Keeping your blood sugar levels stable might feel like a balancing act sometimes.
The main goal of managing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is to prevent both high and low blood sugar.
Both high and low blood sugar come with risks and can impact your overall health and quality of life.
Blood sugar spikes can make it difficult to reach blood sugar goals and may end up causing more health problems over time.
If you’re wondering how to keep blood sugar stable so you can live your best, healthiest life, then you’ve come to the right place for some easy tips.
What is a blood sugar spike?
A blood sugar spike is when your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels increase sharply. Another word for high blood sugar is hyperglycemia, and it can cause long-term health problems if it happens often.
If they happen frequently and over a long time, blood sugar spikes can cause health complications. Chronic high blood sugar causes the hardening of your arteries, which reduces blood flow to essential organs like your heart.
Blood sugar spikes are most common after eating, but they can occur at other times during the day as well. Blood sugar spikes happen when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin (or insulin resistance), which raises your blood sugar level higher than what is considered healthy.
Some of the potential complications from frequent blood sugar spikes include heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, vision loss, nerve damage, and more. These complications can occur with both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Blood sugar targets after eating
Your blood sugar goals might be different from other patients with diabetes. Your healthcare provider can help you identify your ideal blood sugar range based on factors such as other health conditions, your age, and your risk for low blood sugar.
In general, if your blood sugar levels increase quickly and are higher than 180 mg/dL, it can be considered a blood sugar spike. You might also consider a rapid change in blood sugar as a blood sugar spike, even if it doesn’t go as high as 180 mg/dL or higher.
The goal for blood sugar levels after eating (when most blood sugar spikes occur) are as follows:
- Less than 180 mg/dL one to two hours after starting a meal
- Less than 140 mg/dL two hours after a meal
- For women with gestational diabetes: Less than 140 mg/dL one hour after a meal, and less than 120 mg/dL two hours after a meal
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13 Simple Tips to Prevent Blood Sugar Spikes
1. Practice portion control when it comes to carbohydrates
Carbohydrates (carbs) are a type of nutrient your body uses for energy. Carbohydrates are found in foods like grains, fruit, legumes, vegetables, and some dairy products like milk and yogurt.
Many vegetables are very low in carbohydrates, but a few vegetables are considered starchy. Starchy vegetables contain more starch, a carbohydrate type that raises your blood sugar. Examples of starchy vegetables include potatoes, winter squash, corn, and peas.
To practice portion control of carbohydrates and promote stable blood sugar levels, try keeping your carbohydrate portions to a quarter of your plate, similar to the Plate Method for Diabetes. This method doesn’t require any counting of carbohydrates but instead helps you visualize your carbohydrate portions.
2. Avoid sugary drinks
Sweet drinks like soda, sweetened tea and coffee, and fruit-flavored drinks are packed with added sugar. To make matters worse, liquids are emptied from your stomach very quickly, which means the sugar from the drinks is available in your bloodstream much quicker than eating solid food with carbohydrates or sugar.
Sugary drinks are one of the leading culprits behind blood sugar spikes. One 12-ounce can of standard cola provides 33 grams of added sugar, which is beyond the daily recommendation of fewer than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women and close to the limit of fewer than 36 grams of added sugar per day for men.
3. Cut back on added sugars
Sugary drinks aren’t the only sources of added sugar. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina, it’s estimated that 60% of packaged foods contain added sugar of some form.
Processed foods don’t always appear unhealthy – yogurt, cereal, bread, and other foods can contain hidden added sugar. Check the nutrition facts label when shopping to help cut back on hidden added sugars.
4. Eat balanced meals that include protein and healthy fats
Protein is one of the three main nutrients, along with carbohydrates and fat. Unlike carbohydrates, protein doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes as certain carbohydrates can. Eating protein with carbohydrates can promote more balanced blood sugar levels and help prevent blood sugar spikes.
Examples of protein include meat (red and white meat), poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and nut butter, seeds, legumes, and soy products.
Fats don’t significantly impact your blood sugar levels either, and they can help make you feel full. Healthy fats are high in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fat. Eating healthy fats can also help promote healthy cholesterol levels.
Healthy fats typically come from plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and avocados, but they’re also found in fatty fish like salmon.
5. Take diabetes medication as prescribed
If you take diabetes medication, be sure to take it as prescribed by your healthcare provider. This is especially important if you take insulin to help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
If you don’t take enough insulin, you may be more prone to having blood sugar spikes. Mealtime insulin is meant to be taken before meals to help avoid blood sugar spikes, so it’s important to remember to take it with you when traveling or eating meals outside your home.
6. Include exercise in your daily routine
Being physically active helps lower your blood sugar levels. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity in patients with insulin resistance, which is the primary cause of type 2 diabetes.
When you’re active, your muscle cells take up sugar for energy. You can enjoy these benefits with both cardiovascular activity as well as weight lifting or resistance training.
