Desmond Croker RN, Dip. OHS, BSN, MSN, CCDE
July 21 2023
If you’re living with diabetes or at risk of developing it, you know how important it is to keep your blood sugar levels in check. But what exactly is blood sugar and how does it affect your health? And what can you do to manage it better and prevent or delay complications?
In this blog post, we’ll answer these questions and more, giving you the basics of blood sugar and some practical tips to tame the blood sugar beast.
Blood sugar, also known as glucose, is the fuel that comes from the food you eat and is converted into energy with the help of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that helps glucose enter your cells. When everything is working well, your blood sugar levels stay within a healthy range and you feel energetic and well.
However, when something goes wrong with your insulin production or action, your blood sugar levels can get too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Both situations can cause serious problems for your health and well-being.
High blood sugar can damage your organs and tissues over time, leading to complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye problems, and infections. Low blood sugar can cause symptoms such as shaking, sweating, dizziness, confusion, hunger, and even loss of consciousness.
It can also impair your ability to think clearly and react quickly, which can be dangerous especially when driving or operating machinery.
To keep track of your blood sugar levels, you need to measure them regularly using a device called a glucometer or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A glucometer requires a small drop of blood from your fingertip, while a CGM uses a sensor inserted under your skin to measure your blood sugar every few minutes.
There are different times and ways to measure your blood sugar levels, depending on your type of diabetes, your treatment plan, and your doctor’s recommendations. Some of the most common ones are:
Fasting blood sugar: This is the level of glucose in your blood when you haven’t eaten anything for at least eight hours. It’s usually measured first thing in the morning before breakfast. A normal fasting blood sugar level is between 70 mg/dL and 100 mg/dL. If it’s higher than 100 mg/dL, you may have prediabetes or diabetes.
Postprandial blood sugar: This is the level of glucose in your blood two hours after you start eating a meal. It reflects how well your body handles the carbohydrates in your food. A normal postprandial blood sugar level is less than 140 mg/dL. If it’s higher than 180 mg/dL, you may have diabetes or need to adjust your medication or diet.
A1C: This is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar level over the past three months. It gives you an overall picture of how well you’re managing your diabetes. A normal A1C level is less than 5.7%. If it’s between 5.7% and 6.4%, you may have prediabetes. If it’s 6.5% or higher, you have diabetes.
Your blood sugar levels can vary throughout the day depending on what you eat, how active you are, any medications you take, and even stress. It’s normal to have some fluctuations, but if they are too frequent or too extreme, they can affect your quality of life and increase your risk of complications.
Whether you have diabetes or not, keeping your blood sugar levels within a healthy range can help you prevent or delay health problems and feel better overall. Here are some strategies to help you manage your blood sugar:
Eat a balanced diet: Choose foods that are rich in fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Avoid foods that are high in added sugars, refined carbs, saturated fats, and sodium. Aim for a colorful plate that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, and low-fat dairy products.
Control your portions: Eating too much or too little can affect your blood sugar levels. Use measuring cups, spoons, scales, or your hand to estimate how much food you need per meal. You can also use smaller plates and bowls to avoid overeating.
Space out your meals: Eating at regular intervals can help you avoid spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels. Try to eat three main meals and one or two snacks per day. Don’t skip meals or go longer than four hours without eating.
Monitor your blood sugar: Check your blood sugar levels as often as your doctor advises. Keep a record of your readings and note any patterns or trends. This can help you identify what affects your blood sugar and how to adjust your medication, diet, or activity accordingly.
Take your medication: If you have diabetes, you may need to take insulin or other drugs to help lower your blood sugar levels. Follow your doctor’s instructions on how and when to take your medication. Don’t stop, start, or change your dosage without consulting your doctor first.
Be physically active: Exercise can help you lower your blood sugar levels, improve your insulin sensitivity, lose weight, and boost your mood and energy. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing. You can also do some strength training exercises two or three times per week to build muscle and bone mass.
Manage stress: Stress can raise your blood sugar levels by triggering the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can also make you crave sugary or fatty foods, which can worsen your blood sugar control. To cope with stress, try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or massage. You can also talk to a friend, family member, counselor, or support group about your feelings and challenges.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may experience high blood sugar levels after eating a meal. This can happen if you eat too much, too fast, or too many carbs. It can also happen if you forget to take your medication, are sick, or are under stress.
If you notice that your blood sugar is higher than usual after a meal, don’t panic. There are some things you can do to bring it down quickly and safely:
Drink water: Water can help flush out some of the excess glucose from your blood and prevent dehydration. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day and more if you’re thirsty or sweating.
Move around: Physical activity can help lower your blood sugar levels by using up some of the glucose in your muscles and liver. It can also improve your insulin sensitivity and circulation. After a meal, try to do some light exercise for 10 to 15 minutes, such as walking, stretching, or gardening.
