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March 20, 2017

3 Health Hacks to Tame Your Blood Sugar

by John Hastings

If you have diabetes, you know it can lead to many serious complications -- from skin infections to heart disease. But what you may not know is that you can make a big difference in your risk just by taking a few simple steps. “When people first come to see me, they often think they need to exercise for hours or lose lots of weight,” says Barbara Keber, MD, chair of family medicine at Glen Cove Hospital and of the Northwell Health Inpatient Diabetes Taskforce. “But a few small changes can make a big impact on blood sugar.” Here are three easy moves she urges all her patients to make:

1. Cut out sweet beverages. This simple switch in your drinking habits can have a tremendous impact, says Dr. Keber – but it’s important to realize that you’ll have to swear off of more than just soda. “Sports drinks and fruit juice have tons of sugar in them, as well,” she says. “An eight-ounce glass of apple juice has 30 grams of carbohydrates, which is more than you should get from an entire meal.” Instead of swigging something sweet, Dr. Keber suggests, pour plain or flavored seltzer water or unsweetened iced tea, or just get yourself a glass of plain water. “I’ve had patients lose 10 to 15 pounds making this change,” she says.

What about diet drinks? Not a good substitute, says Dr. Keber, because artificial sweeteners may make you crave sugar and other carbohydrates. In fact, several studies have found an association between diet drinks and weight gain. And one large study found that people who drank diet soda at least once a day were more likely to develop diabetes than people who didn’t consume those beverages.

2. Set modest weight-loss goals. “My patients always think they have to lose 60 or 70 pounds when they’re diagnosed with diabetes,” says Dr. Keber. “That may be a great long-term goal, but you don’t have to get to your ideal body weight to reduce your blood sugar. You can see dramatic improvement by losing as little as five percent of your body weight.” For someone who weighs 250 pounds, that’s just 12.5 pounds.

3. Get moving (in a mild-to-moderate way). Many people with diabetes or pre-diabetes assume that intense exercise is the only kind that counts. Not so: “Any moderate activity, like walking, swimming, biking or rowing on a machine, can help tamp down blood sugar,” she says. You don’t have to join a gym or purchase a lot of equipment -- just find something you enjoy. “You should work out at least five days a week,” Dr. Keber says, “so you need to really love the activity.”