As a dietitian, I get a lot of questions about blood sugar; especially about what’s normal, and how to lower it. First, it helps to know what blood sugar is and why it’s not good to have it be elevated.
Blood sugar is a measure of glucose (“sugar”) in our blood. A bit about glucose: After we eat food, our bodies turn it into glucose to use for energy. It travels through the wall of your small intestine into the bloodstream. Then, with the help of insulin, it’s absorbed by your cells. That’s if everything goes well.
There will typically be a rise in blood sugar after eating, while you’re absorbing a meal. As the pancreas releases insulin, blood sugar should go down. Ideally, you want blood sugar to have a slow, ibuprofen 600 mg and weed steady rise after meals, and to go down in the same way—slowly and steadily. This doesn’t always happen.
Some people—if their pancreas isn’t secreting enough insulin, or if their bodies aren’t sensitive enough to that insulin—don’t properly metabolize glucose after meals. So it stays in the bloodstream longer than it should.
The type of food you eat can affect blood glucose as well. Blood sugar spikes—precipitous rises in the amount of glucose in our blood—often happen after we eat a meal loaded with highly refined carbohydrates. After a spike, blood sugar can fall just as quickly, leading to hunger and feelings of lethargy.
When blood sugar rises too high, or remains elevated for too long, it might indicate a problem like diabetes or pre-diabetes (when your blood sugar isn’t high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes, but is too high to be normal). Those conditions happen a lot: According to the CDC, 88 million people aged 18 and older in the United States have pre-diabetes. And pre-diabetes increases your risk for developing type-2 diabetes.
But there are ways to lower and level out your blood sugar via your diet.
What’s a healthy level for blood sugar?
According to the American Diabetes Association, fasting blood sugar levels for healthy people should be under 100 mg/dl. Note that blood sugar levels in healthy individuals can spike to 180 mg/dl after a meal, but 2 hours later, levels should be under 140 mg/dl.
There’s another way to measure blood sugar as well. A blood test to measure hemoglobin A1C reveals how your blood sugar levels have been over a span of 2 to 3 consecutive months. This can give a good indication of your blood sugar control over time. The value should be under 5.7 percent.
Why blood sugar might be high, even if you’re healthy
According to board-certified endocrinologist Disha Narang, MD, there are several reasons why blood sugars can be abnormally elevated in healthy people:
Your genes predispose you to it. If diabetes runs in your family, your baseline blood glucose could be elevated.
You’re carrying excess weight. This increases the risk for insulin resistance and elevated blood glucose.
Your diet is high in refined carbs. This includes processed grains and snack foods like cookies, crackers, chips, pretzels and the like. A moderate amount of refined carbohydrate shouldn’t affect your blood sugar, but if, say, you’re drinking sugary soda nonstop for 3 months, this can have an impact on your baseline blood sugar.
You don’t get enough fiber. Eating a low-fiber diet can affect blood sugar directly and indirectly. Fiber-poor foods can cause blood sugar spikes. And since low-fiber foods are easier for the body to digest, it means that we absorb more calories from them, which can lead to weight gain, which can result in insulin resistance, according to Narang.
How to eat for balanced, healthy, low blood sugar
To avoid spikes and to keep your sugar levels stable, try these strategies:
If you’re healthy and eating a varied diet full of whole and minimally processed foods, chances are you’re optimizing your blood sugar response already. For more information about blood sugars, see your doctor or a registered dietitian.
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