You can lower your A1C level with changes to diet, exercise, and other habits. For some people, medication may also help.

Diabetes is a serious, chronic condition that can lead to many complications. But there are ways to manage your blood sugar levels that may reduce your risk.

A doctor may test your A1C level if you have or are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent complications.

Here are nine ways to lower your A1C:

Eating certain foods may help lower your A1C, so you may want to make a plan and stick to it. A few important strategies include:

  • Make a grocery list: When trying to fill your basket with nutrient-dense foods while minimizing sweets, having and following a list can help you avoid impulse purchases. If you’re trying out new recipes, a list can help make sure you get home with all the right ingredients.
  • Meal prep ahead of time: When you’re fixing a nutritious meal, you can save time by doubling the recipe, so you have another meal readily available later in the week.
  • Build in flexibility: Plan to give yourself options before you need them. That way, you’re not searching for a fallback when the cupboards are bare and your stomach is rumbling.

Controlling portion sizes may also help reduce your A1C. Helpful practices can include:

  • Get familiar with the appropriate portion sizes: You don’t have to measure every food you eat by the gram to learn to recognize and make a habit of thinking about what’s a right-size portion.
  • Use smaller plates at home: For portioning purposes, opting for a smaller plate may help limit portion sizes.
  • Avoid eating from a bag: If you’re having a few crackers, pull out a reasonable serving, then put the rest back in the cupboard for later.
  • Be mindful when going out to eat: Restaurant meals can contain large portion sizes. Rather than order an entrée that may contain more food than you need, you may want to ask a friend if they’ll split something with you. Or you can plan to take half home to eat later in the week.

The appropriate amount of carbohydrates varies from person to person and is worth discussing with a doctor. But carbs can be easy to overdo if you’re not keeping track. It can be helpful to maintain a food diary or use an app to keep track of your carb intake.

Starting out, you may have to take some time to look at nutrition labels. With practice, this will become a quick and easy process and will help you get a sense of which foods are most carb-heavy so you can adjust accordingly.

Also called the diabetes plate method, the idea here is to simplify your mealtime calculations while eating the right foods in the right proportions. Picture a plate that’s less than a foot in diameter and divide it up into quarters:

  • Half of what’s on the plate — that is, two quarters — should be low carb vegetables: There are many to choose from, including broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, and cucumber. This can include anything leafy, like lettuce, cabbage, spinach, and so on.
  • The next quarter of the plate should be lean proteins: This can include fish, chicken, eggs, shellfish, cheese, tofu, and lean cuts of pork or beef.
  • The last quarter of the plate goes to carbs: Carbs can include grains like rice and whole grain bread, as well as fruit and starchy vegetables like potatoes.

You can apply the same proportions and ideas behind the plate method to foods that don’t lend themselves to being divided across a plate, like sandwiches, for instance.

Set yourself up for success. It’s important to be practical because a slow, steady approach to weight loss (a pound or two a week, at most) tends to get the best results when it comes to keeping weight off.

It’s also worth noting the results don’t have to be drastic to meaningfully improve your health. Experts say even 5% can make a difference. This means, if someone at 180 pounds adjusts their exercise and food habits and works their way down to 170 pounds over a few months, the resulting health benefits can be worthwhile.

Talk with a doctor about what weight loss goal makes sense for you and how best to work toward it.

Increasing your activity level can help get your A1C level down for good. You may want to start with a 20-minute walk after lunch. You may be able to build up to 150 minutes of extra activity a week.

Get confirmation from a doctor first before you increase your activity level. Exercise can affect your blood sugar levels, and depending on other health conditions you may have, a doctor may recommend a safe starting point. Being safely active is a key part of reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

Remember: Any exercise is better than no exercise. Even getting up for 2 minutes every hour has been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes.

Taking prescribed diabetes medications can help manage your A1C level. Medications that lower fasting blood sugars will also lower your A1C level.

Some medications primarily affect your blood sugars after a meal, which are also called postprandial blood sugars. These medications include sitagliptin (Januvia), repaglinide (Prandin), and others. While they don’t significantly improve fasting glucose values, they still help lower your A1C level because of the decrease in post-meal glucose spikes.

Some supplements may improve your A1C level. These can include aloe vera and chromium.

Aloe vera is a succulent that may lower fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1C, according to 2022 research. However, additional studies are needed to test its long-term effects.

Chromium, a mineral found in vegetables like potatoes and mushrooms, as well as oysters, may lower A1C in people with severe insulin resistance and less glycemic control. But some studies show inconsistent or mixed results. As a result, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) doesn’t recommend chromium supplementation in people with diabetes.

Lowering your A1C levels depends on making changes that become habits. The best way to make something second nature is to keep doing it consistently.

Particularly where eating patterns and exercise are concerned, slow, steady progress tends to deliver the best long-term results.

Sugar from food makes its way into your bloodstream and attaches to your red blood cells — specifically to a protein called hemoglobin.

Your A1C level is a measure of how much sugar is attached to your red blood cells. This can help determine if you have diabetes or prediabetes and can help inform you how best to manage it.

The A1C test is a blood test that screens for diabetes. The test provides information about a person’s average levels of blood sugar over a 2- to 3-month period before the test. If you have diabetes, it can give doctors a picture of whether treatment is working and how well you’re managing the condition.

The A1C test measures how much glucose (sugar) is attached to hemoglobin. This is the protein in red blood cells. The more glucose attached, the higher the A1C.

The number is reported as a percentage. If the percentage is higher, so are your average blood glucose levels. A higher number means your risk for either diabetes or related complications is higher.

Although A1C is the gold standard of diabetes diagnosis, many clinical conditions can affect A1C, including iron deficiency anemia and other blood disorders that affect red blood cells. A doctor may recommend you take a different test to ensure an accurate diagnosis. A1C can test for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but not for gestational diabetes.

If you have diabetes, you still need to test your blood glucose level regularly with a fingerstick glucose test. Because the A1C measures an average, it may not capture intense highs and lows on its own.

Some benefits of the A1C test include:

  • It doesn’t require fasting.
  • It gives an average of blood sugar levels over a period of weeks to months.
  • It can be done at any time of the day.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, A1C measurements can indicate whether you have diabetes or prediabetes.

DiagnosisA1C level
Optimal levelbelow 5.7%
Diabetes6.5% and above

Having prediabetes puts you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes within 10 years. Within the prediabetes range, having a higher percentage increases your risk of developing diabetes. But you can take steps to prevent or delay developing diabetes. If you test positive for prediabetes, a doctor may recommend retesting each year.

If you have received a diagnosis of diabetes, having a higher percentage can increase your risk of diabetes complications.

If you receive a diagnosis of prediabetes or diabetes, a doctor may prescribe a home monitor to allow you to test your blood sugar. Be sure to talk with them about what to do if the results are too high or too low for you.

It’s important to talk with a doctor about what steps you can take to help lower your A1C levels. They can help you set and monitor practical goals and may also prescribe medication.

Additionally, a doctor may connect you with a dietician who can help you better understand the nutrition component of lowering your A1C levels. They can also help determine the best ways to adjust your diet and habits around food in health-promoting, practical ways.

The A1C test measures your average blood sugar levels over a period of weeks to months.

You may be able to lower your A1C level by eating a nutritious diet with controlled portion sizes and getting regular exercise. Doctors may recommend medication for some people.