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How to Naturally Lower Blood Glucose Levels Using a CGM

November 16, 2020
Written by
Team NutriSense
Reviewed by

Maintaining normal blood sugar levels is essential to decreasing your risk for long-term health issues, managing a healthy weight, and feeling good overall. A wide variety of health problems related to glucose level imbalances are a rapidly growing burden for the healthcare system that is reaching epidemic proportions.

CDC's 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report shows some alarming statistics:

  • 34.2 million Americans have either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. That's just over 1 in 10 people.
  • 88 million American adults have prediabetes. That's approximately 1 in 3 people, or 34.5% of all US adults. However, only 15.3% of adults with prediabetes reported being told by a health professional that they had this condition!

With such a lack of diabetes management and awareness in the general population, it's easy for this illness to go untreated. Fortunately, there are more and more options in the market available to the public. Advancements in technology have made tools like continuous glucose monitoring devices more readily accessible to the every day person. This means less reliance on the healthcare system and the ability to take matters into your own hands. 

You know your body best. We each have our own unique composition of genetics, diet, and lifestyle so it goes to say that our blood glucose levels react differently from one another depending on the combination of all these factors.

In this article, we'll take you through what metrics to look out for when measuring and evaluating your blood sugar levels. We'll also explain how a continuous glucose monitor helps track your data in real-time without fingerstick test strips.

You'll be able to know how to make better diet and lifestyle choices to maintain normal blood glucose levels. 

What are normal blood glucose levels?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal blood sugar level is less than 140 mg/dL or 7.8 mmol/L. Blood sugar levels less than 100 mg/dL after fasting for at least eight hours are considered normal. If your glucose reading is greater than 200 mg/dL or 11.1 mmol/L two hours after eating a meal, the high blood sugar level could indicate diabetes, which will need to be verified by your doctor. A glucose reading between 140 and 199 mg/dL  or 7.8 mmol/L and 11.0 mmol/L could indicate prediabetes.  

Which blood glucose values really matter?

There are three general trends that are important to understand when measuring your glucose, whether you are using a CGM or doing fingersticks. By paying attention to these different glucose trends, you'll be able to get an understanding of how you are doing and where you can improve (everyone always has room for improvement!). 

1. Fasting blood sugar levels

This is your glucose value when you are sleeping and without food for at least eight hours. Everyone's ideal range will be different, but a general guideline is to aim for a value of 70-90 mg/dL.

It will take some time, but focusing on trends will be very helpful here. After a few weeks of collecting data from your continuous glucose monitor, you will start to get a good idea of what your normal is. This will make it easier to identify abnormal days, such as elevated nighttime values after a night of drinking, poor sleep, or high stress. 

Note: Sometimes the CGM is calibrated slightly higher or lower than true values (i.e. the values you'd get from a blood test through your doctor). Don't get too stuck on an exact fasting number. It's the trend that's the most important. 

Why are my fasting glucose values so high?

There are many different reasons why your fasting glucose values could be elevated. One factor to keep in mind is the calibration of the blood glucose monitoring device. The FDA allows CGMs to have up to a 15% variation versus what you would receive from a full lab draw at a physicians office. 

So, your true fasting glucose value may be lower or higher than the CGM reading. The most important thing to consider is the overall glucose trend rather than an exact number. The change in glucose value  using the CGM sensor is very precise and reflects real-time changes.With that being said, below are a list of the major factors that may be causing your fasting glucose levels to rise. 

