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 can’t get the sugar from the blood into cells or make enough, or any, insulin. This causes high levels of blood sugar or high glucose levels. The carbohydrates in food are one reason blood sugar levels go up after meals.
Keep reading to learn more about checking and managing your glucose levels.
When you eat foods that contain carbohydrates, the digestion process turns them into sugars. These sugars release into the blood and move 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 a problem with the pancreas producing insulin, the cells using insulin, or both.
The different types of diabetes and diabetes-related conditions include:
- type 1 diabetes, which is when the body stops making insulin
- type 2 diabetes, which is usually a combination of the pancreas not making enough insulin and the cells not using insulin well (insulin resistance)
- prediabetes, which is when blood sugars are above their typical levels but not high enough for diabetes diagnosis
- gestational diabetes which is when you develop diabetes in your second or third trimester of pregnancy
Talk with your doctor or other healthcare professionals 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.
Blood glucose levels can fluctuate throughout the day. When taking blood glucose readings, it’s important to know what factors may affect the result.
However, if your blood glucose levels are high, you may have hyperglycemia.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
Consistently high blood glucose readings indicate your diabetes management plan isn’t working.
Learn more about blood glucose levels and what they mean here.
You’ll need a blood sample to check your blood glucose levels. You can do this at home in several ways.
Blood glucose monitor
Home blood glucose monitors are the
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 then insert the testing strip into an electronic blood glucose meter, which measures glucose levels in the sample and returns a number on a digital readout.
Discover 6 tips for successful blood glucose monitoring here.
Continuous glucose monitors
Another option is a continuous glucose monitor.
To use a continuous glucose monitor, a doctor first inserts a small wire beneath the skin of your abdomen or arm.
Every few minutes, the wire will measure blood glucose levels and deliver the results to an outside monitor device. This allows you and your doctor to keep a real-time reading of your blood glucose levels.
Learn more about continuous glucose monitors and how to choose the right one for you.
People measure blood glucose 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 non-pregnant adults with type 2 diabetes:
|Timing||ADA recommendations||AACE recommendations|
|fasting||80-130 mg/dL||<110 mg/dL|
|2 hours after eating||<180 mg/dL||<140 mg/dL|
Talk with 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 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.
Let your doctor know if your glucose levels are consistently high. This could mean you must 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.
Doctors may add medications to your treatment plan 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.
Learn more about the different medications for diabetes here.
Injecting insulin is one way to quickly reduce your glucose levels. People with type 1 diabetes will need to inject insulin multiple times per day to keep blood glucose levels in check.
Your doctor will determine your dosage and discuss with you how to inject it and when.
The foods you eat can have a big impact on your glucose levels.
Foods to include
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.
Healthful fats are important to include in a diabetes diet. The ADA recommends prioritizing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated and trans fats.
Healthful fats can lower a person’s cholesterol levels, risk of heart disease, and other complications associated with diabetes. Options include:
In fact, some studies show that including fatty fish in meals may reduce blood glucose levels.
Learn more about the best foods for diabetes here.
Foods to limit
To best manage diabetes, people should limit food and drinks that elevate blood sugar. These include:
- highly refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta
- foods with high sugar content, like candy
- sugary soft drinks
People with diabetes should also limit foods that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. These include:
- foods high in saturated and trans fats
- foods high in salt
Discover 11 foods and drinks to limit in a diabetes diet plan.
Avoid skipping meals. Irregular eating patterns can cause spikes and dips in your blood glucose and make it difficult to stabilize.
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. Being more active can make your body more sensitive to insulin, which helps you manage blood glucose levels.
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.
Discover the 10 best exercises for people with diabetes here.
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 medications as prescribed should help you to maintain normal glucose levels. Talk with your doctor if you need help coming up with a diet or exercise plan or if you’re unclear about how to take medications.