Diabetes Awareness Month: Four tips for better blood sugar control
Do you know someone with diabetes? Chances are you do, whether it’s a friend, family member, or even yourself.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that in 2019, 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. (over 37 million people), were living with diabetes. Of those, 8.5 million met the laboratory criteria for the diagnosis, but were not aware they had diabetes. It is estimated by 2050, 1 in 3 adults will have diabetes, with the elderly and minority groups experiencing the most rapid increase.
Diabetes is a medical condition that affects how food is turned into energy. Much of the food we eat is broken down into sugar (or glucose) in the digestive tract and absorbed into the bloodstream as blood sugar. The pancreas then produces insulin, a hormone which acts like a key to let the blood sugar into the body’s cells for energy.
For people with diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t make enough insulin or the body doesn’t use insulin properly, and blood sugar rises to an unhealthy level. High blood sugar, over time, is linked to the development of complications including vision problems and blindness, kidney disease, and heart and blood vessel disease. Diabetes comes at a high price, estimated at 327 billion dollars annually in health care costs, lost work, and wages. It is also the 8th leading cause of death in the United States.
A simple blood test called A1C is typically used to diagnose and track diabetes control. An A1C reading is an average of blood sugars over 2-3 months and is reported as a percentage:
Normal A1C readings are 4.7-5.6%
Prediabetes levels are 5.7-6.4%
Diabetes is diagnosed at 6.5% and above
Keeping levels at 7% or below is considered good control for most people. The higher the number above 7%, the more risk for long-term complications.
Decreases in A1C levels indicate improved blood sugar control and a decrease in the risk of complications. In the Endocrinology, Nutrition, and Diabetes Institute at HopeHealth, we’ve started the S.U.G.A.R Club (Success Under Gradual A1C Reduction) to encourage patients to work on reducing their A1C levels over time. The club offers recognition and incentive prizes for those who make strides to improve their overall health.
Here are 4 simple tips to consider to help improve blood sugar readings:
Talk to your health care provider. Having a conversation with your provider about your A1C levels and target goals, changes to make with food and drinks, or how much exercise is safe, can be helpful. Managing stress effectively and getting adequate sleep are two other considerations to help control blood sugar you can discuss with your provider.
Rethink your drink. Sugary beverages such as regular soda, sweet tea, fruit juice, and juice drinks are major factors in increasing blood sugar. A 12-ounce can of soda contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar! Choose water with a squeeze of lemon or lime for flavor, unsweet tea or coffee, or zero-sugar sodas. If you’re not ready to change completely, gradually replace some of your sweet drinks with water.
Adopt the plate method. This simple plan doesn’t require any measuring or counting! Use a 9-inch plate to help control portions.
Here’s how to divide your plate:
1. Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies such as salad greens, broccoli, green beans, onions, peppers, squash, etc.
2. Add lean protein to a quarter of the plate. Best ways to cook are to bake, broil, stew, grill, or air-fry. Good choices are poultry, seafood, or lean red meat, nuts, nut butters, cheese, and eggs.
3. To the remaining quarter, add a carbohydrate in the form of starch, milk, or fruit. This portion of the plate is the most important for controlling blood sugar!
Starch—potatoes, rice, whole grain pasta or bread, legumes, corn, or peas
Fruit—fresh, plain frozen, or low sugar canned
Milk or yogurt – 6-8 ounces unsweetened
4. Include water or a 0-calorie drink. Aim for 64 ounces of water a day.
Find ways to move more. Human bodies are made to move. If you’re sedentary, aim to get up every hour and move around for at least 3-5 minutes. Start slowly and build into longer times by adding a few minutes a week. If you use a wheelchair, look for free chair exercise sessions on Youtube. Do what you’re able to do to get moving. The goal is to build up to 150 minutes a week of heart-pumping activities you enjoy such as dancing, walking, swimming, gardening, or sports. Join a gym or check your local recreation department for more ideas and group activities.
Start to identify a small change you can make today to improve your blood sugar. Once it has become routine, add another small change. Making a commitment to get your blood sugar under control can help you feel better, have more energy, and possibly even need less medicine! For more information about the Endocrinology, Nutrition, and Diabetes Institute and the S.U.G.A.R Club, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 843-667-9414.