Truth, Myth or Maybe?
Keeping blood sugar, or glucose levels, in your target range is helpful for the prevention and management of diabetes. So it’s no surprise that the internet teems with tips and tricks for good blood sugar management.
But as with all medical advice, it’s good to check with an expert. We asked Nancy Wagner, RDN, CDCES, registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist at The University of Vermont Health Network - Central Vermont Medical Center, to comment on some of the most popular online suggestions.
1. Ingest cider vinegar
Why it might work: In theory, drinking cider vinegar before meals, with meals, or during the day may slow down your body’s metabolism of carbs and causes less of a blood-sugar spike.
Does it work? Maybe. It works for some people, but there’s not enough evidence to prescribe it across the board.
Wagner’s advice: If you try it, use unfiltered apple cider vinegar and dilute it; mix 1 teaspoon with at least 8 ounces of water. If you drink it straight, it can irritate your stomach and damage your teeth. Take it before or during meals, or at bedtime. Then, be sure to monitor your blood sugars to gauge your body’s reaction and avoid your blood sugar dropping too low.
2. Walk after a meal
Why it might work: If you walk within two hours of eating, you could potentially burn off some of your ingested carbs before your blood sugar rises.
Does it work? Yes! Exercise helps smooth out the rate at which your body metabolizes carbs, so it’s an effective short-term antidote to a big, carb-heavy meal. And in the long term, exercise is generally good for your blood sugar and for your body as a whole.
Wagner’s advice: If you’ve just eaten a meal that you know will increase your blood sugar, you’ll see the biggest short-term impact if you walk or exercise for 15 minutes or more within two hours of eating. If you exercise before eating, it may not have as much of a short-term effect, but it will still help your body be more receptive to your own insulin, thus reducing your insulin resistance in the long run.
3. Flavor rice with coconut oil and cool for 12 hours before reheating
Why it might work: Cooking starches like rice, potatoes or pasta with a small amount of coconut oil, then cooling for 12 hours before eating, increases their resistant starch content. Resistant starches, similar to fiber, are digested slowly. Because they stay in your gut longer, they move into the large intestine, helping with gut fermentation and potentially keeping your blood sugar more stable.
Does it work? Maybe. Anecdotal evidence is there; many people with diabetes have reported that they don’t see as much of a blood sugar spike after eating cold potato salad as they do for a hot baked potato. But research is scant, and more study is needed.
Wagner’s advice: Try it, and see how it affects your blood sugar, compared to eating the same dishes prepared traditionally and served right after cooking.
4. Eliminate fruit, or follow a high-protein diet (Keto)
Why it might work: Fruits are high in fructose, a natural sugar. So eating a lot of fruit, without protein to balance, can definitely cause a blood-sugar spike.
Does it work? No. Avoiding fruit entirely isn’t a good idea. Our bodies need carbs, especially those found in fruits and vegetables. Plus, they’re a great source of fiber, vitamins and minerals!
Wagner’s advice: Moderation is much healthier and more effective than a strict “all-or-nothing” approach. Restrictive diets are hard to stick with over the long term, so think about balance instead, and pair your carbs with proteins to keep your blood sugar stable. If you love apple pie, have a small piece – but maybe not right after a spaghetti dinner. Instead, enjoy a meal of grilled chicken and a green salad, and then enjoy your pie.
5. Take berberine
Why it might work: Berberine is a yellow, plant-based compound that's often used as a dye. When ingested, berberine can activate the enzyme that reduces the amount of sugar released by the liver. This is important, because our liver always holds sugar in reserve for those times when our blood sugar dips. In people with diabetes, that communication misfires, and the liver may send out too much sugar.
Does it work? Maybe. Taking a berberine supplement works for some, but not all, and there’s not enough data to prove it makes a difference. For most people, the supplements would likely be a waste of money.
Wagner’s advice: While a berberine supplement probably wouldn’t hurt, you should always check with your provider first before taking it or any supplement, in case there are any health risks with your particular medical history.
6. Drink a glass of water before each meal
Why it might work: Water may fill you up, leaving less room for food.
Does it work? Maybe – depending on your eating habits. Water itself won’t counteract sugar. If you’re still eating lots of carb-rich foods, this probably won’t help much. But if water helps you reduce your appetite, it could help.
Wagner’s advice: It’s an interesting experiment to do. And most of us could use more water intake.
7. Practice intermittent fasting
Why it might work: A fasting program gives people guidelines for when to eat and not eat. These schedules can be helpful for those who tend to snack and overeat throughout the day.
Does it work? Maybe, for those who struggle with overeating or mindless eating.
Wagner’s advice: If you try it, don’t go more than 12 hours without eating, and pay attention to how your blood sugar responds. Ideally, you should try to eat something every 4 to 5 hours during waking hours.
When it comes down to it, many of these online trends don’t offer enough results to be categorized as fact or myth. “People do all kinds of online research on ‘how many carbs should I be eating,’ and so on, “says Wagner. “But because blood sugar management varies so much from person to person, many of these tactics are ‘maybe’.”
If any of these “maybes” intrigue you, there’s nothing wrong with trying them out – as long as you monitor your blood sugar levels, discuss them with your care team and learn from them.
Blood sugar readings offer the facts you and your provider should use to identify your body’s responses and adjust your meals and habits to improve your numbers. Then, even for the tips that don’t yet have a lot of scientific study behind them, you can decide whether they’re “proven” to work for you.