  1. What and when you ate the night before. Both the content of your meals, portion sizes, and what time it was consumed can have an impact on fasting glucose values. Meals that are high in processed or refined carbohydrates can cause your glucose values to soar during sleep. Additionally, the body tends to not process food as well later in the evening. This means that regardless of what you eat, any food consumption can cause glucose fasting levels to rise if you eat late at night. (Source)
  2. Overall stress levels. Stress causes elevated cortisol levels, which leads to an increase glucose production by the liver. Under normal stressed conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by extracting protein stored in the liver via gluconeogenesis. However, over the long term, elevated cortisol levels force the liver to continuously overproduce glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels, and potentially a diabetic state. (Source)
  3. Low physical activity levels. The effect exercise has on your blood sugar levels will vary depending on how long you are active and what type of exercise you are doing. In general, physical activity makes your body more sensitive to insulin, so it can help lower your blood sugar up to 24 hours or more after working out. When you exercise, your muscles and liver release glucose to be consumed as fuel. When you do moderate exercise for a longer time, like a hike, you body is able to use up a larger amount of glucose. This helps lower your blood sugar levels. (Source)
  4. Poor sleep quality and/or quantity. When you don't get enough sleep, not enough insulin is released in the body after you eat. At the same time, your body secretes more stress hormones (such as cortisol) to help you stay awake. Cortisol makes it harder for insulin to work properly, so your insulin resistance increases. As a result, too much glucose stays in the bloodstream and your fasting glucose levels become elevated. (Source)
  5. Low-carb diet. It's actually fairly common to experience higher fasting and nighttime glucose values if you follow a strict, very low carb/keto diet for a prolonged period of time. It appears to be a natural adaptation that the body makes to assure there is glucose present for organs that require glucose, such as the brain. (Source)

2. Peak glucose values

Peak glucose values are how high you "spike", which usually occurs right after a meal. Aim to to not spike above 140 mg/dL and to return to pre-meal glucose values within 2-3 hours after your meal. It's important to consider how high the glucose goes and how quickly it comes back to normal. You want to avoid dramatic spikes and prolonged increases. A spike every once in a while is not a big deal, but the goal is to minimize the overall occurrence and magnitude so that you don't enter into hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. 

3. Glycemic variability

Glycemic variability refers to the "swings" in your glucose level. This trend has the greatest implications for health and is especially important to monitor. It's normal for glucose levels to vary throughout the day, but you want to aim for these glucose "swings" to be gradual with moderate peaks, as opposed to dramatic highs and lows. So it may be possible that after a meal you only went to 130mg/dL (which is good!), but your pre-meal value was 70, so that would be quite a big swing. Look for a low standard deviation value when looking at your glucose analytics. 

How do I naturally lower my blood glucose levels to normal?

If you have elevated blood glucose or big spikes in your glucose levels, we recommend focusing on improving "The Big Four" to get back down to normal levels:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Fasting
  • Stress

If you're using a continuous glucose monitor, you will have access to a large amount of real-time and historical data. As you gain a better understanding of what your glucose values and trends mean, the next step is to improve those values and get them to a healthier level. 

The most effective ways to manage glucose levels, longevity, and health span can be grouped into what we call "The Big Four". 

1. Nutrition

Your food choices are going to be the primary influencer on your health. This is the main pillar that simply cannot be neglected. There is no one-size-fits-all diet and many plans can fit into a healthy lifestyle. However, everyone can benefit from reducing their intake of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and processed foods while focusing on consuming high quality foods. 

I used to be scared of consuming too many carbs and avoided high-sugar foods like bananas. If I was craving carbs, I ate sweet potatoes because they are said to have a lower glycemic index. 

However, when I started using NutriSense's continuous glucose monitor, I learned that my glucose response was the opposite of my initial thinking. Carbohydrate foods I thought were better for me, such as sweet potatoes, have a worse impact on me than bananas.

In my glucose graphs below, bananas lead to a minimal increase in glucose values. I also had low blood sugar levels with beans, legumes, and berries very well. To my great surprise, starchy vegetables (including sweet potatoes) rapidly elevate my glucose values. 

Bananas:

a blood glucose levels chart after eating bananas


Vs. sweet potatoes:

a blood glucose levels chart after eating sweet potatoes


Why do my glucose levels vary so much?

