The Benefits of Careful Blood Sugar Managementby Mary Shomon Patient Advocate
For people living with diabetes, there are many health benefits to careful management of levels of blood glucose, also known as “blood sugar.” Let’s explore the health benefits of maintaining a targeted blood sugar level, as well as optimal blood sugar target levels and how to achieve them.
What is a Blood Glucose/Blood Sugar Level?
Every time you eat, food is converted into sugar (glucose). Insulin, made by your pancreas, then helps clear that glucose out of your bloodstream and deliver it to cells for immediate use to provide energy, or to be stored for later release. The circulating level of glucose in your bloodstream is referred to as your blood glucose or blood sugar level.
How Is Blood Sugar Measured?
Blood sugar is typically measured using two different tests:
- Fasting glucose measures your morning level of glucose after fasting for at least 8 hours.
- Hemoglobin A1C – also known as A1C – looks at an average of blood sugar levels over the past two to three months.
What Are Healthy Blood Glucose Target Levels?
Healthy fasting glucose target levels for someone without diabetes range from 70 to 99 mg/dl. The level should be less than 140 mg/dL two hours after eating.
Healthy A1c targets for someone without diabetes range from 4.1 to 5.6 percent. Specifically, according to the American Diabetes Association, the ranges are as follows:
- Normal: below 5.7%
- Pre-diabetes: 5.7% - 6.5%
- Diabetes: 6.5% or higher
What Are the Blood Glucose Target Levels in People With Diabetes?
American Diabetes Association recommends a target fasting glucose level of 80 to 130 mg/dl for people with diabetes, and a level of less than 180 mg/dL two hours after eating.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes work for a target A1C level of less than 7.0 percent.
The Benefits of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
In people without diabetes, achieving target blood sugar levels has several key health benefits:
- Helps prevent weight gain, or achieve weight loss goals
- Reduces the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
- Reduced stress hormones and inflammation
In people with diabetes, achieving blood glucose targets stops or reduces the risk of a variety of complications of diabetes, including:
- nerve damage and neuropathy
- eye damage
- heart attacks and stroke
- kidney disease sexual dysfunction
Blood Glucose and A1C Targets
The following are the American Diabetes Association target levels.
- People without diabetes - 70–99 mg/dl
- People with diabetes - 80–130 mg/dl
Glucose level 2 hours after a meal:
- People without diabetes - < 140 mg/dl
- People with diabetes - < 180 mg/dl
Hemoglobin A1C level:
- People without diabetes - < 5.7 percent
- People with diabetes - < 7.0 percent
Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels
You can’t manage levels unless you know the numbers, so a crucial step in achieving optimal glucose target levels is careful monitoring. One particularly effective method is continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), using a wearable device that continuously tests for and displays your blood sugar levels. You can also use a blood glucose testing kit to check levels using a drop of fingertip blood. According to the ADA, only some specific groups of people should be tested regularly for glucose levels.
Use Prescribed Medications
If you have type 2 diabetes, you may be prescribed medications to help improve your sensitivity to insulin. Taking these medications as prescribed can help manage blood sugar to better achieve target levels.
If you have type 1 diabetes, you are usually prescribed insulin, including long-acting and/or short-acting (bolus) insulin. In some cases, delivery of your insulin pump – offers more significant improvement in blood sugar and A1C levels, compared to insulin by injection.
Change Your Diet
Weight loss is associated with improved glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. Even a 7 percent reduction in body weight can decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent.
In some cases, complications of type 2 diabetes can even be reversed with diet and weight loss. To lose weight and lower blood sugar, focus on:
- Reducing your portion sizes and caloric intake
- Increasing your activity and exercise
- Increasing your fiber intake
Focus on Low-glycemic Foods
Experts recommend that you reduce your intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates and eat foods that are low on the glycemic index. Low-glycemic foods are foods that are less likely to cause an increase or spike in your blood sugar level. Eating foods that are low on the glycemic index have been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Here is a helpful list of the glycemic index rating for 100 common foods.
Reduce Your Carbohydrate Intake
According to researchers, low-carbohydrate diets result in reduced fasting glucose and A1C levels in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. While not recommended for people with type 1 diabetes, the "ketogenic" low-carb diet, in particular, has been shown to significantly reduce fasting glucose and A1C levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Patients on diabetes medication who use this diet should be under close medical supervision or capable of adjusting their medication.