Blood sugar level is one of the most common medical phrases that are used by laymen, especially by diabetic patients and their family members, often without being understood clearly. India is known to be the “Diabetes Capital of the World” with a whopping 5% of the entire population or roughly 62 million people suffering from Diabetes– one of the most common and dangerous consequences of unhealthy blood sugar levels. This isn’t just due to a genetic predisposition to the disease but also a lack of awareness and sufficient knowledge about the condition, which leads the people to adopt unhealthy lifestyle habits that further increase their risk to this disease.
So, one of the foremost concepts that should be understood by everyone is what blood sugar really means and how to keep it at healthy and normal levels.
So, what is blood sugar level?
Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is the sugar (glucose) present in your blood that is created from the food we eat. The word sugar in the term ‘blood sugar’ is basically colloquial and loosely used to describe Glucose- a type of sugar that is made present in the bloodstream and converted into energy. The glucose is deposited into the bloodstream by the digestive system through which it travels to the cells. Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, acts as a gatekeeper to the cells, as glucose can only enter cells in the presence of insulin.
Blood sugar concentration rises after we consume food, which in turn facilitates secretion of insulin so that cells take in glucose thus causing the blood sugar levels to fall back to normal. Skipping a meal on the other hand, triggers another hormone, glucagon to break down excess glucose stored in the body (Known as glycogen) in order to elevate blood sugar levels to a normal level.
Therefore, the body works to keep blood sugar at a normal level. But what is this normal healthy level?
Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level safeguards you against a plethora of diseases that arise in case of misbalanced blood sugar levels. Blood glucose levels are measured in mg/dl and keep changing throughout the day. The levels are influenced by what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat and the amount of exercise you’ve been doing.
A normal fasting blood sugar level ranges between 70 to 99mg/dl. By fasting, one means that you have not eaten in the past eight hours. Tests for checking the same are generally done after you wake up for the day before breakfast.
Blood sugar levels tested 2 hours after eating food, normally should be less than 140mg/dl.
As mentioned above, if your blood sugar levels are misbalanced and fall above or below the normal levels for any of the tests, it makes your body vulnerable to a host of problems.
So, what exactly happens if your blood sugar levels are too low or too high?
High blood sugar levels
When your blood sugar levels subsequently measure over 130 mg/dl when fasting and 180mg/dl after meals, you are presumably diabetic and hyperglycemic (abnormally high levels of glucose present in the blood). Other than manifesting as diabetes, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in your body which may cause loss of kidney function, eyesight, sensation in limbs and put you at a higher risk of heart disease. High blood sugar levels are the byproducts of insulin resistance or the lack of insulin in the body due to which, the concentration of sugar in the bloodstream just keeps increasing. If you experience the following, you might be hyperglycemic:
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Sudden loss of appetite
- Dryness of mouth
- Changes in vision
- Fatigue and headaches
Low blood sugar levels
Low blood sugar levels, on the other hand, are generally always below the normal levels and put you at the risk of hypoglycemia (abnormally low levels of blood sugar). The excess glucose stored in muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen is vital in maintaining the blood glucose levels in between meals. A reduction in the body’s ability to store glycogen can give rise to hypoglycemia. Interestingly, diabetes patients can also suffer from hypoglycemia and they often do. This happens when a diabetes patient takes insulin or diabetic medication to increase insulin production in the body but fails to balance its reactions with lifestyle changes. Cutting out completely on carbs, skipping meals and engaging in excessive physical activity can contribute to a fall in blood sugar levels when you’re diabetic. The symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- Cold sweats or constant sweating
- Feeling jittery or shaky
- Persistent fatigue
- Irregular or fast heart beats
- Fainting spells
- Changes in food habits
- Changes in vision
Some people may experience hypoglycemia when asleep too. Look out for these signs of a fall in blood sugar levels when asleep:
- Incessant sweating that leaves you and your bedclothes damp by the morning
- Nightmares or crying out during sleep
- Feeling drained, tired and irritable after waking up
So, the question arises, what should one do to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Here’s a list of 10 things you must take care of to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
1. Incorporate proteins into your breakfast
Breakfast is called the most important meal of the day and rightly so, as it helps regulate your blood sugar levels. Skipping breakfast leads to the production of stress hormones and the breaking down of muscle to produce energy that puts your body in a high-stress zone and drives your blood sugar levels completely off track. Instead of consuming only carbohydrates, try to eat more of proteins and fats at the beginning of your day. Fish, eggs, chicken, yogurt and milk are all great sources of proteins and good fats. Fat, proteins and carbs work in tandem to balance blood sugar as carbs provide glucose, fats slow down the absorption of glucose and protein helps glucose enter the cells to create energy.
