Why You Shouldn’t Neglect Spices for Blood Sugar Control
When managing your blood sugar level you may zero in on your carbohydrate intake and try to make more glucose-friendly choices. While this is an excellent first step, there are other parts of your diet that may benefit from a closer look.
If you have never experimented with herbs and spices in your cuisine before, now is a great time to start. Certain herbs and spices have been linked to lowering blood glucose, and as an added bonus they can add flavor to food without adding extra salt.
The 6 Best Spices & Herbs Proven to Reduce Blood Sugar
Fenugreek leaves look similar to celery greens. The fenugreek plant has potent seeds that can be purchased whole and ground prior to ingestion. Fenugreek seeds are high in soluble fiber, which delays the digestion and absorption of carbs into the bloodstream.
A study from India discovered that participants who ate 10 grams of fenugreek soaked in water every day for 6 months reported improved A1c values compared to participants who did not eat fenugreek daily1.
You can include fenugreek seeds in your diet by soaking them in water overnight prior to eating them. They will absorb water, and the rich soluble fiber can aid with satiety, blood glucose control, and potentially lower LDL cholesterol2. All parts of the plant can be consumed raw or added to cooked foods.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong><a href="/blog/high-fiber-low-carb-foods">high-fiber, low-carb foods</a></p>
Cinnamon is one of the most popular aromatic spices used in the world. Cinnamon extract has been linked to lower free-floating insulin, glucose levels, and cholesterol3. Cinnamon extract is sold as oral tablets and ingested similar to a multivitamin.
A meta-analysis confirmed that intake of cinnamon powder or cinnamon extract over at least two months resulted in lowered readings of fasting blood glucose4.
You can include more cinnamon in your diet by:
- Sprinkling it onto your breakfast oatmeal or low GI toast
- Adding ¼ tsp to your morning coffee to enhance the flavor
- Dusting low GI fresh fruit with cinnamon and briefly baking them to add a wow factor to the dessert
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>From a previous Signos article about </strong><a href="/blog/cinnamon-blood-sugar-levels">cinnamon and blood sugar</a>: "If you do choose to take a [cinnamon] supplement, it's important to note that Ceylon is usually a better choice than Cassia because it contains less coumarin. Coumarin is linked to liver damage in large quantities and should be avoided if you have liver issues.The safe upper limit for cinnamon is 0.1 mg/kg/day. When taken at recommended levels, studies show cinnamon is generally safe."</p>
Green tea has always been a key player in the natural health food arena. It is an ancient herb that is recognized throughout Chinese medicine. You may be surprised to learn that green tea leaves are grown from an herb called Camellia sinensis.
The dominant health-promoting agents within green tea are antioxidants, specifically catechins. Catechins have been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancers, possess anti-inflammatory properties, and support cognitive function5,6.
Green tea is also rich in polyphenols, which are another form of antioxidant-rich compounds. Studies have shown polyphenols can reduce fasting sugar levels, decrease HbA1c scores, and enhance insulin sensitivity7.
Similar to other natural products, consuming green tea consistently is a major factor in its success in improving your glucose score. To achieve the best results, try to drink green tea daily without adding milk or sweetening agents.
Are green tea extracts safe?
Green tea extracts are popular in herbal supplement stores. These potent products may cause more harm than good in some people. A small number of users (<100 people) reported acute liver disease after 1-6 months of using green tea extracts8. It is believed the number of incidents is underreported8.
These green tea formulas and extracts are not FDA regulated, and caution should be taken when considering these products. To be safe, choose regular green tea brewed at home.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong><a href="/blog/green-tea-weight-loss">green tea for weight loss</a></p>
Ground turmeric is the most popular turmeric product on the market. Tumeric has a distinct golden yellow hue and is mild in taste. It is potent in antioxidants and health-promoting vitamins. Similar to green tea, turmeric has been used in eastern health practices for thousands of years.
The active health compound within turmeric is an antioxidant called curcumin. Researchers have linked the intake of curcumin with improved glucose metabolism, suppressing inflammation, and facilitating insulin signaling9.