There could be several factors at play here, but in general, there is a lot of variability in glucose responses between person to person. We're all a unique compilation of genetics, epigenetics, environment, and microbiomes that cause us to react differently to the same food. Research has shown that when you give a standardized meal to people, almost everyone has a widely different glucose response with a standard deviation of 31. (Source)

Everyone’s carbohydrate tolerance is different, so that's why it's so useful to wear a CGM. You can find out where you lie on the spectrum of general diet advice. 

2. Physical Activity

After nutrition, physical activity is the next pillar to master. Include a variety of activities in your routine including stability and mobility, weight and strength training, aerobic exercise, and anaerobic high intensity exercise. Adequate activity doesn't stop at a hard workout though. Don't underestimate the importance of daily movement, walking, and limiting sedentary time. 

3. Fasting & Meal Timing

Fasting can take on many forms, but experimenting with your eating schedule is a great way to improve your glucose values. 

Here are some research-backed experiments to try: 

Shorten the hours that you eat to less than 10 hours of the day. Shift your meals towards the beginning of the day, randomly switch up the times that you are eating, and avoid snacking.

Insulin functions according to a circadian rhythm. In general, most people experience the highest insulin sensitivity in the middle of the day, and the least insulin sensitivity in the middle of the night. In fact, insulin sensitivity peaks for most people at noon, and is 54% higher than insulin sensitivity at midnight.

I find that when I consume fewer carbs at dinner and more during the daytime hours, I improve my glucose responses to those foods. Glucose spikes are minimized and fasting glucose values are lower during the night. If I decide to eat any food, especially carbs, late at night, then I will see the effect on my fasting glucose values all night long.

The glucose graph below shows my glucose levels right before bed. At 11:45pm, I had a bowl of popcorn. As you can see, I experienced an initial glucose spike, and my glucose levels stayed high throughout the night during sleep. Generally, if I consume popcorn during daytime hours, it will give me a small glucose spike, but then come back to normal glucose levels within two hours of eating. 

When I ate it right before going to bed, my nighttime glucose values stayed elevated until I woke up the next morning. Usually, my nighttime glucose values are between 70–80 mg/dL while I sleep. Imagine if this was happening every night and had no idea! With the CGM providing me with a continuous stream of data, it's easier to know how to lower my blood glucose back to normal levels.

a blood glucose levels chart after eating late


a blood glucose levels chart after eating late

4. Stress

Stress can be anything the puts the body in a physiological stressful state, which subsequently increases glucose levels. This includes mental stress, physical stress, poor sleep, and illnesses. Self-care cannot take a hit and it is important to focus on these basics so your body can perform at its best. Elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) can drive up fasting glucose values higher than any other factor.

When your cortisol levels are consistently high, the brain and liver make extra glucose and decrease your insulin sensitivity so that the excess glucose is available to treat the stress. If this behavior is consistent over time, it dramatically increases our risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

In my glucose graph below, you can see a typical day for me. There is some glucose variability throughout the day, but most of the time, I am staying between 70–100 mg/dL.

The second picture is a day with similar food and exercise, but when my stress levels were very high. The stress caused my average glucose, fasting glucose, and postprandial glucose levels to all increase. With a CGM system, I'm able to visually see and quantify the effect that stress has on my body, and take action to decrease my glucose levels with a treatment plan. 

a blood glucose levels chart during the day
a blood glucose levels chart during the day when the stress level is high


Note that it's always best to check with your healthcare professional before experimenting with your CGM.

This article was written by Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC and Director of Nutrition at NutriSense

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.
Listen to the full podcast:
How to Naturally Lower Blood Glucose Levels Using a CGM
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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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9
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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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6
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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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7
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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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7
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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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8
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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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7
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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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8
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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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5
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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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8
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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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6
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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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8
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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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8
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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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7
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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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10
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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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6
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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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9
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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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10
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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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8
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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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9
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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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8
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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.