October 07, 2021
Healthy blood glucose levels are essential to your health. The higher your blood glucose levels, the greater your risk factor for conditions like diabetes and heart disease. But what’s an optimum blood glucose level for most people, and how can you be sure if yours is at the right level? That’s what we’re here to clear up. Here’s a basic guide to blood glucose levels and how to monitor them.
Blood glucose is the main source of sugar found in your blood. That’s why it also goes by the name “blood sugar”. When experts talk about blood glucose, they’re usually referring to the C6, H12, and O6 sugar molecules in your bloodstream.
Glucose is a monosaccharide, the simplest form of carbohydrate. All carbohydrates turn to sugar once they enter the body. Whenever you eat foods that contain carbohydrates--like bread, fruits, dairy products, and starchy veggies--your body converts those carbohydrates into simple sugars, which then go into your bloodstream as blood glucose.
Your body needs blood glucose to survive. Red blood cells only use glucose as their primary fuel, and the brain uses around 120 grams of glucose every day, although that number is reduced to around 30 grams if your body is in ketosis.
Note that while glucose is essential to survival, carbohydrates are not. Your body comes with built-in mechanisms to trigger its own production of glucose in the event of carbohydrate deprivation--like fasting or undertaking a ketogenic diet.
Your body’s backup glucose mechanisms include Glycogenolysis, the conversion of stored glycogen into glucose from muscle and liver cells, and Gluconeogenesis, the conversion of glycogen into glucose from protein and lactate.
In most cases, the body is well-equipped through biological mechanisms to supply itself with necessary glucose even in the absence of carbs. The problem for most people isn’t getting enough glucose. It’s getting too much. Our modern diets are filled with an abundance of glucose. Think processed snacks, sweets, and soft drinks. Consumption of refined sugar has steadily climbed, causing diabetes rates to skyrocket over the last 60 years.
There’s a missing piece to the blood sugar puzzle we haven’t talked about yet—insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas which helps regulate blood sugar levels. It allows your body to properly process glucose. Let’s break it down.
Insulin directs the flow of glucose throughout your body. When you eat a meal, your blood sugar rises. This triggers the hormone insulin to transport blood sugar out of your blood and into your cells. Once sugar enters your cells, they either use it as fuel for energy or store it away for later use.
Insulin helps keep you safe from both hyperglycemia (too high blood sugar levels) and hypoglycemia (too low blood sugar). It’s the key to keeping your blood sugar levels stable and your body running efficiently. But when you consistently eat excess sugar in the form of processed foods, insulin struggles to keep up with the new influx of glucose. This causes insulin to become overwhelmed with all the new traffic. And when insulin is overworked, it can’t do its job properly. This causes insulin resistance, the inability of insulin to effectively store blood sugar in cells.
When you suffer from insulin resistance, blood sugar levels stay too high for too long. Insulin resistance is the root cause of type 2 diabetes, along with several other health problems, including cardiovascular issues and even Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, there are ways to monitor blood glucose levels if you’re concerned.
There are a few different ways to test blood glucose levels. Some of the most common testing methods include:
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, or OGTT. This test involves ingesting a special sugar solution, then measuring the resulting blood sugar spike.
Hemoglobin A1c, or HbA1c. This test measures the amount of sugar stored in red blood cells, providing a rough estimate of your average blood glucose levels over the last 2-3 months.
Fasting Blood Glucose. This test provides a measurement of blood glucose levels after a 12 hour overnight fast.
Postprandial Blood Glucose. This test provides a measurement of your glucose levels after a meal.
While the OGTT and HbA1c tests need to be ordered by a doctor, you can test your Fasting Blood Glucose and Postprandial Blood Glucose levels at home, using devices like the BKT test meter. Follow our easy instructions to get started testing your blood glucose levels yourself.
Now comes the tricky part. It’s difficult to offer a definitive answer on optimal blood glucose levels, because experts differ on the ideal range. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) offers guidelines on “normal” blood sugar levels for different types of tests, which you can view on their website.
For Fasting Blood Glucose (FBG), the ADA defines normal levels at under 100 mg/dl (5.6 mmol/L), prediabetes at 100 to 125 mg/dl (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L), and diabetes at over 125 mg/dl (6.9 mmol/L).
However, an observational study from 2008 found that people with an FBG level of 85 mg/dl (4.7 mmol/L) or less were likely to develop diabetes when compared to peers who had an FBG of 95 to 99 mg/dl (5.3 to 5.5 mmol/L). This suggests that the ideal range for an FBG test might be a little less than what the ADA defines as “normal”.
To monitor your blood sugar, take a Fasting Blood Glucose test a few hours after waking up. This will give you a baseline to reference throughout the day. For best results, make sure it’s been at least 12 hours since your last meal.
To monitor how certain foods affect your blood sugar, just eat the food in question, then test your blood sugar again an hour or two later. You’ll be able to get an accurate measurement of how the food affected your blood sugar, this will allow you to identify any problem foods in your diet.
In general, the smaller the spike the better. Try to aim for blood sugar spikes under 30 mg/dl. Your blood sugar should even out to its baseline level around three hours after eating. This lets you know that insulin is working as it should be!
Remember that other variables can throw off your test results. Stress can cause blood sugar levels to spike, and so can getting a poor night’s sleep. Blood sugar levels also naturally spike in the morning, which is why it’s best to wait a few hours after waking up to run your baseline test. Try to consistently monitor and record your blood sugar levels for at least a few months to get a consistent assessment of your overall blood glucose levels.
Fortunately, there are actionable ways to manage high blood sugar levels. It’s possible to lower blood glucose levels naturally by making simple lifestyle changes such as:
Keep in mind, blood glucose alone isn’t always a definitive method to determine overall health. Other ways to assess overall metabolic health include monitoring triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body measurements. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making any drastic life changes, especially if you’re diabetic or at high risk of cardiovascular problems.
Anyone can take charge of their blood sugar levels by committing to a healthy lifestyle and testing their blood glucose levels regularly. To give yourself a kickstart, following a ketogenic diet can help you lower your blood sugar and improve your insulin response. Check out more tips and informative articles on our blog.
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