- What is a high A1C level symptomatic of?
- Why is it essential to correct high A1C levels?
- How can you normalize your A1C levels?
- How do you test for A1c levels?
- Foods that help lower your A1C
- Which foods should you avoid to prevent high A1c levels?
- What supplements can I take to lower my a1c level?
- Tips for maintaining a healthy A1C level
The hemoglobin A1c is a blood test frequently used for people with diabetes. It’s also used as a screening test to determine if someone is at high risk of developing diabetes mellitus.
This test measures the average blood sugar (blood glucose) level over the past 2-3 months. It does this by determining how much sugar was attached to the hemoglobin protein in red blood cells in that time frame.
It gives a bigger picture of blood sugar levels than a one-time blood glucose test.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a normal A1C level is below 5.7 percent. If your score is between 5.7 and 6.4 percent, the diagnosis is prediabetes. This article will discuss how to lower a1c.
What is a high A1C level symptomatic of?
Having a high A1c level is indicative of having either prediabetes or diabetes. Prediabetes is the condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to be considered diabetes.
People with prediabetes are more likely to develop diabetes later in life if their A1c isn’t lowered through lifestyle changes.
A normal A1c level is below 5.7%. Prediabetes is indicated with an A1c between 5.7% and 6.4%.
Diabetes is diagnosed when the hemoglobin A1c is 6.5% or higher. The higher the number, equals higher the blood glucose levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends an A1c goal of less than 7% for people with existing diabetes.
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Why is it essential to correct high A1C levels?
Having high A1c levels indicates a problem with blood sugar regulation. Insulin resistance, which is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes, is a common cause of an elevated A1c.
Having a high A1c when you have diabetes means that your treatment plan might not be working as well as intended, which warrants a visit with your healthcare provider.
Having high blood sugars over a prolonged period of time can increase the risk of complications for your long-term health, including increased risk of a heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke.
High blood sugar damages blood vessels and arteries, leading to other potential diabetes complications such as nerve damage, eye damage, kidney problems, and poorly-healing wounds leading to amputations.
How can you normalize your A1C levels?
For people with diabetes, diabetes self-management and following a treatment plan is essential for lowering A1c levels. Some aspects of a diabetes care plan include medication use, routine blood tests, checking blood sugar levels at home, and making healthy lifestyle changes.
For people with prediabetes, lifestyle changes are the most helpful in lowering A1c levels. Making healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier, being more active, and stopping smoking, can help improve insulin resistance and normalize A1c levels.
How do you test for A1c levels?
A1c levels can’t be tested for at home, unlike day-to-day blood sugar levels. A healthcare provider needs to order an A1c to be tested at an accredited laboratory. The A1c test can either be tested using a blood draw, or a “stat” A1c, which can be tested using a fingerstick blood sugar sample.
Both of these tests are analyzed by the laboratory, and results are available within minutes (for the stat test) or a day or so for the regular blood draw A1c.
Foods that help lower your A1C
Which foods can you add to your diet to help reduce your A1C levels?
A healthy diet is shown to help lower A1c levels and is vital for people with both prediabetes and diabetes. Aspects of a healthy diet include:
1) Focusing on unsaturated fats over saturated and trans fat
Saturated fat is usually solid at room temperature and predominantly comes from animal products such as high-fat meats and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fat is also found in coconut and palm oils.
Trans fat is considered the least healthy of all the fats, as it increases the risk of heart disease significantly.
The Food and Drug Administration banned the use of trans fats in products effective in 2018. The most common source of trans fat in foods is partially hydrogenated oil.
Eating a diet rich in unsaturated fat is better for heart health and may help reduce inflammation. People with high blood sugar tend to have more inflammation in their bodies, so an anti-inflammatory diet is important.
Fats don’t raise blood sugar levels and is an important part of a balanced diet. Foods rich in unsaturated fats that are great to include to lower A1c include:
- Nuts/nut butter
- Fatty fish, such as salmon
- Vegetable oils
2) Eat fiber-rich carbohydrates over refined carbohydrates
Carbohydrates affect blood sugar more than protein and fat. This doesn’t mean they’re bad, but there are definitely healthier sources of carbohydrates and less nutritious carbohydrates.