2. Eat more fibers
Load up on vegetables, root vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains because these can help tackle unstable blood sugar levels. Fibers are of two kinds- soluble and insoluble. Out of the two, soluble fiber has been seen to help lower blood sugar levels. Moreover, fibers as a whole slow down carbohydrate digestion and absorption of sugar into our body, causing a sustained yet gradual rise in blood sugar levels. People with type 1 diabetes can also benefit from a high fiber diet which not only improves control of blood sugar but also prevents blood sugar levels from dropping too low. Peas, beans, broccoli, avocados, all sorts of beans, chia seeds, flax seeds and nuts are ideal fibrous foods that can be incorporated into your meals in tasty and innovative ways.
3. Manage stress
Stress is a well -known enemy of our overall health and hinders the proper functioning of mostly everything. Stress is also the arch nemesis of healthy blood sugar levels. It causes your hormones to go on red alert while increasing the stress hormone, cortisol. Stress can also trigger sugar cravings which will obviously wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. Therefore, battling stress and throwing it out of your system will make you and your body happier. Meditating, watching your breath and engaging in activities that make you feel fresh and happy such as reading, walking or anything uplifting are easy yet effective methods of reducing stress.
4. Get your sneakers out
The benefits of exercise can never be stressed upon enough and once again, we find that it can indeed help maintain your blood sugar levels too. A study found that women who did at least 2.5 hours of cardio and at least 1 hour of strength training each week ran the lowest risk of diabetes as compared to 1/3rd of the population of people who do not exercise. Exercise helps muscles absorb glucose from the bloodstream, thus balancing blood sugar levels. As you become more fit, your body ceases to be insulin resistant. Not only that, exercise helps burn off extra cortisol, the stress hormone and effectively reduces stress, thus stopping you from experiencing sugar cravings.
5. Catch up on your sleep
When you don’t sleep enough, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels becomes a tough task for your body. Loss of sleep promotes the secretion of stress hormones and gets you to feel fatigued and lethargic while making you hungrier, all of which result in weight gain and increased resistance to insulin. Low blood sugar levels can easily disturb your sleep, leaving you irritable and tired in the morning. To sleep better, set a routine that you can follow, distance yourself from technology before sleeping and lay off of caffeine and large meals before bedtime.
6. Cut back on caffeine
Too much of anything is not good and the same goes for caffeine. While it offers several benefits, caffeine may not be the best for your blood sugar levels. Research suggests that caffeine may curb your body’s ability to regulate hormones that manage the level of blood sugar. This generally results in increased levels of blood sugar. If possible, monitor your glucose levels after consuming caffeinated beverages and cut down on them gradually if you find the level is higher than it should be.
7. Shed some extra weight
Maintaining a healthy weight can do wonders for your holistic health and that is something universally known. What it can do for your blood sugar levels is no surprise either. Controlling your weight can help regulate healthy levels of blood sugar while reducing the risk of diabetes. A study published in Diabetes Care, 2002 shows that your risk of developing diabetes falls by almost 58% with a 7% drop in your body weight. Your waistline is also an indicator of diabetes risks. Women with waists measuring more than 35 inches and men with waists measuring more than 40 inches are more likely to become insulin resistant, thus increasing chances of developing type 2 diabetesand high blood sugar levels.
8. Stay hydrated
Drinking an adequate amount of water is absolutely essential for enhanced bodily functions. Water helps kidneys flush out extra blood sugar through urine, in addition to preventing dehydration. Instead of consuming aerated drinks and caffeinated beverages that raise blood sugar levels, weight and the risk of diabetes, consuming plain water is a far safer and healthier bet. Water will not only reduce your risk of developing hyperglycemia but will also rehydrate your blood, lower levels of blood glucose and reduce the risks of diabetes.
9. Incorporate spice into your diet
A combination of various spices added to your daily diet is not just great on the palate but also on your blood glucose levels. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests that a mixture of varied spices not only boosts the metabolism of cholesterol and glucose, but also reduces blood sugar and insulin levels. The spices include fenugreek, turmeric, cumin seeds, curry leaf, coriander, mustard and ginger, all of which have anti-diabetic properties.
10. Know that each person is unique
Each one of us is unique and so are our bodies and to expect anything to have the exact same effect on different people is thus, nothing but va Everyone reacts differently to the ways of managing blood sugar levels. Some foods that are otherwise healthy such as whole grains may cause blood sugar levels to rise instead of making them dip. Similarly, some people experience a rise in blood sugar levels when they consume fructose rich fruits while others don’t. All of our bodies are uniquely composed and it is hence up to you to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.