More than 4.8 million people in the UK have diabetes. So, that is roughly 1 in every 14 people. Diabetes can cause a lot of suffering, including complications such as nerve damage that can eventually lead to a lower-limb amputation if it is not managed correctly. Many diagnoses of diabetes could be prevented, however, if the public were better informed and educated on how to use nutrition and lifestyle management.
Blood Sugar Levels – Not Just About Type 2 Diabetes
Many people do not know whether their blood sugar levels are within the healthy ranges or not until they receive a diagnosis such as pre-diabetes or full-blown type 2 diabetes. Which is why getting to know your level reading on a regular basis now can be a proactive way to preventing diabetes.
Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, comes from the digested food you eat and is where this food is turned into sugar/glucose that circulates in your bloodstream to give you energy. In a healthy body, any blood glucose that isn’t needed right away for energy gets stored in your cells for later use.
Too much blood glucose/blood sugar circulating in the bloodstream (not stored in the cells) can be harmful and this is what eventually leads to pre-diabetes and then if not reversed, leads to diabetes type 2 eventually.
Insulin is one of the hormones involved in opening up the cells and letting the excess glucose in, but when you have reached the pre-diabetes stage the body is not able to use insulin as well as it should and when you have diabetes type 2 the body cannot absorb insulin even more.
When the body cannot absorb insulin this means the excess energy (blood glucose) from food remains in the bloodstream causing the levels to rise which is what is so dangerous.
Types Of Diabetes
There are several types of diabetes, above I discussed diabetes type 2, however, there is also diabetes type 1 which is where the body cannot produce insulin (this type is an autoimmune disease), and there is also gestational diabetes which can develop during pregnancy some woman.
About 2% of the UK population also have other types of diabetes. These include different types of monogenic diabetes, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, and diabetes caused by rare syndromes. Certain medications such as steroids and antipsychotics could lead to other types of diabetes, as well as surgery or hormonal imbalances.
Then there is type 3 diabetes which is the name given to a type of Alzheimer’s disease caused by insulin resistance inside the brain.
How To Test Your Blood Sugar Levels
I recommend testing your blood sugar levels regularly so that you get to know more about how your body is doing when it comes to using the energy provided by the food you eat. It is so important to know where you are at today, to avoid future health diagnoses and complications that having high blood sugar can bring.
Comprehensive blood sugar tests should include the following markers to get a full and accurate picture:
- HbA1c – this shows your average blood sugar levels over a 2-3 month period.
- Glucose fasting – this gives you a random reading after fasting for the night, usually tested first thing in the morning.
- Insulin fasting – this gives you a random reading after fasting for the night, usually tested first thing in the morning.
Many people keep a track of the above tests on a 3-6 monthly basis, even individuals who do not have diabetes.
Some people simply use an at-home glucose monitor whilst others use a continuous glucose monitoring device (CGM). Both have their pros and cons but the CGM can track the effects on blood sugar of food you personally eat over roughly 28 days. But depending on your budget, regular tracking whatever you use to test is more useful than once of tests.
Blood Sugar Test Results – What Is Healthy?
In the UK, NICE guidelines state the following:
- A normal pre-prandial (before meal) blood glucose level will be between 4 and 7 mmol/l.
- After eating (post-prandial) levels should be below 9 mmol/l when tested 2 hours after a meal.
- When going to bed for the night, levels should be no more than 8 mmol/l.
Nutrition & Lifestyle Tips For Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Here are 3 easy to action tips that are important for everyone who is looking to achieve healthy blood sugar levels. These are especially important for people with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes:
- Move more – Physical activity is a natural way to lower blood sugar and boost your sensitivity to insulin. Be sure to pick a type of exercise you enjoy however for this habit to stick.
- Eat plenty of fibre – Eating food rich in fibre can help you stay fuller for longer, helps your blood sugar stay stable, helping you reduce junk food cravings and can also help you to get to your desired weight.
- Steer clear of fad diets – By including more healthier food, such as whole grains, whole fruit and vegetables, lean meat, fish eggs and a little healthy fat, you are naturally eating your way to healthy blood sugar. Fad diets may give you some sort of instant gratification like weight loss or even healthier blood sugar levels but these are not sustainable long-term.
Remember that everyone is an individual when it comes to food, so there is no one size fits all diabetes prevention diet. This is where continuous glucose monitoring can come in handy as it tracks the responses your body has to food, even healthy foods. For instance, some people who have tracked whole oats for breakfast noticed it spiked their blood sugar levels too high and they found switching to spelt cereal was better for them personally (as just one example).
What Happens If Nutrition & Lifestyle Do Not Help?
If you have tried creating healthy blood sugar levels with nutrition and lifestyle improvements yet nothing seems to be working, then this may mean you may have an underlying autoimmune disease and so blood sugar levels will never be fully controlled until this is first diagnosed and managed.