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Can You Lower Your A1C Levels? Yes, Here’s How

October 18, 2021
Written by
Team NutriSense
Jordyn Wallerius
Reviewed by
a doctor showing a test tube for haemoglobin A1c test

Start by Taking an A1C Test

You may have heard of A1C tests as hemoglobin A1C, glycosylated hemoglobin, HbA1c, or estimated average glucose (eAG) tests. They're a tool to screen for pre-diabetes, diagnose diabetes, or monitor a diabetes treatment plan.  

The A1C test measures the percent of hemoglobin proteins in the blood coated with sugar. It also reflects average blood sugar (glucose) levels for the past two to three months. There are some flaws with this test, though. So, we also want to consider blood glucose readings, the frequency of highs and lows on these readings, and your lifestyle. For more on A1C testing, check out this article

Does everyone need an A1C test? It depends on several factors, such as your age and medical history. People over 45 and those under 45 with risk factors for pre-diabetes or diabetes should. If the results are normal, both groups should take the test annually or according to their primary doctor’s recommendations. Those with pre-diabetes should consider having their A1C assessed more frequently. 

The frequency of an A1C test for those with diabetes depends on their self-management. Someone who is not on insulin, who has blood glucose values within their target range, should take the test twice a year. People on insulin or those who have trouble keeping their blood glucose stable can get quarterly tests. As we already know, the A1C test looks at your average blood glucose values for two to three months. So, you don’t need to take it more than once every three months.  

What’s Considered a High A1C Level and Is It Possible to Lower It? 

People with higher blood sugar values have more sugar attached to their hemoglobin, which leads to a higher A1C. It's important to speak with your doctor about your specific A1C goals. But if you're curious, here's what those numbers on your results mean: 

a diagram of haemoglobin A1c

As you can see from the image, a 'normal' range is <5.7%, 5.7-6.5% is seen as a risk of pre-diabetes, and >6.5% reads as diabetes.

Even though <5.7% is considered ‘normal,’ some compelling research suggests that a lower A1C aligns with appropriate glucose tolerance more accurately. Some studies have suggested aiming for an A1C around 5.3%, but researchers are still determining the optimal value.  

It's common for those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes to aim for an A1C of 7% or less.  

Seeing elevated A1C levels can be distressing, and it could leave you wondering if it's possible to lower them. Fortunately for you, the answer is yes! This isn't a quick fix, though, since the amount of time it takes to see any improvements can vary. 

If your A1C levels were initially high (think close to 10%), they'll likely come down quicker with diet and lifestyle changes. If your levels were only moderately elevated, it might actually take longer for them to come back down with those same changes. Remember that the test looks at average blood sugar values over two to three months, so you can expect it to take at least that long to see any improvement.  

9 Ways to Lower Your Hemoglobin A1C Levels

a person showing nine fingerers

 1. Eat More Protein, Non-Starchy Vegetables, and Healthy Fats

When we eat carbohydrates on their own, our body quickly and easily breaks them down to glucose that it then uses for energy. This can contribute to glucose spikes, and ultimately, to higher A1C levels. 

But don't swear off carbohydrates just yet—there's another way to avoid these spikes. Instead, pair protein, fiber (like non-starchy vegetables), and healthy fats with your carbohydrates. This blunts the glucose response and helps you achieve more stable, less extreme glucose values. Over time, this will also lead to lower A1C levels.

A good rule of thumb to follow for great blood sugar control is eating more low-carb vegetables, protein, and healthy fats, along with a moderate serving size of carbohydrates. You can mix and match based on your preferences and lifestyle, but here are some options to help you start out: 

  • Add some vegetables: There’s so much to pick from. Try broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, celery, and asparagus. Or, consider cucumber, kale, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, mushrooms, and onions. You can eat these raw, roasted, boiled, steamed, or lightly sautéed.   
  • Pick a protein: Good options include chicken, beef, tofu, fish/seafood, organ meat, eggs, pork, turkey, and duck.
  • Find a healthy fat: Think avocados, olives, unrefined vegetable oils (coconut, olive, avocado), butter, and pesto. 

Since we're most sensitive to carbs on an empty stomach, the order in which we eat can also affect our glucose. One way to ensure steadier glucose levels is to try meal sequencing. This involves a solid base of healthy fats, protein, or fiber before you eat any carbohydrates. It will help reduce glucose swings.   

