Oh, the days of being a kid when parents would pick us up from birthday parties and tell us to run around outside to burn off the sugar high after eating all that cake and ice cream.
Now, for the 122 million of us with diabetes and prediabetes, a so-called sugar high can be dangerous. Regularly testing our blood sugar (known as glucose) and keeping it within a target range can help keep us on the safe side.
What is Blood Sugar and Why Is It Important?
Your brain, muscles and pretty much all the cells in your body depend on glucose for energy. We all have some amount of this sugar flowing through our veins at all times, but after eating or drinking, we get a surge of blood glucose, causing our levels to temporarily rise.
Under normal circumstances, the hormone insulin will come in and sweep out some of the sugar, allowing the body to use it now or store it for later. But for those with diabetes and prediabetes, that insulin response isn’t as effective, leading us to have higher glucose levels circulating in our blood.
What are Normal Glucose Levels? What’s Considered High?
If you have diabetes, chances are you have a glucometer (which uses a small sample of blood from your fingertip), and/or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which uses a sensor under your skin to test blood sugar throughout the day. Even with a CGM, using a glucometer and test strips can help make sure the readings are accurate. Some good times to measure are:
- First thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything (known as your “fasting blood glucose”)
- Targets for normal fasting glucose levels for people with diabetes are generally 80 to 130 mg/dL
- Throughout the day, such as two hours after a meal and before bedtime
- Targets for normal glucose levels for people with diabetes are generally 180 mg/dL or lower
If your blood glucose levels are at 180 mg/dL or more two-hours after eating, that’s considered high blood sugar or hyperglycemia.
What Causes High Blood Glucose Levels?
Hyperglycemia has many possible causes. Your levels might start creeping up if you are:
- Not taking enough insulin or other medication prescribed to promote normal glucose levels
- Eating more than you planned
- Exercising less than you planned
- Feeling stressed
- Being sick or having an infection
- Having some hormone fluctuations. You may have heard of the “dawn phenomenon,” which is when the body releases a bunch of hormones in the early morning hours. This hormone surge can throw blood sugar management out of whack.
Signs of Hyperglycemia
Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you?
- Feeling very thirsty
- Needing to urinate often
- Feeling very tired
- Experiencing blurry vision
Check your blood glucose levels if you're feeling any of these symptoms – your blood glucose levels may be too high.
5 Tips to Maintain Normal Glucose Levels
Keeping a close eye on your blood glucose levels by testing regularly is the best way to prevent hyperglycemia. Here are some ways to make sure that reading stays within the normal range:
Count Those Carbs! A diabetes or prediabetes diagnosis doesn’t mean you need to swear off carbs entirely. You still need some carbs to fuel your body and maintain normal glucose levels, but the key is choosing quality carbs, and staying within the limits set by your dietitian or nutrition professional.
Balance Your Plate. Did you know both fiber and protein can help promote normal glucose levels after your meal? Non-starchy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers and celery offer lots of fiber and nutrients with very few carbs. Animal proteins such as chicken breast, fish, and cottage cheese are great sources of protein. Also look to fortified foods and high protein shakes.
Achieve or Maintain a Healthy Weight. If you’re overweight, losing even 5 - 10% of your body weight may make it easier to manage blood glucose levels. Being active is another way to stay healthy and keep weight – and blood sugar – in check.
Take Medicines as Prescribed. Your doctor created a medication plan that fits your lifestyle and habits. That can include not only prescription types and dosages, but medication and meal timing too. Don’t play doctor and switch them up yourself.
Speak Up! If you have any concerns about your blood glucose levels, or if you’re finding it hard to meet your goals, don’t wait until your next appointment to talk with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian. Reach out to them today and be your own advocate!
Talk to your healthcare provider for questions or concerns about any diet or lifestyle changes and to find a plan that's right for you.