Recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, PCOS, or simply notice a spike and crash in your energy? You’re not alone. The root of these conditions lies in metabolic health. Interestingly, only a mere 12% of the U.S. population is metabolically unhealthy. And metabolic health is key for almost all human functions—sustained energy, cognitive function, hormone health, and more. Today, we’re diving into one facet of metabolic health: Blood sugar. Specifically, sneaky things that can cause blood sugar spikes. If you’ve been living with a metabolic issue, you’re likely accustomed to blood sugar imbalances. One moment, you’re feeling fine—the next, you’re hangry or lightheaded. Good news is, keeping blood sugar in check can help alleviate many of these symptoms.
Why is blood sugar balance important?
Maintaining stable blood sugar can be life-changing. If your blood sugar is currently unstable, there is a solution. With a few tweaks, you can feel much more vibrant, energetic, and focused!
So, why is blood sugar balance important? You want to keep your blood sugar levels in your target range, as often as possible. This helps prevent or delay long-term, serious health problems. Think: Heart disease, vision loss, kidney disease, and unwanted weight gain. On a day-to-day basis, staying in your target range is also equally important. It can improve your energy, balance hormones, and stabilize your mood. Speaking of hormones, if you struggle with intense PMS symptoms, this could be a result of mismanaged blood sugar.
What Are normal Blood Sugar Levels?
A normal blood sugar range will vary. For someone who hasn’t eaten or drank anything besides water (also known as the “fasted state”), normal blood sugar is below 100 mg/dL. Anything at or above 100 mg/dL is considered borderline high, and a fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dL or higher is often indicative of diabetes.
In a non-fasted state, blood sugar should be between 70-130 mg/dL, and should fall below 140 mg/dL two hours after eating a meal.
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, occurs when blood sugar levels fall below 70 mg/dL, and any blood sugar spikes over 200 mg/dL is considered very high, regardless of the time or respect to eating. If you want to start testing your blood sugar at home, this is the glucometer kit I recommend.
Keep in mind that glucometers are manufactured using the same worldwide accepted standards. They must be accurate within 15% of the true glucose number, 95% of the time. If you take your reading several times in one minute, all of them will be different, due to the fact that at-home glucometers are only capable of a close approximation. If you did 3 tests and got 80, 90 and 100, those are all well within the accepted standards. Of course, consult your doctor or healthcare provider before using a glucometer.
What factors impact bood sugar leves?
Many factors influence blood sugar levels. Food, activity, stress, can illness can affect your blood sugar levels. Genetics also play a role. Those with a family history of prediabetes (or diabetes) are at higher risk of having elevated blood sugar. Besides family history, some risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes include:
- Being overweight
- Age 45 or older
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- A history of gestational diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women
- Race (African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk)
However, the benefits of healthy eating and exercise are well-established. They’re often the first line of defense to help lower blood sugar levels. Consistently eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar raises blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, added sugar is in just about everything—from condiments to sauces, crackers, granola bars, cereal, and more—and it’s a culprit for raising blood sugar. Refined sugars are rapidly digested and converted into glucose. In turn, spiking blood sugar.
4 Tips to help manage blood sugar levels
Before we dive into sneaky things that cause blood sugar spikes, below are four tips to help you manage your blood sugar. Knowledge is power.
Pair carbs with protein or fat.
This will help slow the rate of sugar entering your bloodstream. A few examples: A handful of nuts with a piece of fruit, crackers with cheese, and eggs, turkey sausage, avocado, etc. with your morning toast. In essence, adopting a diet that is rich in fiber and low in refined carbohydrates and sugar can promote healthy blood sugar levels. While meticulously counting carbs is not a long-term goal, it can be helpful, initially. Opting for roughly 30-50 grams of carbs, per meal, can help promote balanced blood sugar. However, everyone is different. If you’re new to understanding carb intake, let’s work together! When it comes to balancing blood sugar spikes, having a health coach, nutrition consultant, or RD—to provide nutritional support—is key.
Water reduces blood sugar by diluting the amount of sugar in the blood. Aim for filtered water with electrolytes (this powder is delicious and has no sugar added).
Move your body.
Being physically active also helps to reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar. Muscles use up extra blood glucose during exercise, which is why resistance training is so beneficial. However, never underestimate the advantages of walking!
Get quality sleep.
Too little sleep causes cortisol to rise, thus causing blood sugar to rise as well. Keep in mind that sleep and glucose have a bi-directional relationship. In one direction, how well or poorly you sleep will directly impact your glucose levels. In the other direction, what your glucose levels are like going into the night will impact your sleep. If we work together, 1:1, I can tailor your meal plan to meet your glucose (and sleep) needs.
10 surprising blood sugar triggers
While there are general factors that can send your blood sugar soaring, it’s also helpful to know sneaky things that can cause blood sugar spikes.
Some people are extra-sensitive to caffeine (you might feel an intense adrenaline rush, get the jitters, feel very anxious, have a headache, etc.). While coffee may impact insulin levels, more research is necessary. To avoid blood sugar spikes from caffeine, be sure to eat breakfast before and ideally add a source of healthy fat, unsweetened milk, and / or protein to your coffee.
Speaking of breakfast, skipping your morning meal can do more harm than good for your blood sugar levels. When you skip breakfast, you’re running on cortisol, which will spike blood sugar through lunch (and potentially dinner). The goal is to eat intuitively and honor your hunger, but consider whether you’re intentionally suppressing your appetite in the morning.
Yes, fruit is a healthy choice, but dried versions pack more carbohydrates in a smaller serving size. For example, 2 tablespoons of raisins, dried cranberries, or dried cherries have very similar carbs as a small piece of fruit. Ideally, opt for dried fruit without any added sugar or sulfites. Additionally, combine dried fruit with raw nuts, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate for a DIY, blood sugar-friendly trail mix.
Opt for anti-inflammatory oils, instead! We’re inundated with inflammatory oils in salad dressings, packaged goods, sweets, and more. Unfortunately, inflammatory foods—including oils like soybean oil and canola oil—affect our cells. It makes them insulin resistant, leading to chronically elevated blood sugar levels.
Interestingly, very hot temperatures, along with getting a painful sunburn, can significantly affect your blood sugar levels. For example, extreme heat can cause blood vessels to dilate, which makes insulin absorb more quickly and could lead to low blood sugar.
Not only does spending long hours in the sun potentially cause a spike in blood sugar, but it can lead to dehydration, too. And dehydration also leads to higher blood sugar concentration. We need to be adequately hydrated to manage blood sugar.
Lack of sleep
Even partial sleep deprivation (over one night) increases insulin resistance, which can in turn increase blood sugar levels. As mentioned, sleep and glucose have a bi-directional relationship. Sleep directly impacts your glucose levels, but your pre-bed glucose levels will also impact your sleep.
Much like sleep, blood sugar imbalance leads to higher blood sugar (glucose) levels in your mouth’s fluids. This promotes the growth of bacteria that can cause gum disease. Additionally, infections from untreated periodontal disease can cause the blood sugar to rise and make it harder to control diabetes.
Like, a bad cold. Your blood sugar rises as your body works to fight off an illness. Drink water and other fluids to stay hydrated. Be aware that some medicines, such as antibiotics and decongestants that clear sinuses, can affect your blood sugar. When in doubt, call your doctor.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.