Updated: Apr 13
When you found out you were having blood sugar regulation problems, what did your doctor tell you to do?
Unfortunately, many people with a prediabetes diagnosis are told to “just wait and see.” And that leaves worried patients feeling helpless. No one wants their prediabetes to turn into a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
But there is good news. You are not helpless if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes. Diet and lifestyle changes can have a MAJOR impact on your blood sugar.
In the last article, we talked about macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates, and fats. And this is a great place to start for blood sugar management. If you missed that article, you can read it here.
Most of the prediabetes diet information focuses on macronutrients. It’s becoming pretty common knowledge that eating a carb-heavy diet isn’t good for blood sugar — especially if those carbs are processed and sugary foods.
But there’s more to stabilizing blood sugar health than just cutting carbs. And that’s where micronutrients come in.
Focusing only on macronutrients (and ignoring micronutrients) is not a good long term strategy for success. The body needs both for energy creation — and also for managing changes in the body like blood sugar balance and weight loss.
So this week, we’re going to zoom in and look at the micronutrients.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients are one of the major nutrient categories needed to keep your body balanced and functioning well. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and trace metals. You need lower quantities of these nutrients than you do protein, carbohydrates, and fats — hence the term “micro”.
These nutrients keep your body running smoothly. They’re involved in everything from bone density to energy production. And you need them to keep your blood sugar balanced.
For the most part, your body can’t create micronutrients so you must get them from food. Vitamins come from plants and animals. These organic compounds can be broken down by air, heat, or acid. Minerals are inorganic and cannot be broken down.
Vitamins are used for immune function, the production of energy, blood clotting, and more. And minerals are involved in many processes including bone health, growth, and fluid balance.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the most important micronutrients:
Water Soluble Vitamins
Something that is water soluble dissolves in water. This means these vitamins aren’t easily stored. So when you eat vitamin-rich foods (or take vitamin supplements) any excess tends to be flushed out in your urine.
Water soluble vitamins include the B vitamins and vitamin C.
Fat Soluble Vitamins
These vitamins — which include vitamins A, D, E, and K — do not break down in water. These nutrients are best absorbed when you eat them with some fat. Olive oil, ghee, animal products, and coconut oil are all good options.
Because fat soluble vitamins don’t break down as easily as the water soluble variety, your body can store them in your liver and fatty tissues to be used in the future.
When it comes to minerals, these are the minerals your body needs the most of. The macrominerals include calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur. They are important for bone health, fluid balance, blood pressure, regulating enzyme reactions, and more.
These minerals — iron, manganese, copper, zinc, iodine, fluoride, selenium, and chromium — are needed in smaller amounts, but they are still vital to maintaining good health. They are involved in thyroid health, wound healing, brain and nervous system health, immune function, and more.
Why do micronutrients matter for blood sugar?
Your body needs energy. And that energy is created in your cells. The primary substance that provides that energy is glucose. And if you have high blood sugar, that means you have too much glucose in your blood.
You need the right micronutrients to efficiently turn the glucose in your blood into energy you can use.
Fasten your seatbelt. We’re going to get sciency.
How does the body turn glucose into energy?
Glucose goes through a number of processes on its way to becoming energy your body can use for everything from pushups to the growth and repair that happens while you sleep.
Glucose goes through a couple of processes — glycolysis and the Krebs cycle — to get ready for the major energy production that happens in the electron transport chain, or ETC.
The ETC is a complicated process, so I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version.
It all happens in the powerhouse of your cells, called the mitochondria.
Electron Transport Chain Step 1
Electrons move through 4 enzyme complexes (passageways) in the membrane (outer layer) of the mitochondria. These serve as separators of sorts that push the hydrogen to the space between the membranes of the mitochondria.
Electron Transport Chain Step 2
As the hydrogen builds up, it wants to move back across the membrane because in biology, things tend to go from an area of greater concentration to an area of lesser concentration. The hydrogen basically gets crowded and wants to leave.
But it can’t go back the way it came. And the membrane won’t let it through.
So the hydrogen has to find the one door that will let it out. This door is an enzyme called ATP synthase. The hydrogen must go through this door to exit the membrane. As the hydrogen exits, this enzyme spins like a revolving door and produces energy in the form of ATP.
ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is an energy-carrying molecule in the cells. ATP is the place where your digested food molecules are turned into energy your body can actually use. Once the ATP is created in the electron transport chain, it’s released so it can fuel other cellular processes.
Here’s the crux of the issue
If you don’t have the micronutrients your body needs for these energy-producing processes, they aren’t going to work efficiently. Then glucose stays in your blood instead of being converted into energy. And your blood sugar stays high.
Which micronutrients do I need to lower blood sugar?
Repairing an imbalanced blood sugar pattern isn’t just about popping a few supplements. It’s important to work with an experienced practitioner who can assess your nutrient deficiencies and food sensitivities to create a plan that meets your individual needs.
That being said, there are some nutrients that can help with blood sugar balance in general. I recommend you get these in food form whenever possible to make sure you’re getting the necessary cofactors your body needs to absorb them properly.
If you are going to go the supplement route, again, I urge you to talk with your practitioner.
This mineral is required for energy production and is important for managing insulin and carbohydrate metabolism. Magnesium is directly involved in the secretion and effective use of insulin — the substance that helps move the glucose out of your blood and into your cells.
In short, magnesium helps with blood sugar management in people with diabetes. And people who consume less magnesium tend to have more trouble with blood sugar regulation than those who consume more.
Remember, nutrient balance is important. I don’t recommend that you start megadoses of magnesium. But including magnesium-rich foods in your diet can potentially have a positive effect on blood sugar regulation.
Magnesium-rich foods include:
Chromium helps your body metabolize the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat). Specifically chromium supports insulin. Several studies show that supplementing with chromium can enhance insulin in metabolic action.
In fact, chromium picolinate lowers insulin resistance and reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes.
Chromium-rich foods include:
This mineral plays a key role both in insulin action and in the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. Studies show that zinc supplementation improves blood sugar levels in people with diabetes(1).
Zinc-rich foods include:
Legumes like lentils
Nuts and seeds
Vitamin D is connected with insulin production and may help regulate insulin levels by interacting with other minerals like calcium and phosphorus. In fact, one study showed that vitamin D supplementation improved insulin sensitivity by 54%(2).
Good sources of vitamin D include:
Sunlight — afternoon sun can help your body produce vitamin D
Cod liver oil
Should I take supplements for prediabetes?
The best answer I can give in an article is… maybe. I know you want something more definitive. Supplementation can be a game-changer when it’s done right. But not everyone needs the same supplements, or the same amounts. And it’s important to stop taking your supplements before your body goes out of balance from too much of a good thing.
Supplements seem harmless because they’re sold everywhere and you don’t need a prescription to get them.
But it’s important to maintain the delicate balance of minerals in the body. Too much of one mineral can counteract the effects of another.
That’s why it’s so important to work with your practitioner to find out if supplementation is right for you. If you’re looking for a practitioner who is experienced and knowledgeable in using nutrition and supplementation to help support blood sugar management, click the button below. I’d be happy to talk with you.
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