Blood Sugar 101

Various kinds of sugar

You know eating a lot of sugar is bad for your health. Simply speaking: you are what you eat, so what goes into your mouth will eventually make its way through your body. Sugar is no different.

Blood sugar (also known as “blood glucose”) is the concentration of sugar that’s in your blood. It’s used to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes.

What Raises My Blood Sugar?

After a meal, you digest and absorb all the valuable nutrients from food, including carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates are found in grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and desserts. It’s what gets broken down into glucose, and is released into the blood to fuel the brain, muscles and other organs.

Note, all carbohydrates can raise your blood sugar, not just the sugar you sprinkle into your morning coffee!

Why Does My Blood Sugar Matter?

While it’s normal for blood sugar to spike after a meal, the body has checks and balances to keep it in a normal range. Insulin, a hormone released by your pancreas, plays a very important role in keeping your blood sugar numbers within normal range. It is released when your blood sugar rises, and its main action is to help blood glucose enter your cells. (How else will your cells use the glucose for fuel?)

Unfortunately, some individuals can become “insulin resistant,” meaning the insulin is released but it’s not doing its job very effectively, so blood sugar remains high. Over time, this can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, which are more severe forms of insulin resistance. If uncontrolled, high amounts of glucose in the blood can damage your blood vessels, nerves and kidneys over time.

How Do I Check My Blood Sugar?

Knowing your blood sugar stats helps you understand if you’re at risk for prediabetes and diabetes. Usually, your doctor will check your blood sugar when you do a blood test. There are two ways to check blood sugar:

1. Fasting Blood Sugar

Your blood sugar can vary widely depending on what you eat. This is why fasting blood sugar provides a better baseline measurement. Before taking a measurement, don’t eat or drink anything besides water for at least eight hours. Your doctor will take a small blood sample to determine your fasting blood sugar. If you get an abnormal reading, retest at another time. Blood sugar is also affected by things like stress, sickness and dehydration.

Here’s what your fasting blood sugar numbers may mean:

Fasting Blood Sugar (mg/dL) Result
<100 Normal
100–125 Prediabetes
>/=126 Diabetes

2. Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C)

Don’t let the fancy acronym confuse you! HbA1C, or “glycated hemoglobin,” is simply an average of what your blood sugar has been over the last two to three months.

Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen in your blood. Blood sugar can coat or “glycate” these proteins, hence the name. If your blood sugar is consistently high, a higher percentage of your hemoglobin will be coated. It’s what will show up on your blood test. Here’s what your HbA1C numbers means:

HbA1C Result
<5.7% Normal
5.7–6.4% Prediabetes
6.5% Diabetes

What if My Blood Sugar Is Too High? (+3 Tips)

Healthy adults should screen for blood sugar every one to three years. Only a medical professional can determine if you have prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. If you are diagnosed, your doctor can help you come up with an action plan that may include diet, exercise and medications.

If your blood sugar is in the desired range, here are a few healthful tips to keep it that way:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Not only are they packed with valuable vitamins and minerals, but fruits and veggies are also full of fiber. Fiber can help improve your sensitivity to insulin.
  • Get to and maintain a normal weight. There is a big connection between your weight and diabetes. Being overweight can make you susceptible to type 2 diabetes. Losing just 5–10% of your body weight can lower this risk by as much as 58%!
  • Exercise regularly. Experts recommend about 150 minutes per week of moderately vigorous activity like brisk walking. Exercise can help make you more sensitive to insulin and improve your blood sugar levels.

To learn more about other key health numbers, check out Body Composition 101, Blood Pressure 101 and Blood Cholesterol 101

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