Aim to get 30 minutes of physical activity each day. You can break it up into smaller segments to accommodate your busy lifestyle, such as three 10-minute bouts instead of straight 30 minutes.
7. Don’t over-correct hypoglycemia
You might think that low blood sugar has nothing to do with blood sugar spikes, but it plays a large role in keeping blood sugar levels stable.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) occurs when your blood sugar levels fall below 70 mg/dL. The most common symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- Feeling shaky and/or dizzy
- Feeling irritable or moody
- Feeling anxious or nervous
Hypoglycemia can occur for several reasons, like:
- Too much insulin or diabetes medications: Some diabetes medications cause low blood sugar, such as insulin and sulfonylureas. Taking too much insulin or other diabetes medications can cause hypoglycemia, especially if you don’t eat enough carbs or are highly active.
- Not eating enough carbohydrates: If you’re on a very low carb diet, you might experience low blood sugar, especially if you take blood sugar-lowering medication.
- Physical activity and/or weight loss: Physical activity stimulates your body to take up more glucose for energy which can cause low blood sugar, especially if you don’t eat enough carbs around the time of exercise.
Avoid over-treating low blood sugar, which can cause a rebound blood sugar spike. To treat low blood sugar, it’s ideal to drink half a cup of fruit juice or another simple sugar that provides 15 grams of carbohydrates. Re-check your blood sugar in 15 minutes and repeat the treatment until your blood sugar is above 70 mg/dL.
8. Try to lose a few pounds if you can
If you’re considered overweight, losing weight might help stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent blood sugar spikes.
Losing 5-10% of your initial body weight can help prevent diabetes for at-risk people and improve blood glucose control if you already have diabetes. For a 200-pound person, that would equal a 10-20 pound weight loss.
Weight loss improves insulin sensitivity and can help your body better control your blood sugar levels.
9. Don’t neglect good sleeping habits
Sleep deprivation can worsen insulin resistance and cause blood sugar spikes. Poor sleeping habits and shift work have been associated with increased blood sugar levels and are risk factors for developing diabetes.
Lack of sleep or a disrupted circadian rhythm seems to interfere with the body’s insulin response, leading to insulin resistance.
There are also several things you can do to improve sleep hygiene, such as:
- Limiting daytime naps
- Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants close to bedtime
- Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine
- Exercising during the day
- Avoiding heavy, fatty, or spicy foods close to bedtime
- Being exposed to natural light during the day
- Keeping the sleeping environment comfortable, e.g., temperature between 60-67 degrees, using white noise machines, etc.
10. Swap out refined carbs for complex carbs
Refined carbohydrates, or refined carbs, have been stripped of some of their nutrients during processing and aren’t in their natural form. Another type of refined carbohydrate is added sugars like white sugar and corn syrup.
Both of these types of carbohydrates are also referred to as simple carbs/sugars. When sugar is more simple, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to break it down for absorption, which means it causes blood sugar spikes more than complex carbs.
Some examples of refined carbs and their complex carb counterparts:
- White bread – whole wheat bread
- Potato chips – sweet potatoes
- White rice – brown rice
- Sweetened cereal – plain oatmeal
- Sweetened applesauce – whole apples
11. Focus on fiber
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but it doesn’t raise your blood sugar since your body can’t absorb it. Eating fiber-rich carbs might help prevent blood sugar spikes.
Some examples of high-fiber foods include whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, etc.), fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber daily to help promote stable blood sugar levels, avoid blood sugar spikes, and promote heart and digestive health.
12. Manage your stress level
When you’re stressed, your body’s adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol triggers the fight-or-flight response, which results in physical changes such as your pupils dilating and heart rate increasing. Cortisol also increases your blood sugar levels and reduces insulin levels, according to a study.
The problem with chronic stress is that cortisol levels remain increased for much longer than is healthy. Prolonged stress can cause health problems, including the risk of having blood sugar spikes. Some studies have found that cortisol is associated with increased blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Exercise, journaling, focusing on deep breathing, and talking therapy are just a few examples of stress-reducing activities.
RELATED: How To Naturally Reduce Cortisol Levels.
13. Keep a food/blood sugar journal
How your blood sugar responds to different foods is unique, and no two people with diabetes have the exact same blood sugar responses. Keeping a journal of the foods and drinks you eat and your blood sugar levels can help you identify foods that are more likely to cause blood sugar spikes.
If you need help navigating your food and drink choices to prevent blood sugar spikes, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a Registered Dietitian (RD). Some RDs are certified in diabetes care, which is even better.
Blood sugar spikes occur when your blood sugar levels increase quickly. A spike in blood sugar can increase your overall blood sugar levels and worsen your blood sugar control.
The main ways to prevent blood sugar spikes and keep your blood sugar stable are through diet and exercise, as well as taking medications as prescribed. By preventing blood sugar spikes, you’re more likely to have good control of your blood sugar and reduce your risk of diabetes complications.