Balance Blood Sugars to Protect Your Heart
By Carolyn Suerth Hudson, RDN, LD
July 13, 2021
Did you know you can work to prevent heart disease by controlling your blood sugar levels? You might ask yourself, "What does my blood sugar have to do with my risk of developing heart disease?" Research confirms that high blood sugar levels lead to diabetes and to inflammation throughout the body.
Dr. Steven Masley said on a recent Dishing Up Nutrition podcast episode, “..mildly elevated blood sugar is the number one cause for heart disease, for dementia and memory loss. It's one of the major causes for cancer. And clearly, it's the number one cause for progressing to diabetes. So, of the most important diseases in America today, blood sugar should be our number one focus.”
Heart disease is the most deadly complication of diabetes, accounting for over 75% of all deaths among people with diabetes.¹ Because half the population in the United States is facing diabetes or pre-diabetes, it is essential to understand how keeping blood sugar balanced can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
The Heart Disease-High Blood Sugar Connection
What is the connection between heart disease and high blood sugar? When you eat too many high carbohydrate foods, your blood sugar becomes elevated. Having excess sugar in your blood stream can create inflammation in your blood vessels. Inflammation can lead to cracks and lesions in your blood vessel walls, which then is repaired with a substance called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
You may have heard of LDL. It’s referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. Your doctor tests your LDL levels when you get your cholesterol checked. LDL cholesterol being “bad” is not entirely true. LDL has many important jobs in the body including tissue and vessel wall repair, hormone production, insulation of nerves, and proper brain function. Continued high blood sugar cause damages to your blood vessel walls. Your liver makes LDL to repair that damage, so it’s an important part of keeping the vessels healthy. The problem is LDL is a sticky substance that collects unhealthy trans-fatty acids and calcium, and if there’s too much it can lead to a blockage.. The best way to keep your blood vessels healthy (and reduce the need for more LDL) is to maintain blood sugar levels between 70 and 95.
So how do we balance blood sugars to protect blood vessels and the heart? Dr. Steven Masley says that there are four key factors: the food we’re eating (which is the most important), activity and exercise, nutrient intake (like the minerals key in balancing blood sugar), and stress management. As nutritionists, we agree and can help support you on this heart healthy quest. We’ll cover food and nutrients today.
Balanced Eating Promotes Heart Health
To keep your blood sugar stable, in the 70-95 range, eat real foods in balance. Include protein, carbohydrates and fats with every meal and snack throughout the day. Here's an example of a heart-healthy dinner:
- Four ounces of free-range chicken or wild-caught salmon (real protein),
- One cup of green beans and one half of a sweet potato (real carbohydrates), and
- One-half of an avocado (real fat).
Meals like this taste great, keep blood sugar stable, increase energy, reduce cravings and give you better moods and focus throughout the day. Doesn't that sound great?
Highly Processed, Convenience Foods Put Your Heart at Risk
To prevent high blood sugar and diabetes, avoid highly processed, man-made foods such as cereal, muffins, doughnuts, cake, ice cream and candy. Processed foods cause a rapid spike in blood sugar that can damage your blood vessels. Instead of quick stops at the gas station to pick up your morning muffin or an ice cream binge before bed, think of your heart the next time you crave something sweet. Grab a handful of heart-healthy almonds instead!
Heart-Healthy Supplements Can Help
For additional preventative care, consider taking these supplements:
- Omega-3 fish oil—great anti-inflammatory properties
- CoQ10—supplies energy to the heart muscle
- Vitamin C—helps with collagen production that keeps your blood vessel walls healthy
- Magnesium Glycinate—helps keep your heart muscle and blood vessels relaxed
Whether you have a history of heart disease or diabetes in your family, your cholesterol is high, or you have slightly elevated blood sugars, focusing on the heart of the matter comes down to eating a balance of real protein, real veggie and fruit carbohydrates, and real fat. When we focus on balancing those blood sugars, several areas of our health benefit. If you’re needing more inspiration and support to do that, make an appointment today with one of our nutritionists or sign up for our upcoming cooking demonstration class called Cooking Heart-Healthy Meals.
For more information on heart health, check out these resources:
- Listen: What Your Cholesterol Numbers Mean
- Learn: Cooking Heart-Healthy Meals
- Read: Heart-Healthy Fats (and Recipes, too!)
- Read: CoQ10 & Omega-3 for a Healthy Heart