Living with diabetes has a lot to do with maintaining balance: you can’t let your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels get too high, but they also can’t get too low.
Staying within your target range of normal glucose levels is a great place to be. But what does that mean, really?
Measuring Blood Glucose Levels
Using a blood glucose meter, you can easily check your blood sugar levels in the moment. Here are the typical ranges you should be aiming for, based on when you’re taking measurements:
Time of day
Normal Glucose Levels
Upon waking (“fasting glucose”) or before a meal
80-130 mg/dL (people with diabetes)
Note: If you don’t have diabetes, this should be less than 100 mg/dL
1-2 hours after a meal
Less than 180 mg/dL
Note: If you don’t have diabetes, this should be less than 140mg/dL
If you have diabetes, especially if you’re newly diagnosed or having a hard time keeping your blood sugars in check, your health care provider may want to test your “A1C” levels every few months.
The A1C test is a measure of how well you’ve been managing your blood glucose levels over the past 2-3 months, instead of at a certain point in time. Most likely you’ll want to keep your A1C levels at or below 7%, but your doctor may have a specific goal just for you.
Signs of High and Low Blood Glucose Levels
Maintaining normal blood sugar levels requires navigating between the foods you eat (many of which get broken down to glucose during digestion) and the insulin in your body (or that you take as medication), which gets that glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells.
If you teeter toward the high side, meaning you are above normal glucose levels, some warning signs may include feeling very thirsty, needing to urinate more often, or having blurry vision.
If your blood glucose level starts slipping too low, you might feel hungry, shaky, clammy or even lightheaded.
Ways to Help Keep Blood Sugar in Balance
Here are a few tips to help prevent peaks and valleys in blood glucose levels:
- Spacing out meals throughout the day. Eating too many carbs at once can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Eat moderate portions of nutritious, fiber- and protein-rich meals and snacks throughout the day to help maintain normal glucose levels.
- Jotting down what you eat and drink and how that affects your blood sugar. A food log is a handy tool to identify trigger points or patterns that cause blood glucose levels to go off-kilter.
- Keeping a water bottle handy. Staying hydrated keeps your body running smoothly and helps prevent high blood glucose levels.
- Maintaining or achieving a healthy weight. If you’re already overweight, losing just 5 to 10% of your body weight can make a big difference in your diabetes risk or management.
Managing Diabetes – Beyond the Plate
While it’s true that the foods you eat affect your blood glucose levels, diabetes management is about more than monitoring what you eat and when. Make sure you’re incorporating the following into your management plan:
- Exercise – Muscles use glucose as fuel, which helps lower your blood glucose levels. It’s also a great way to help maintain or achieve a healthy weight.
- Stress reduction – Increased stress can wreak havoc on other hormones in the body, including insulin. Try meditating, journaling or other activities that decrease stress.
- Sleep – Your body needs restful sleep to recover from a busy day and prepare for the next day. Getting a good night’s sleep regularly can also help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Doctor’s visits – A good doctor-patient partnership goes a long way toward keeping your diabetes in check. Checking in with your doctor regularly can help identify small changes to your treatment plan that can address any concerns well before they become major issues.
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.