Eat a snack: If you have low blood sugar symptoms such as shakiness, hunger, or weakness after a meal, you may need to eat a small snack to raise your blood sugar levels. Choose something that has about 15 grams of carbs and some protein or fat, such as a piece of fruit with cheese, a handful of nuts with raisins, or a glass of milk with crackers.
Take medication: If you have diabetes and your blood sugar is still high after trying the above steps, you may need to take some extra insulin or other medication to lower it. Check with your doctor on how much and when to take it. Don’t take more than prescribed without consulting your doctor first.
Monitoring your blood sugar levels is important for managing diabetes, and your doctor will help set realistic targets based on factors like your age, type of diabetes, and overall health. These targets may change over time, so regular check-ups are essential.
For most adults with diabetes, here are some general guidelines:
If you notice any discrepancies or errors, contact your doctor or the manufacturer for guidance. Avoid making any medication or lifestyle changes based on inaccurate readings. Regular communication with your healthcare team is essential for effective diabetes management.
Have you ever wondered why your blood sugar levels are higher in the morning than before you went to bed? This may be due to a natural phenomenon called the dawn phenomenon.
The dawn phenomenon is a rise in blood sugar levels that occurs in the early hours of the morning, usually between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. It happens because your body releases hormones such as cortisol, growth hormone, and glucagon that increase your blood sugar levels to prepare you for the day ahead. These hormones also reduce the effectiveness of insulin, making it harder for your cells to use glucose.
The dawn phenomenon is more common and pronounced in people with diabetes, especially those with type 1 diabetes. It can make it difficult to achieve your blood sugar targets and increase your risk of complications.
Adjust your bedtime snack: Eating a snack that contains some protein and fat before bed can help prevent low blood sugar during the night and reduce the need for your body to release glucose-raising hormones. Avoid snacks that are high in carbs or sugar, as they can spike your blood sugar levels.
Adjust your medication: If you take insulin or other drugs that lower your blood sugar levels, you may need to change the dose, timing, or type of medication you use at night or in the morning. For example, you may need to take more long-acting insulin at night or less short-acting insulin in the morning. Talk to your doctor about how to adjust your medication safely and effectively.
Adjust your activity: Physical activity can help lower your blood sugar levels by using up some of the glucose in your muscles and liver. It can also improve your insulin sensitivity and circulation. In the morning, try to do some moderate exercise for 30 minutes, such as jogging, cycling, or swimming. Avoid exercising too late at night, as it can interfere with your sleep quality and hormone balance.
As you may have noticed by now, there are many factors that can affect your blood sugar levels besides what you eat and how much insulin you take. Some of these factors are within your control, while others are not. However, being aware of them can help you understand how they affect your blood sugar and how to cope with them.
Here are some of the most common factors that influence blood sugar levels:
Stress : Stress can raise your blood sugar levels by triggering the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can also make you crave sugary or fatty foods, which can worsen your blood sugar control. To cope with stress, try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or massage. You can also talk to a friend, family member, counselor, or support group about your feelings and challenges.
Illness: Illness can raise your blood sugar levels by causing inflammation, infection, dehydration, or fever. These conditions can also affect your appetite, digestion, and absorption of nutrients. When you’re sick, you may need to check your blood sugar more often and adjust your medication accordingly. You may also need to drink more fluids and eat bland foods that are easy on your stomach.
Menstruation: Menstruation can affect your blood sugar levels by changing your hormone levels, especially estrogen and progesterone. These hormones can affect how your body responds to insulin and glucose. Some women may experience higher or lower blood sugar levels before, during, or after their periods. To manage this, you may need to monitor your blood sugar more closely and adjust your medication or diet as needed.
Alcoho l: Alcohol can affect your blood sugar levels in different ways depending on how much and how often you drink it. In moderation (one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men), alcohol can lower your blood sugar levels by inhibiting glucose production in the liver.
However, in excess (more than three drinks per day), alcohol can raise your blood sugar levels by interfering with insulin action and increasing your appetite. Alcohol can also interact with some diabetes medications and cause low blood sugar symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, and loss of coordination.
If you choose to drink alcohol, do so with caution and moderation. Drink slowly, eat something before or while you drink, and check your blood sugar before and after drinking.
Medications: Medications other than those for diabetes can also affect your blood sugar levels by altering your metabolism, hormone levels, or kidney function. Some medications that can raise your blood sugar levels include steroids, birth control pills, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and diuretics.
Some medications that can lower your blood sugar levels include aspirin, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and some antibiotics. If you take any of these medications, talk to your doctor about how they may affect your blood sugar and how to adjust your diabetes treatment accordingly.
One of the key aspects of managing your blood sugar levels is finding the right balance between your medication and your lifestyle. Your medication can help you lower your blood sugar levels and prevent or delay complications, but it can also cause side effects such as weight gain, low blood sugar, or allergic reactions.
Your lifestyle can help you improve your overall health and well-being, but it can also pose challenges such as temptations, stress, or lack of time.
To find the best balance for you, you need to work closely with your doctor and other health care professionals. They can help you choose the best medication for your type of diabetes, your health goals, and your personal preferences. They can also help you adjust your medication as needed based on your blood sugar readings, your symptoms, and any changes in your condition.
