information on balancing cortisol check out our blog here.

5. Heal Your Gut

It always comes back to the gut!

A 2017 study demonstrated that individuals with increased intestinal permeability were 5 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes. High intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, is generally a result of inflammation in the digestive tract and dysbiosis (an unhealthy microbiome).

It is uncertain yet whether poor digestive health is a contributing cause of type 2 diabetes, or if they are the two consequences of the same root cause – a diet high in refined sugar and processed foods.

We know there are multiple contributing factors to type 2 diabetes (including genetics) and more and more research is indicating that the overall health of the human body is dependent on the health of the gut particularly the microbiota.

For more information on how to take care of your digestive system, check out our previous blog here.

6. Reduce Inflammation

One of the biggest risk factors that comes along with diabetes is heart disease.

This is because the high sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and because high insulin levels contribute to overall inflammation in the body. If you have type 2 diabetes or you are at risk, it may be beneficial to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet as an added preventative measure to reduce risk of heart disease.

Antioxidants also help to reduce free radical damage to the arterial lining. Here are some top anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods:

  • Omega 3 rich foods
    • Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts
    • Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Herring (SMASH fish)
  • Broccoli
  • Blueberries
  • Gogi berries
  • Cacao nibs
  • Pineapple
  • Spinach
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Ginger

For more information on an anti-inflammatory diet as part of your diabetes diet plan, check out our blog here.

7. Address Nutritional Deficiencies

There are a number of trace minerals and other nutrients that have been found to be either deficient in those with type 2 diabetes or are necessary for glucose metabolism.

Here is a quick list of them, how they help and how you can get them into your diabetes diet planning:

Nutrient What it is Where you can find it
Chromium A trace mineral necessary for glucose metabolism. Studies have shown that supplementation with chromium picolinate can improve insulin sensitivity* Broccoli, Oats, Grapes, Nutritional Yeast, Beef, Poultry
B-Vitamins B vitamins are required for glucose metabolism and can help to increase energy levels Whole grains, Legumes, Beans, Nuts, Seeds, Animal Products, Nutritional Yeast
Folic Acid A B vitamin that can help to prevent neuropathy in cases of type 2 diabetes Broccoli, spinach, kale and other leafy greens
Zinc An essential mineral. Zinc deficiency has been associated with type 2 diabetes Pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef, raw cacao, sesame seeds
Magnesium Essential mineral needed for the relaxation of muscular tissues (including smooth arterial tissues) Deficiencies common in people with diabetes. Protects against coronary artery spasm in the case of atherosclerosis. Spinach, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, almonds,
Manganese An important cofactor in key enzymes of glucose metabolism. Also needed for pancreas repair. Deficiency common in people with diabetes Blackberries, Blueberries, brown rice, black eyed peas,

Please check with your doctor and a nutritionist before taking any new supplements if you are on medication or insulin injections!

8. Move Your Body

Exercise can help to increase circulation, energy levels, reduce blood pressure and lower blood sugar. Both resistance and aerobic exercises have been shown in studies to be beneficial for those with diabetes and prediabetes.

Even simple walking particularly 1-3 hours after a meal can help to lower blood sugar. 


Kirsten Colella, CNP, is a Holistic Nutritionist who graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition with high honours.  Living on a farm with her family, Kirsten likes to use the full spectrum of farm-grown foods and herbs when making her inflammation-fighting, mineral-rich, sugar-balancing meals. Kirsten shares her delicious recipes, colourful food pics and health-promoting food ideas on our Instagram page @essentialbalanceholistic.


Sources quoted for the blog:

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