It used to be, back in the 1960s and 70s, the concern about eating too much candy was focused on sugar being bad for your teeth, leading to tooth decay and cavities. In today’s world, that’s the still the case, but what has changed when it comes to sugar is this: many scientific experts and public policy gurus believe we’re eating too much of it, in too many foods, too many times a day. All this has led to a growing health epidemic that needs to be addressed.
It’s not just the concern about our teeth anymore. An abundance of added sugar in the foods we eat is likely a direct or indirect contributor of chronic diseases and dangerous health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cancer and possibly more. The Sugar Association takes a more nuanced position, reminding us that sugar is a carbohydrate and carbohydrates play an important role in fueling the body.
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What’s the difference between added sugar and naturally occurring sugars? The latter generally refers to sugar found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. The term “added sugars” was formally defined by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016 as “sugars that are added during the processing of foods…” and includes not only sugar, but many other sweeteners that are classified as sugar. Here, the Sugar Association, which believes that sugar is best enjoyed in moderation, provides some additional information about the differences.
The most obvious food culprits for feeding a sugary frenzy include desserts (candy, cookies, cake, ice cream, doughnuts) and drinks (soft drinks, flavored coffee and some sports and energy drinks). But it may surprise you to learn that even if you don’t eat a lot of desserts or are on a low carb diet, you still may not have low blood sugar levels.
Still, the U.S. government and the World Health Organization now recommend that Americans two years and older keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily calories. This means in a 2,000-calorie diet, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars. Added sugars are a little more obvious to identify now as the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods was updated to require manufacturers to include the number of grams and percent of daily value for added sugars.
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There are numerous lifestyle and dietary changes that can impact your blood sugar and its potential effect on your health. And we’ll get to those in a bit. But there is another aspect of this discussion that should also be considered when it comes to understanding whether or not your blood sugar levels may be problematic for your health.
That’s the conversation around the tests available to help you better understand whether your blood sugar levels are putting you at risk. Some people mistakenly think that you should only consider these kinds of tests if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic or have a family history that predisposes you to chronic illnesses. At OmegaQuant, we believe that anyone can benefit from understanding their health, including their glucose metabolism.
Taking Control of Your Numbers is Key to Managing Your Glucose Levels
Glucose is a simple sugar that is absorbed into the bloodstream when your body breaks down carbohydrate foods. Glucose is the primary sugar found in your blood.
There are several types of tests available to check your glucose levels. We’ll review a few of them in this blog and we’ve provided links that will lead you to more information, if you want it.
There are tests that we’re not focusing on in today’s blog. For example, diabetics may need to consistently monitor their glucose levels on a daily basis or even more frequently related to timing of meals. For that purpose, there are glucose monitors and blood sugar meters, all part of at-home self-testing.
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Instead, today’s blog is focused on helping you figure out where your blood sugar levels land, so you can work to ensure they get to and stay in a healthy range. While these tests may help identify if you have—or are at risk for—type 2 diabetes, our purpose is to focus your efforts to not get to that point.
It quite simply makes sense to know your numbers so you can manage your glucose levels, even before you get to the point of pre-diabetes.
If you’re wondering more specifically how blood sugar is tested and how blood sugar is measured, let’s get started.
Short-term Tests for Glucose Levels
- Fasting Blood Sugar Test
This test gives you a “one-time snapshot” of your current glucose level. To prepare for this test, you will need to fast for at least 8 hours prior (some doctors recommend 10-12 hours). Placing a small needle in a vein in your arm, the health care professional will draw a blood sample, which will then be sent to a laboratory to determine your fasting blood sugar levels.
Your results are normal at 99 mg/dL or below; prediabetes is indicated at 100 – 125 mg/dL; and if your test comes back at 126 mg/dL or higher, you are in the diabetic range and your doctor may order another or different (such as an A1c) test to confirm these results.
