Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to keep your blood glucose in your target range, it will be too high or too low. Blood glucose that’s too high or too low can make you feel sick. Learn how to handle these emergencies.
What’s a desirable blood glucose level?
Everyone’s blood has some glucose in it. In people who don’t have diabetes, the normal range is about 70 to 120. Blood glucose goes up after eating but 1 or 2 hours later returns to the normal range.
Ask your health care team when you should check your blood glucose with a meter. Talk about whether the blood glucose targets listed below are best for you. Then write in your own targets.
Blood Glucose Targets for Most People with Diabetes
My target levels
70 to 130
______ to _____
1 to 2 hours after the start of a meal
If your blood glucose stays above 180, it may be too high. See the Blood Glucose Targets Table. High blood glucose means you don’t have enough insulin in your body. High blood glucose, also called hyperglycemia, can happen if you miss taking your diabetes medicines, eat too much, or don’t get enough exercise. Sometimes, the medicines you take for other problems cause high blood glucose. Be sure to tell your doctor about other medicines you take.
Having an infection, being sick, or being under stress can also make your blood glucose too high. When you’re sick, be sure to check your blood glucose and keep taking your diabetes medicines. For more about how to take care of yourself when you’re sick, see “When You Are Sick.”
If you’re very thirsty and tired, have blurry vision, and have to go to the bathroom often, your blood glucose may be too high. Very high blood glucose may also make you feel sick to your stomach.
If your blood glucose is high much of the time, or if you have symptoms of high blood glucose, call your doctor. You may need a change in your diabetes medicines or your meal plan.
What You Need to Know About Low Blood Glucose
Low blood glucose, also called hypoglycemia, happens if your blood glucose drops too low. It can come on fast. Low blood glucose can be caused by taking too much diabetes medicine, missing a meal, delaying a meal, exercising more than usual, or drinking alcoholic beverages. Sometimes, medicines you take for other health problems can cause blood glucose to drop.
Low blood glucose can make you feel weak, confused, irritable, hungry, or tired. You may sweat a lot or get a headache. You may feel shaky. If your blood glucose drops lower, you could pass out or have a seizure.
If you have any of these symptoms, check your blood glucose. If the level is below 70, have one of the following right away:
3 or 4 glucose tablets
1 serving of glucose gel—the amount equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate
1/2 cup, or 4 ounces, of any fruit juice
1/2 cup, or 4 ounces, of a regular—not diet—soft drink
1 cup, or 8 ounces, of milk
5 or 6 pieces of hard candy
1 tablespoon of sugar or honey
Nutrition and Fitness
Nutrition and fitness are effective ways to help manage your blood glucose numbers and fall within a normal range. Although many times people need supplemental medication, it is possible to keep your blood glucose close to normal with nutrition and exercise.
What you eat — and when you eat it — can affect your blood sugar levels. These food tips, in addition to following your doctor’s advice, can help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Here are the best ways to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Protein: One of the best ways to stabilise blood sugar levels is by including high-quality protein with each meal. The best sources include lean red meat, fish, chicken, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and tofu.
Chromium: Chromium helps normalise blood sugar levels and enhance insulin production. Sources include broccoli, wholegrain cereals, nuts, mushrooms and soy beans.
Reducing sugar: Reduce your consumption of sugary processed foods such as chocolates, cakes, biscuits, sugary breakfast cereal and soft drinks. These foods give a sharp rise in blood sugar levels.
Fibre: Fibre helps to stabilise blood sugar levels. It slows the absorption of glucose from food, which reduces the sharp rise in blood sugar levels. Best sources include wholegrain breads and cereals, brown rice, legumes, fruit and vegetables.
Make One Change at a Time
“When you’ve spent a lifetime developing eating habits, you can’t just flip a switch and change them overnight,” says Dee Sandquist, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Instead, Sandquist suggests starting with one change and working from there.
Don’t Skip Meals
For good blood sugar control, space your meals about four to six hours apart. Eating meals at around the same time each day may also help keep your blood sugar steady.
Spacing carbohydrates evenly throughout the day helps keep your blood sugar level.
Skipping meals isn’t a good idea when you have diabetes. This is true even if you’re planning on going to a party or event. Don’t skip meals to “save” your calories for later. Instead, eat your other meals at the regular time. When you get to the party, try to eat the same amount of carbohydrates you would at a meal. It’s fine to have a treat, just don’t go overboard.
Carbs: Cut Portion Size
You don’t need to cut all carbs — such as breads, pasta, potatoes, and rice. Take a look at how much you’re eating. To keep your energy steady, you probably just need to eat a little less. Instead of your usual serving size, try having two-thirds the amount. Do this for every meal and snack.