Other notable blood-glucose-lowering mechanisms that have been linked with turmeric include:
- Reducing glucose production in the liver
- Encouraging the body to uptake more glucose out of the bloodstream and into muscle tissue
- Promoting insulin secretion from the pancreas
- Reducing insulin resistance10
You can add turmeric powder to your morning eggs, soups, stir fry dishes, and this chicken sheet pan recipe.
Bitter melon, sometimes called bitter gourd, looks like a hybrid between a bumpy gourd and a bright green cucumber. Bitter melon is native to India and the seeds and core of the fruit can be eaten. The rind is very bitter and is normally discarded.
A study with 90 participants demonstrated a modest improvement in fasting blood sugar in those who ate bitter melon for 12 weeks, compared to the placebo group11. More peer-reviewed studies are required to further validate these findings, but it is compelling.
You can include bitter melon in your diet by:
- Cooking bitter melon pulp in a stir fry or stew
- Pan-frying bitter melon with garlic and onion
- Including thin slices of bitter melon into your lunchtime salad
- Making stuffed bitter melon by mixing bitter melon pulp with ground meat and spices
Gymnema Sylvester (Gurmar)
Oral consumption of Gymnema sylvester prior to eating something sweet will block your sweet taste receptors and decrease the appeal of sweet treats. The natural gymnemic acid in gurmar suppresses sweetness, which can reduce the palatability of sugary foods12.
A systemic review of gurmar suggests this herb will also prevent the absorption of sugar in your small intestine, therefore decreasing the impact on your bloodstream13. More testing is needed to fully understand how this herb impacts weight management, sugar absorption, and taste buds.
You can consume gurmar in various forms:
- Powdered, added to water and taken before a meal
- Capsules up to 3-4 times daily following the manufacturer's recommendations
- Steeped as tea for 10-15 minutes before drinking
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong><a href="/blog/sugar-substitutes-blood-sugar">sugar substitutes that won't raise blood sugar</a></p>
How Long it Takes for Herbs & Spices to Lower Blood Sugar
Based on the studies referenced in this article, two months appears to be the earliest point when you can expect to experience better blood glucose control. That is a real commitment and you need to prepare yourself to sustain your new habits for the long haul.
Is it safe to take herbs for lowering blood sugar?
Some herbs may interfere with prescribed medications. Consult with your healthcare provider before adding any herbal supplements or extracts to your self-care regime.
Are there fast-acting spices to lower blood sugar ASAP?
There’s interest in spices and herbs that will immediately lower blood glucose, but as yet there’s no scientific evidence that any exist. However, there have been preliminary studies that indicate vinegar may help lower blood sugar.
To decrease the chance of spiking your blood glucose, plan your meals and snacks around low glycemic index foods. Low-GI foods are high in fiber, which delays digestion and absorption of glucose, and are naturally low in sugar.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Explore </strong><a href="/blog/5-low-glycemic-dinner-recipes">low-GI dinner recipes</a></p>
Beverages with Herbs & Spices Can Spike Blood Sugar
Be mindful of your drink choices when you are trying to reduce your blood sugar. Bottled green tea drinks may seem healthy, but unfortunately they often contain sweeteners which can interfere with blood glucose control.
Some recipes for golden milk, or turmeric milk, call for maple syrup and honey. Although these sweetening agents are natural, they can still cause a spike in blood glucose. A simple fix is to omit those natural sugars and add some high-fat dairy to slow down absorption of the lactose sugars.
What about Mediterranean herbs?
Some anecdotal recommendations on the internet suggest there are immediate blood-glucose-lowering effects after eating common Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano.
However, no peer-reviewed scientific data exists to confirm that Mediterranean herbs will rapidly lower blood glucose.
That does not mean these herbs should not be a staple in your diet. They are rich in antioxidants, but should not be relied on exclusively for blood glucose control.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong><a href="/blog/mediterranean-diet">the Mediterranean diet and blood sugar</a></p>
How to Experiment Using a CGM to Find Spices Effective at Lowering Your Blood Sugar
The value of continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is the opportunity to tap into fully personalized health data. With continuous blood sugar monitoring, you gain a full picture view of how your food and lifestyle choices directly impact your blood glucose.