Refined carbohydrates have been stripped of much of their nutrition and tend to increase blood sugar levels more quickly than fiber-rich carbohydrates. An example of a refined carbohydrate is white bread; a healthier choice would be choosing whole grain bread with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Some examples of non-refined, high-fiber carbohydrates to include in your diet to lower A1c include:
- Vegetables (fresh or frozen; canned is acceptable, but is higher in salt and lower in fiber).
Some vegetables are higher in carbohydrates than others, and they are considered starchy vegetables; examples are potatoes, corn, peas, and legumes. These foods raise blood glucose more than non-starchy vegetables.
Examples of non-starchy vegetables that are good for lowering A1c include:
- Beans (green beans, wax beans, etc.)
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Salad greens (kale, spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, etc.)
- Snap peas
- Tomatoes (technically a fruit!)
Fruit has natural sugar, so portion size is important when considering its impact on blood sugar levels.
Eating a lot of fruit can still raise blood sugar, even though it is very healthy and a good source of fiber. Balancing fruit with other foods that don’t raise blood sugar much is a good strategy to lower A1c.
Whole grains such as whole wheat products, brown rice, and oatmeal. The ingredient list shouldn’t contain “enriched flour,” because that is a refined carbohydrate and is low in fiber. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
3) Eat lean protein sources
Protein helps increase satiety after eating, and can also slow the digestion of carbohydrates, which slows down the blood sugar response. Protein is also important for muscle growth and wound healing.
Lean protein is low in saturated fat. Examples of lean protein include:
- Poultry, such as skinless chicken and turkey. Chicken breast is very lean, and a popular favorite as it’s quite versatile.
- Legumes, such as black beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, etc. This protein source is also a high-fiber carbohydrate, so it impacts blood sugar more than other sources of protein.
- Lean beef contains less than 10 grams of fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 100-gram serving.
- Lean pork such as pork tenderloin is low in fat and rich in protein.
- Bison and wild game tends to be very lean.
- Eggs are relatively low in fat compared to their protein content. Egg whites contain mostly protein and contain very little fat. Some people choose to eat only egg whites if their cholesterol levels are high.
- Low-fat dairy such as low-fat milk, reduced-fat cottage cheese, and low-fat Greek yogurt are all great sources of protein. Be sure to choose unsweetened varieties to help lower A1c.
4) Choose unsweetened beverages
Sugar-sweetened beverages are a leading source of added sugar in the typical Western diet. Avoiding soda, juice, sweetened tea, and fruit drinks can help lower A1c. Sugary drinks raise blood sugar more quickly than food. Choosing water is best, though some people prefer to use sugar-free beverages as well.
Which foods should you avoid to prevent high A1c levels?
The biggest culprit for increasing blood sugars are added sugars and refined carbohydrates. Foods that aren’t beneficial for lowering A1c levels and should be avoided, or at least eaten less frequently, include:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda and iced tea
- Sugary desserts, such as cake and ice cream
- Any food with added sugar, such as granola bars, sweetened cereals, and flavored yogurts
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, and muffins
- Trans fat in the form of processed and fried foods
What supplements can I take to lower my a1c level?
Some supplements have shown some promise in their ability to lower blood sugar levels. They shouldn’t be used in place of a healthy lifestyle, though.
- Cinnamon is a more well-known supplement for its potential blood sugar-lowering effects. Some studies have found that cinnamon can help lower fasting blood sugar, as well as help promote normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Aloe vera may help to lower blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c, as well as improve cholesterol levels. There are few studies on this topic, though.
- Chromium is a mineral that is beneficial for insulin action and carbohydrate metabolism. People with diabetes often have lower levels of chromium than people without diabetes. Supplements containing chromium picolinate have been found to improve blood sugar control.
- Fenugreek can help lower blood sugar by increasing insulin levels. Another benefit is that it can also help lower cholesterol levels.
Tips for maintaining a healthy A1C level
People with diabetes should have their A1c level checked every 3-6 months, according to the American Diabetes Association.
People at higher risk of developing diabetes should ask their healthcare provider how often they need to check their A1c; it’s usually checked every 1-3 years for these individuals.
Other than having a healthy diet, as mentioned above, being regularly physically active and stopping smoking are some things that can help you maintain a healthy A1c level. Aim to get 150 minutes of physical activity per week, and avoid being sedentary for more than an hour at a time when you can.
People with diabetes, prediabetes, or who are at risk of developing diabetes are more likely to have high A1c levels. Risk factors include a family history of type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Practicing good diabetes management, combined with a healthy diet and exercise, can help to lower hemoglobin a1c.
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