Try cutting back your carb portions for a few weeks. You may notice that your blood sugar levels are lower, and you may even drop a few pounds.
Balance Your Plate
Counting carbs and calories or calculating the glycemic index of foods can be complicated! Here’s a simple trick that may help you to start eating better. The “plate method” helps you eat the right mix and amounts of different food groups — carbs, proteins, and healthy fats. Eating the right mix can help you keep your blood sugar in check and keep your energy steady.
Here’s how it works:
Start with a 9- or 10-inch plate.
Fill 1/2 of your plate with non-starchy vegetables such as salad, greens, broccoli, green beans, or beets.
Fill1/4 of your plate with protein food: lean meat, fish, tofu, eggs, cheese, or poultry.
Fill 1/4 of your plate with a starchy food, such as bread, rice, potatoes, or pasta.
On the side, add a serving of fruit. Also have a cup of non-fat or low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, or a roll.
This still works if you want to cut portions. It’s a visual to help you remember that even if you eat less, half of the food you eat should be vegetables. Think of meat and starchy foods as side dishes.
Fine-Tune Your Diet
Gradually, you can start to make other healthy changes once you have one or two under your belt. For example, slowly adjust your diet to swap in healthier food choices.
Instead of mashed potatoes with butter and cream, try a plain baked potato with a little cottage cheese. Or have fish or lean poultry instead of cuts of red meat with lots of fat.
Watching what you eat is one part of living better with diabetes. Be sure to still follow your doctor’s advice to control your blood sugar levels.
Exercises to Lower Your Blood Sugar
It’s never too late to reap the benefits of exercise, whether you’re 45 or 95. First of all, it simply makes you feel good to move. By becoming more active, you can also lower your blood sugar to keep diabetes under control.
“You don’t need to run a marathon to get results,” says Dawn Sherr, RD, of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “Walking, swimming, and playing with the grandkids are all great ways to get exercise.”
Follow these four steps to get started.
Step 1: Make a Plan
If you’re just starting, ask your doctor which exercise is right for you. Ask if you need to adjust your diabetes medicine before you hit the trail or the pool.
Next, think about what you’ll enjoy most. You’re more likely to stick with activities you like. Here are a few suggestions:
Walk outdoors or indoors on a track or in a mall
Take a dance class
Bicycle outdoors or ride a stationary bike indoors
Swim or try water aerobics
Try yoga or tai chi
Take aerobics or another fitness class
Do housework, yard chores, or gardening
Try resistance training with light weights or elastic bands
If more than one of these appeals to you, go for them! In fact, combining cardio, like walking or swimming, with stretching or balance moves gives you a better workout. Any way you move will help lower your blood sugar.
How It Works
When you do moderate exercise, like walking, that makes your heart beat a little faster and breathe a little harder. Your muscles use more glucose, the sugar in your blood stream. Over time, this can lower your blood sugar levels. It also makes the insulin in your body work better. You’ll get these benefits for hours after your walk or workout.
Just remember you don’t have to overdo it. Strenuous exercise can sometimes increase blood sugar temporarily after you stop exercising. Very intense exercise can cause the body to make more stress hormones which can lead to an increase in blood sugar.
Step 2: Set a Schedule
The best time to exercise may be after a meal. Ask your doctor what time of day is best for you. Take the dog for a walk after breakfast and dinner. Or schedule a yoga class or a round of tennis after lunch.
To stay motivated, ask a friend or family member to come along, or join a class. You won’t skip an outing when other people are counting on you! Company can make it more fun, too.
Step 3: Get Ready
Wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes and cotton socks that don’t rub. The right footwear can prevent blisters that could become serious infections for some people with diabetes.
Check your blood sugar before a brisk walk or workout. If it’s below 100, check with your doctor to see if you need to eat a snack first.
Carry a snack or glucose tablets in case your blood sugar gets low.
Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.
Always wear your diabetes ID necklace or bracelet while you’re exercising.
Step 4: Go!
Start exercising a few days a week and slowly build up from there. Try a 10-minute walk three days a week. On two other days, stretch for 5 minutes. Gradually add 5 or 10 more minutes of exercise each day. For most people, a healthy goal is 30 minutes of moderate exercise such as walking most days of the week.
Each time you exercise, write down how long you worked out and your blood sugar levels before and after. Over time, you’ll see how exercise improves your blood sugar.
Take it slowly at first and listen to your body. As you get used to exercise, you can start to make your workout more challenging. Add more time to your activity or increase your pace a little. You might be surprised at what you can do — and how much you enjoy it.