If you want to see how a spice or herb can potentially improve your blood glucose, try to be as scientific in your approach as possible. Only include one herb or spice from this list with your meals. If you mix too many, it will be difficult to confidently assess which one is affecting your blood sugar management.
Examples of how to include herbs in your diet to test their effect:
- Breakfast with low GI toast, and fresh berries sprinkled with cinnamon
- Lunch salad with vegetables, chickpeas, and turmeric powder added to your oil-based dressing
- Dinner with salmon, olive oil, fenugreek powder, salad and a low-GI starch (squash)
Remember that consistency is key; your body will need time to adapt to dietary changes. Although blood sugar levels can change every day, the long-term data trend will be the most helpful indicator of whether an herb or spice is having an effect.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong><a href="https://portal.signos.com/plan">getting started with Signos</a></p>
Your diet is a major factor in blood glucose control, but so are sleep, stress levels, and physical activity. If you want to learn more tips to help control your blood glucose, explore more articles from the Signos blog below.
Topics discussed in this article:
- Anderson, R. A., Zhan, Z., Luo, R., Guo, X., Guo, Q., Zhou, J., Kong, J., Davis, P. A., & Stoecker, B. J. (2016). Cinnamon extract lowers glucose, insulin and cholesterol in people with elevated serum glucose. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 6(4), 332–336. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2015.03.005
- Brala, P. M., & Hagen, R. L. (1983). Effects of sweetness perception and caloric value of a preload on short term intake. Physiology & Behavior, 30(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/0031-9384(83)90030-6
- Davis, P. A., & Yokoyama, W. (2011). Cinnamon Intake Lowers Fasting Blood Glucose: Meta-Analysis. Journal of Medicinal Food, 14(9), 884–889. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2010.0180
- GHorbani, Z., Hekmatdoost, A., & Mirmiran, P. (2014). Anti-Hyperglycemic and Insulin Sensitizer Effects of Turmeric and Its Principle Constituent Curcumin. International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 12(4). https://doi.org/10.5812/ijem.18081
- Kim, S. K., Jung, J., Jung, J. H., Yoon, N., Kang, S. S., Roh, G. S., & Hahm, J. R. (2020). Hypoglycemic efficacy and safety of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 52, 102524. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102524
- Kim, Y., & Clifton, P. (2018). Curcumin, Cardiometabolic Health and Dementia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(10), 2093. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15102093
- Kochman, J., Jakubczyk, K., Antoniewicz, J., Mruk, H., & Janda, K. (2020). Health Benefits and Chemical Composition of Matcha Green Tea: A Review. Molecules, 26(1), 85. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26010085
- Liu, K., Zhou, R., Wang, B., Chen, K., Shi, L. Y., Zhu, J. D., & Mi, M. T. (2013). Effect of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: a meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(2), 340–348. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.052746
- Musial, C., Kuban-Jankowska, A., & Gorska-Ponikowska, M. (2020). Beneficial Properties of Green Tea Catechins. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(5), 1744. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21051744
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Liver Disease Research Branch, National Institutes of Health (U.S.), & National Library of Medicine (U.S.). Specialized Information Services Division. (2012). LiverTox. NIH. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547925/ Updated November 2020
- Pothuraju, R., Sharma, R. K., Chagalamarri, J., Jangra, S., & Kumar Kavadi, P. (2013). A systematic review of Gymnema sylvestre in obesity and diabetes management. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 94(5), 834–840. https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.6458
- Ranade, M., & Mudgalkar, N. (2017). A simple dietary addition of fenugreek seed leads to the reduction in blood glucose levels: A parallel group, randomized single-blind trial. AYU (An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda), 38(1), 24. https://doi.org/10.4103/ayu.ayu_209_15
- Sharma, R. D., Raghuram, T. C., & Rao, N. S. (1990). Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and serum lipids in type I diabetes. European journal of clinical nutrition, 44(4), 301–306. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2194788/