2. Plan Your Meals 

a person writing their meal plan

Planning meals can enable you to hold yourself accountable and stick to your goals. A set schedule for daily meals can also help you avoid making poor eating decisions when hungry and time-crunched. Of course, this doesn't mean that you have to plan every meal, snack, and beverage you consume down to the minute (unless that's what works for you!). But having a rough idea of how you'd like to eat can be helpful.

Be realistic about your schedule and how much time you have for meal preparation. For some people, two to three-day plans are more manageable. For others, planning for the week ahead works best. When you know you have a busy day ahead, focus on meals that you can throw together in a pinch. Or, consider doing some prep work, like chopping vegetables and marinating meats, the night before. 

Don't forget to stay flexible so you can plan for emergencies and last-minute disruptions in your schedule. Having a few grab-and-go items in your pantry can make hectic days easier to manage.  Some helpful options include rotisserie chicken, bagged salads, hard-boiled eggs, frozen or pre-chopped vegetables, and pre-cooked shrimp. You can add these items to salads and soups or combine them with other ingredients for a simple yet satisfying meal.  

3. Measure Everything—Portion Sizes to Tracking Carbs

Can you tell how many grams of carbohydrates you're consuming just from looking at an apple (if you’re curious, a medium apple has around 25g)? Not many of us possess that skill, which is why it's easy to underestimate how many carbohydrates you're actually eating. 

Using a food tracking app can help you learn about appropriate serving sizes and give you an idea of your total carbohydrate intake in a day. This can also help you stay accountable and stick to your goals. 

 4. Set a Weight Loss Goal 

Losing 5-10% of your body weight can improve A1C, so if you're overweight, you may want to consider using that percentage as your weight loss goal. If you're on medications for diabetes, you may find that you need less medication as you lose weight. 

The key to weight loss that will actually work is to set a realistic goal with a sustainable weight loss target. A safe bet is 1-2 pounds per week, so if you know that you want to lose 20 pounds, plan on spending two and a half to three months working at it. Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you develop a personalized plan for weight loss.

5. Work With a Dietitian

Not sure where to start when it comes to planning meals or choosing foods to help lower your A1C? Working with a dietitian can help! There are many conflicting nutrition recommendations. It can be a challenge to sort through them all and pick the perfect one for your individual needs. 

A registered dietitian can help you wade through the options to find the right program for you. They often look at your medical history, preferences, and lifestyle to tailor it to your needs. It's important to pick a dietitian you can be open and honest with. So, take the time to find a dietitian that you can trust to help you on this journey.  

6. Have an Exercise Plan 

a person wearing NutriSense CGM and cycling

The American Diabetes Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This stems from the fact that all types of exercise improve insulin sensitivity and glucose control. This can also ultimately help with your A1C levels.  

Exercise plans, much like meal plans, encourage you to stick to your goals. Here are some tips that may help you plan your new exercise regime: 

  • Choose an exercise you enjoy: If you hate using the elliptical, your chances of sticking with it are low. If you love it, you'll look forward to it, even start to miss it on days you don't work out. Pick something you love—it's okay if this takes a little trial and error. 
  • Start slow: If you jump right into an exercise regime, especially without a trainer, there's a good chance you'll end up injuring yourself. It can be challenging to wait for tangible results, but going slow can help you build on your progress instead of jeopardizing it. 
  • Reorganize your schedule: Want to work out first thing in the morning? Prefer to exercise after a long day at work? Pick a time that works best for your unique lifestyle. If you fold it into a routine that already works for you, you have a better chance of sticking to it. 
  • Set SMART goals: SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based. Setting goals with this in mind will help with accountability. Try something concrete and attainable, like "I will do yoga 3 days/week for 20 to 30 minutes, all of next month," instead of "I will do yoga every day next month." 
  • Find a workout buddy: Finding it hard to hold yourself accountable? Just ask someone else to do it for you! A workout buddy is a win-win situation for both parties. If you're the sort of person who works better amidst company, it can make your workouts more enjoyable too.  
  • Track your progress: Logging your workouts can help you feel a sense of accomplishment that can keep you motivated.
  • Diversify your workouts: Bored with the elliptical you once loved? Try yoga! Tired of running on the treadmill every day? Consider running outdoors. Switching things up once in a while can keep things fresh and help you stay motivated.

7. Manage Your Stress and Mental Health 

Did you know that stress can impact your glucose? Our bodies have a fight or flight response to stress. This increases glucose production and reduces insulin sensitivity, leading to higher glucose. 