- Non-fasting Blood Sugar Test
This test may also be referred to as a “random” blood sugar test, because you don’t do anything to prepare for it. Like the previous option, it provides a specific glimpse of your glucose situation, at a single point in time. Assuming you have eaten prior to the test, your numbers may be higher and the interpretation of the results takes that into account. For example, if you have a doughnut and a breakfast burrito right before you get your blood drawn—well, the results will likely pick up more sugar in your blood.
This test does not identify results in the normal or pre-diabetic range, but only identifies if diabetes is present, which is evident with this test when results are 200 mg/dL or above.
- Glucose Tolerance Test
This test is one that is often recommended to pregnant women to diagnose gestational diabetes, a specific type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. The test measures your body’s ability to maintain a normal blood glucose level.
It can also be recommended for others considered at risk for diabetes. According to the CDC, you will be asked to fast overnight and then have your blood drawn to determine your blood fasting level. Then you’ll be given a liquid glucose drink. Your sugar levels will be checked at 1-hour, 2- hour and 3-hour intervals.
A blood sugar level of 140 mg/dL or lower at the two-hour mark is considered normal; prediabetes is indicated at 140 to 199 mg/dL; and if your results are 200 mg/dL or higher, diabetes is indicated. (Results for pregnant women are different.)
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Longer-Term Test for Glucose Levels
- A1c Test
Also known as the hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c test, this test also measures the amount of sugar (aka glucose) in your blood but with one important distinction from the short-term tests: it measures your average blood sugar over the past three months, giving you a fuller picture. It’s also a simple blood test, either through a short needle in an arm vein, or through a finger prick. The latter is often used with at-home tests. Because the test is not looking at only your current glucose level, you don’t need to fast before taking it.
Another important difference from the earlier tests is in how the results are measured. When glucose builds up in the blood, it binds to a protein called hemoglobin A. Hemoglobin A1c is the percentage of Hemoglobin A that has a glucose molecule attached.
As this material explains, the higher the glucose level in your bloodstream, the more glucose will attach to the hemoglobin. The results of the A1C test are reported as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the higher your blood glucose levels.
A normal A1C level is below 5.7%; prediabetes is considered to be within the range of 5.7 – 6.4%; and diabetes is indicated at 6.5% and higher.
Regular testing is key to managing your blood sugar levels. At OmegaQuant, we recommend an HbA1c test every three to four months because your blood glucose levels change and are influenced by many things. The goal is long-term control of your blood sugar. Using this test regularly can help guide you to make necessary lifestyle modifications to keep your blood glucose numbers in line and discuss treatment decisions if needed with your doctor.
Making Dietary and Lifestyle Changes to Impact Your Glucose Levels
Here are some ways to bring your blood glucose levels in-line with the optimal recommendations.
- Diet matters. To improve blood sugar control, limit processed foods and added sugars. Don’t eliminate carbs totally from your diet but focus on eating complex carbs. And be aware that any carbohydrate, even the healthy ones, can be broken down into glucose by your body.
- Eat balanced meals/snacks. Aim to include protein and healthy fats along with complex carbs that are high in fiber to reduce blood sugar spikes, improve satiety and increase digestion time.
- Practice physical activity. Not only is this important for your overall health, but it’s especially effective in reducing blood sugar and improving the effectiveness of insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas that helps control your body’s blood sugar.
- Manage stress. Stress signals your body to release cortisol, a hormone whose main function is to increase glucose output from your liver. Over time, this can lead to elevated blood sugar.
- Good sleep is a must. Did you know that those who sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to have elevated HbA1c levels? Aim for between seven and nine.
Get Control of Your Blood Sugar Before it Gets Control of You
It’s always simpler to solve a problem before there is one. At OmegaQuant we recommend aiming for optimal nutrition levels. In the case of HbA1c, the widely accepted optimal range is 4.5 – 5.7%. For one thing, some research shows that people in that range have the lowest risk of all-cause mortality.
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At OmegaQuant, we’re here to help you achieve your best nutritional status. That’s why we’re proud to announce we just launched our HbA1c test. It’s a simple at-home finger prick blood spot analysis and we make it easy for you to share the results with your doctor so you can work on a plan to stay in—or get to—that optimal range. More information here and scroll down here to find HbA1c FAQs.