What are blood glucose levels?
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. The carbohydrates in food cause blood sugar levels to go up after meals.
When you eat foods that contain carbohydrates, the digestion process turns them into sugars. These sugars are released into the blood and transported to the cells. The pancreas, a small organ in the abdomen, releases a hormone called insulin to meet the sugar at the cell.
Insulin acts as a “bridge,” allowing the sugar to go from the blood into the cell. When the cell uses the sugar for energy, blood sugar levels go down.
If you have diabetes, there’s either a problem with the pancreas producing insulin, or the cells using insulin, or both.
The different types of diabetes and diabetes-related conditions include:
Type 1 diabetesis when the body stops making insulin.
- Type 2 diabetesis usually a combination of the pancreas not making enough insulin and the cells not using insulin well, which is called insulin resistance.
- Prediabetes is usually when the cells do not use insulin well.
- Gestational diabetes is when you develop diabetes in your second or third trimester of pregnancy.
Keep reading to learn more about checking and managing your glucose levels.
Talk to your doctor or healthcare providers about the best times to check your blood glucose. Optimal times vary for each 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 appointments with your doctor so you can review it and make changes to your treatment if necessary.
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 uses a lancet to prick the side tip of your finger to draw a small drop of blood. Then you place this drop of blood on a disposable testing strip.
You insert the testing strip into an electronic blood glucose meter 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 your blood glucose levels.
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 different recommendations for blood glucose targets for most people with type 2 diabetes:
|Timing||ADA recommendations||AACE recommendations|
|fasting and before meals||80-130 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. Your doctor can help you determine which guidelines to target. Or they can work with you to set your own glucose targets.
You should establish a treatment plan with your doctor. You may be able to manage your glucose levels through diet and other lifestyle changes, like weight loss. Exercise can also help lower your glucose levels.
Medications may be added to your treatment if needed. Most people with type 2 diabetes will start on metformin as their first medication. 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. Your doctor will determine your dosage and go over with you how to inject it, and when.
Let your doctor know if your glucose levels are consistently high. This could mean 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.
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 difficult to stabilize.
Include healthy carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, and lean proteins in your diet. 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, which are important to a balanced diet. They include:
- olive oil
Limit your consumption of processed foods. They often digest quickly and spike blood sugar levels. These foods can be high in:
- trans fats
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’re in a hurry or really hungry.
In addition to eating healthy foods, remember to include regular exercise in your daily routine. If you’re new to exercise, check with your doctor before starting. Then start slowly and work your way up to more vigorous routines.
You can also add more exercise through small changes, including:
- taking stairs instead of an elevator
- walking around the block or your office during breaks
- parking further from store entrances when shopping
Over time, these small changes can add up to big wins for your health.
Monitoring your blood glucose levels is an important step in managing your diabetes. Knowing your numbers will also help inform your doctor about changes you may need to make to your treatment plan.
Following a healthy and 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.