Just like getting started with exercise, learning to manage stress can take some time and practice. Here are a few techniques to consider: 

  • Pick a breathing technique: Breathing exercises are some of the easiest ways to manage stress and often the simplest. Try timeworn techniques like deep belly breathing or the 4-7-8 breathing exercise
  • Try meditation: Try using an app to help you begin, like Simple Habit, Headspace, or Calm. 
  • Stick to a routine: A routine, or a set of daily habits, can help remove some of the anxiety and stress that comes with the uncertainty of life. Maintaining a hobby, spending time with loved ones, even just reading a particular blog every day—it can all alleviate stress. 
  • Block nighttime blue light: Blue light, especially at nighttime, disrupts your circadian rhythm. To avoid this, stay away from screens a few hours before bedtime. Also, consider wearing blue-light-blocking glasses when you do use them.

You can't avoid stress altogether, but these techniques, coupled with adequate sleep (more on that below!), can help you manage it. Taking care of your mental health is also essential when you're trying to manage stress. So don't hesitate to seek professional support if you need to. 

8. Get the Right Amount of Sleep

The role sleep plays when it comes to optimizing A1C is interesting. If you don't already know, sleep and glucose values have what's known as a bidirectional relationship. This means higher glucose can lead to a worse night of sleep and that poor sleep can cause suboptimal glucose the next day.  

A study from 2019 looked at sleep duration and A1C levels in 962 individuals with either pre-diabetes or untreated type 2 diabetes. They found that those who slept a consistent seven to eight hours every night had significantly better A1C values than those who slept either five hours or less or more than eight hours.  

Consider incorporating healthy sleep hygiene habits to get better sleep and optimize your A1C in the process, like:  

  • Set a routine: As mentioned above, it's important to have a routine. Not only does it help with stress, but it's also directly related to your A1C levels. So, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. 
  • Create a sleep space: It's just as important to have a space that encourages good sleep as it is to get to bed. Leave the electronics out, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and find a bedtime routine that allows your body to relax. 
  • Cut out caffeine: A little caffeine is unlikely to cause a spike among most people. According to the Mayo Clinic, a safe amount for a healthy adult is up to 400 milligrams per day. Too much can lead to high A1C levels, though, so minimize your intake, particularly later in the day. 
  • Get some sun: Sunlight helps to regulate your circadian rhythm and sleep better at night. Getting 30 minutes of sunlight, especially in the morning, can help jumpstart your day.    

9. Try Some Berberine

Berberine is an herbal compound that may help improve glucose levels. It's often explored as a possible therapy in diabetes, but the specifics of how it works to help glucose levels are not entirely clear. 

It's thought to work either by increasing insulin receptor activity (making it easier for glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter our cells) or through its antimicrobial effects. As with any supplement, this could interfere with some medications, so discuss with your doctor before trying.  

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
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Can You Lower Your A1C Levels? Yes, Here’s How
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What A Digital Detox Can Do for Your Mental Health
What A Digital Detox Can Do for Your Mental Health

Do you spend all your free time scrolling through social media? If you can’t remember the last time you went offline, you may need a digital detox.

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9
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Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?
Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?

Read on to find out what impact, if any, vinegar really has on our body’s ability to balance blood sugar.

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8
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Useful Glycemic Index Charts For Fruits and Vegetables
Useful Glycemic Index Charts For Fruits and Vegetables

Review our glycemic index charts for the most common fruits and vegetables to better understand the impact on your glucose levels.

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8
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Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health
Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health

Did you know that menopause can affect your metabolic health, and vice versa? Read on to understand the relationship between metabolic health and menopause, and how to manage metabolic health during your menopausal journey. 

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7
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Understanding The Effects of Sugar on the Brain According to Research
Understanding The Effects of Sugar on the Brain According to Research

What really happens to your brain when you consume sugar? Review how interesting the relationship between the brain and sugar is, and why it’s important to control your blood sugar.

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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common yet often ignored condition. Learn more about the symptoms to watch out for, how you can seek treatment, and read first-hand accounts from two women who have dealt with endometriosis.

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Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences
Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences

Quickly understand the differences between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, how to recognize the signs, and key prevention tips.

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6
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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.


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7
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Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer
Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer

If you're gearing up to travel or spend more time outdoors this summer, here are a few tips to help you stay safe and hydrated in the sun.

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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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5
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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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10
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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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7
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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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6
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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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10
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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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9
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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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12
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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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6
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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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9
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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.