You also need to take an active role in managing your lifestyle. You can do this by:
Educating yourself: Learn as much as you can about diabetes and how it affects your body. Read books, articles, blogs, or newsletters that provide reliable and up-to-date information. Join a diabetes education program or a support group that can teach you skills and strategies to cope with diabetes.
Setting goals : Set realistic and specific goals for your blood sugar control and other health outcomes. For example, you may want to lower your A1C by 1%, lose 10 pounds, or walk 30 minutes per day. Write down your goals and track your progress regularly.
Making changes: Make gradual and sustainable changes to your diet, activity, stress management, and other aspects of your lifestyle. Start with one or two changes at a time and build on them as you go. Reward yourself for your achievements and don’t give up if you face setbacks.
Seeking support: Seek support from your family, friends, health care team, or other people who have diabetes. They can offer you advice, encouragement, motivation, or practical help when you need it. You can also support others by sharing your experiences, tips, or resources.
One of the best ways to prevent or reduce complications from diabetes is to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. This means avoiding spikes (when your blood sugar rises too high) and dips (when it falls too low). Stable blood sugar levels can help you feel better physically and mentally, improve your energy and mood, and reduce your risk of long-term damage.
Eat breakfast: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for people with diabetes. It helps you break the overnight fast and replenish your glucose stores. It also helps you control your appetite and prevent overeating later in the day. Choose a breakfast that contains a combination of carbs (preferably from whole grains or fruits), protein (such as eggs or yogurt), and healthy fats (such as nuts or avocado).
Snack smart: Snacks can help you keep your blood sugar levels steady between meals. They can also provide you with extra nutrients and energy. However, not all snacks are created equal. Choose snacks that are low in carbs (less than 15 grams per serving), high in fiber (at least 3 grams per serving), and contain some protein or fat (such as cheese or peanut butter). Avoid snacks that are high in sugar (such as candy or soda), salt (such as chips or pretzels), or calories (such as cookies or muffins).
Drink water: Water is essential for keeping your body hydrated and functioning properly. It also helps flush out some of the excess glucose from your blood and prevent dehydration. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day and more if you’re thirsty or sweating. Avoid drinks that are high in sugar (such as juice or sports drinks), caffeine (such as coffee or tea), or alcohol (such as beer or wine).
Time your meals: Timing is everything when it comes to managing your blood sugar levels. Eating at regular intervals can help you avoid spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels. Try to eat three main meals and one or two snacks per day. Don’t skip meals or go longer than four hours without eating. Eat your meals around the same time each day and don’t eat too late at night.
Count your carbs: Carbs are the main source of glucose for your body, but they can also raise your blood sugar levels quickly and significantly. That’s why it’s important to count how many carbs you eat per meal and per day. This can help you balance your carb intake with your insulin or medication dose and prevent high or low blood sugar levels.
You can use food labels, apps, or online tools to estimate how many carbs are in different foods and drinks. Aim for about 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal and 15 to 30 grams per snack, depending on your individual needs.
Choose low glycemic foods: Not all carbs are created equal. Some carbs are digested and absorbed faster than others, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. These are called high glycemic foods. Examples include white bread, white rice, potatoes, corn, and sugary cereals. Other carbs are digested and absorbed slower, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar levels.
These are called low glycemic foods. Examples include whole wheat bread, brown rice, oats, beans, and non-starchy vegetables. Choosing low glycemic foods can help you keep your blood sugar levels more stable and prevent spikes and crashes.
Get enough sleep: Sleep is vital for your overall health and well-being, but it can also affect your blood sugar levels. Lack of sleep can raise your blood sugar levels by increasing your stress hormones, reducing your insulin sensitivity, and altering your appetite hormones.
This can make you crave more carbs and eat more calories, which can worsen your blood sugar control. To get enough sleep, aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night.
Follow a regular sleep schedule, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed, and create a comfortable and dark sleeping environment.
Sign up to get 10% off your next subscription
Blueberries are one of the best superfoods for combating stress. They contain high levels of antioxidants, especially anthocyanin.
In this post, we will discuss the top three natural supplements for women's cardiovascular health.
In this blog post, we will explore the roles diabetes educators play in the care and management of individuals with diabetes.
By implementing these research-backed tips and strategies, you are taking significant steps toward a healthier, more vibrant life.
In this article, we will discuss the top supplements suitable for HIIT and how they help improve your performance, endurance, and recovery.
This blog presents simple and natural ways to manage stress levels, including getting enough sleep, cutting down on carbs, and reducing caffeine intake.
In this piece, we will look at 6 tips to help you stick with physical activity in your diabetes management plan.
We will take a closer look at the benefits of intermittent fasting and explore why it has become such a popular choice for many.
This article focuses on the issues that people may face regarding cognitive decline as they age and how to combat these issues.
In this blog post, we will explore the various risk factors for diabetes and provide practical steps for prevention.