Blood sugar level is influenced by a vast number of causes. Food is one of them, including how much, how often and a combination of the different kinds of food; physical activity, hormone levels, to name a few.
The whole idea of the Diabetic Diet that I firmly believe exists, is to deliver a steady supply of carbs every a couple of hours. We’re talking about breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, and snack again. Carbs allowance is 3-4 per meal and 1-2 per snack. After a while of the hands-on carbs counting it becomes a second nature. For those wondering what I’m talking about, 1 carb = 15 g. Measuring cups help tremendously. For example, a quarter cup of cottage cheese represents one carb.
I am going to give a breakdown on the individual factors that affect blood sugar levels.
- First off, CARBS that is short for the carbohydrates. There are simple and complex carbs aka bad and good ones, respectively. The problem with the bad carbs is that they get digested quickly resulting is a blood sugar spike. The good carbs don’t do that; they get digested rather slowly.
Fiber belongs to the group of good carbs. Soluble fiber (oatmeal) helps control blood glucose levels, while insoluble (whole wheat bran) keeps your digestive tract working well. Another benefit of fiber is that it adds bulk to help make you feel full.
An example of bad carbs is sugar of all sorts as well as any dessert containing sugar or cane. The good carbs include whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, beans, oats, buckwheat, whole rye, and whole-grain barley, to name a few.
- CAFFEINE can give blood sugar a jolt. Even if you don’t add any sugar to your morning cup of coffee or tea, it can still drive up your blood glucose level. That’s because the caffeine in these drinks exaggerates the body’s response to carbohydrates, causing blood sugar to rise more than it normally would after meals.
- SUGAR-FREE FOOD. It can actually contain sugar that causes your numbers go up. For a short while I was proud of myself for being able to locate ‘sugar-free’ pancake syrup that tasted just as sweet on my oatmeal. The pride however was short-lived once I discovered that it did in fact contain Sorbitol, an alcohol sugar. It’s a simple sugar that will raise your blood sugar levels. Ditto for everything that ends with -ol. I don’t know how the manufacturers get away with it. Needless to say, the bottle went to the trash and the remaining contents down the sewer. From that point on, I have made a habit of checking the ingredients of food that looks too good to be true, and everything else for this matter.
- VINEGAR. A spoonful or two goes a long way. The website Diabetes in Control claims that 2 tablespoons of vinegar before a meal will dramatically reduce the spike in blood concentrations of insulin and glucose that come after a meal. You of course don’t have to actually drink straight vinegar; it can be used in form of an oil-and-vinegar or a vinaigrette salad dressing.
- WATER. Dehydration drives up blood sugar. When your body is short of fluids, the sugar in your circulation becomes more concentrated. When this happens, high blood sugar can cause you to urinate more, resulting in dehydration. So make sure to drink plenty of water. The rule of the thumb for us women is 8 by 8, meaning eight of 8 fl oz of water a day. The total is 64 fl oz aka half a gallon for the women.
- PHYSICAL ACTIVITY. When you exercise, your muscles use sugar for energy, therefore regular physical activity helps your body use insulin more efficiently and your blood sugar levels to stay within the target range. Set up an exercise plan. However don’t set up unrealistic expectations. If your diabetic educator insists that you jog every day that you know isn’t happening, stick to staying physically active or an occasional jog. Consider your other conditions such as for example, arthritis that sometimes can limit your physical activity somewhat.
Those on insulin or diabetic meds have to watch for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as physical activity can make it worse. Talk to your doctor; you might have to modify your meds or your diet. Your really need to know what to do if your blood sugar drops during exercise. Plan ahead.
Moreover, if you have type 1 diabetes, try not to do vigorous physical activity when you have ketones in your blood or urine.
- HORMONES. Menstrual cycles can make your blood sugar levels fluctuate. This is due to the hormonal changes that lead to the temporary change in resistance to insulin and can last up to a few days and then drop off. Some women report higher blood sugar levels a few days prior to their period starting. During the period, the blood sugar can be either too high or too low; this varies on an individual basis and can even vary from one month to another so the pattern can be quite unpredictable. Trimming back on the carbohydrates or squeezing in some extra exercise might help. If you increase your insulin, be careful to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as your insulin sensitivity can sometimes return quickly.
- MORE HORMONES. Pregnancy can affect blood glucose levels that is again, related to the hormonal changes, particularly hormones from the placenta. These hormones cause insulin resistance that in turn leads to glucose build up in the bloodstream also known as hyperglycemia. This is known as gestational diabetes that develops around the 24th week of pregnancy and usually goes away after pregnancy. This condition puts both the mother and the baby at risk, particularly for developing type 2 diabetes later on.
- MEDICATIONS including either over-the-counter or by prescription. For example, steroid drugs often used to treat inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disorders and asthma, can cause blood sugar levels to shoot up dramatically. Birth control pills, certain antidepressants, some diuretics, and nasal decongestants can also cause higher-than-normal readings. Other drugs can decrease blood sugar or interfere with your ability to recognize signs of low blood sugar. Diabetes in Control website has posted a list of drugs that can affect blood glucose levels.
- MORNING NUMBERS. There’s something called Dawn Phenomenon; it will cause a morning blood sugar spike even though your number was in the normal range when you went to bed the night before. Then at around 3 or 4 am your body releases certain hormones while you’re asleep. These hormones might make your body less sensitive to insulin, hence the higher blood sugar number in the morning.
On the other hand, you may start the day with a low glucose level if you’re taking too much insulin or a diabetic med at night and then not eating enough in the evening. I always make sure to have my evening snack of a cup of milk and 2 graham crackers that both make two carbs.
- STRESS OR ILLNESS can spike your blood sugar. Lack of sleep or a restless night is seen by your body as a form of stress; this too can bring on a high or a low. This is exactly what is happening to me when I stay up for the good part of the night; now I know the reason why.
- WEATHER. Hot or cold weather spell can bring on an unexpected high. Extreme temps can interfere with diabetes control. People with diabetes can vary in how their body responds to this. Some may see their blood sugar creep up on really hot days because it puts an extra stress on their system. Others, particularly those taking insulin, may experience the opposite effect. High temperatures cause blood vessels to dilate, which can enhance insulin absorption, potentially leading to low blood sugar. Staying indoors during the hottest part of the day helps, while monitoring blood sugar closely for changes when the mercury starts to rise.
- TRAVELING. Skipping a few time zones during a long flight is a big concern for people with diabetes. This can disrupt your medication schedule, as well as your usual eating and sleeping habits, which can in turn interfere with blood sugar control. Pack healthy snacks, check your sugar more often, bring along a refillable water bottle so that you will stay hydrated. If you take insulin while going through the time zones, be sure to work out a medication schedule, plan ahead before your trip.
- PLEASE NOTE: wash your hands before checking your blood sugar. Testing after handling food can produce a false high result, because sugar residues on the skin can contaminate the blood sample.
Speaking of residues, lotions and creams can also give inaccurate results. Today’s blood sugar meters are highly sensitive because they use a very tiny draw of blood, which means it is very easy to throw off the glucose concentration in the sample. If you can’t get to a sink to give your hands a good scrub, using the second drop of blood, after wiping away the first, can improve testing accuracy. A word of caution: do not use alcohol pads to wipe the first drop of blood, as alcohol can produce false high results. Using a 2 x 2 piece of gauze should suffice.
This posting doesn’t represent a complete list of the factors that affect blood sugar level. It’s just a brief compilation of my personal experiences, observations and an online research. I hope it will help my readers to manage their blood sugar more efficiently.