What are blood glucose levels?
If you have diabetes, managing your blood glucose level is an important part of managing your condition. That’s because high blood sugar levels can cause long-term complications. When you have diabetes, your body isn’t able to get the sugar from blood into cells, or make enough or any insulin. This causes high levels of blood sugar, or high glucose levels. After meals, it’s the foods that have carbohydrates that cause blood sugar levels to go up.
When we eat foods that contain carbohydrates, the digestion process turns them into sugars that are released into the blood. Those sugars are then transported through the blood and travel to the cells. The pancreas, a small organ in the abdomen, releases a hormone called insulin to meet the sugar at the cell.
Insulin will connect onto spots on some cells of the body and act as a “bridge,” allowing the sugar to go from the blood and into the cell. The cell uses the sugar for energy, and blood sugar levels go down.
With diabetes, there’s either a problem with the cells using insulin, a problem with the pancreas producing insulin, or both.
- With type 1 diabetes, the body stops making insulin completely.
- With type 2 diabetes, it’s usually a mix of the cells not using insulin well, which is called insulin resistance. And the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin.
- With prediabetes, it is usually a problem with the cells not using insulin well.
Keep reading to learn more about checking and managing your glucose levels.
When to check blood glucose levels
Talk to you doctor or healthcare providers about the best times to check your blood glucose, as optimal times vary by person.
Some options include:
- after fasting (after waking or not eating for eight to 12 hours) or before meals
- before and after meals, to see the impact that the meal had on your blood sugar
- before all meals to decide how much insulin to inject
- at bedtime
Bring a record of your blood sugar results to doctors’ appointments so you can review it and make changes to your treatment if necessary.
How to check
You will need to take a blood sample to check your blood glucose levels. You can do this at home using a blood glucose monitor. The most common type of blood glucose monitor requires using a lancet to prick the side tip of your finger to draw a small drop of blood. You’ll then place this drop of blood on a disposable testing strip.
The testing strip is then inserted into an electronic blood glucose meter either before or after the blood is applied. The meter measures the level of glucose in the sample and returns a number on a digital readout.
Another option is a continuous glucose monitor. A small wire is inserted beneath the skin of your abdomen. Every five minutes, the wire will measure blood glucose levels and deliver the results to a monitor device worn on your clothing or in a pocket. This allows you and your doctor to keep a real time reading of blood glucose levels.
Recommended blood sugar targets
Blood glucose numbers are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) have slightly different recommendations for blood glucose targets for people with type 2 diabetes:
|Timing||ADA recommendations||AACE recommendations|
|Fasting and before meals||70-130 mg/dL for nonpregnant adults||<110 mg/dL|
|2 hours after eating a meal||<180 mg/dL for nonpregnant adults||<140 mg/dL|
Talk to your doctor to learn more about your blood glucose targets. They can help you determine which guidelines to target, or if you need to set your own glucose targets.
What should I do if my glucose levels are too high?
You should establish a treatment plan with your doctor. Some people may be able to manage their glucose levels through diet and other lifestyle changes, like weight loss. Exercise can also be a great tool for lowering your glucose levels.
Medications may be added if needed. There are many different types of diabetes medications that act in different ways. Injecting insulin is one way to quickly reduce your glucose levels. Your doctor may prescribe insulin if you need help managing your glucose levels. They will go over how to inject it and determine your dosage, and when you should take this medication.
Let your doctor know if you’re glucose levels are consistently high. It could be a sign that you need to take regular medication or make other changes to your diabetes treatment plan. Working with your doctor to get your glucose levels under control is important. Consistently high levels can lead to serious complications, like diabetic neuropathy or kidney failure.
Monitoring your blood glucose levels is important for managing your diabetes. Knowing your numbers will also help inform your doctor about changes that may need to be made to your treatment plan.
Following a healthy, balanced diet, exercising, and taking medicines as prescribed should help you to maintain normal glucose levels. Talk to your doctor if you need help coming up with a diet or exercise plan, or if you are unclear about how to take medications.
Diabetes eating plan
The foods you eat can have a big impact on your glucose levels.
Don’t skip meals. Irregular eating patterns can cause spikes and dips in your blood glucose and make it more difficult to stabilize.
Include healthy carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, and lean proteins in your diet. These healthy carbohydrates include:
- whole grains
- beans and other legumes
Manage the amount of healthy carbohydrates you eat at meals and snacks. Add protein and fat to slow digestion and avoid blood sugar spikes.
Limit foods high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium. Instead eat healthy fats. They’re important to a balanced diet and include:
- olive oil
Limit your consumption of processed foods. They can be high in sodium, saturated and trans fats, and calories, and often digest quickly and spike blood sugar levels.
Cook healthy foods in bulk and then store them in single serving size containers in the refrigerator or freezer. Having easy-to-grab, healthy choices can help you avoid choosing less healthy options when you are in a hurry or really hungry.
In addition to eating healthy foods, remember to also include regular exercise into your daily routine. If you’re new to exercise, check with your doctor before starting, and then start slowly and work your way up to more vigorous routines.
You can also add more exercise through small changes, like taking the stairs instead of an elevator, walking around the block or your office during your breaks, or parking further from store entrances while shopping. Over time these small changes can add up to big wins for your health.