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When you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar within range can be a tricky business, especially since everyone's body reacts differently. Certain foods may cause your blood sugar to drastically spike, whereas your friend or relative can chow down on them with nary a fluctuation. This is why the best thing you can do to keep your blood sugar on the rails is to find your formula, and stick with it.
"The first step I always recommend in maintaining stable blood sugar is paying attention to patterns," says Hailey Crean, RD, a Massachusetts-based certified diabetes educator. Take note of how a certain food usually impacts you, or how much a 30-minute walk might lower your blood sugar. "Picking up on these patterns can help you prepare for highs and lows and do better at avoiding them," she says.
Here, experts recommend the most efficient ways to raise or lower your blood sugar on the fly. Take them for a spin, adjust accordingly based on your body's needs, and bust out them out whenever you need to show glucose who's boss:
"When blood sugars are low, the first goal is to bring them up to above 70 mg/dL with a simple and fast-acting source of sugar," says Crean. "Once your blood sugar is above this goal, you want to eat a balanced meal or snack that contains some additional carbohydrates, plus protein and fat to help keep it stable." Think: A handful of whole-grain crackers topped with a tablespoon of peanut butter.
The general rule of thumb is to consume 15 grams of carbs, then wait 15 minutes before checking your blood sugar again. (Any more than that, and you run the risk of raising your blood sugar too high.) If it's still too low, repeat the process. "A good premeal blood sugar range to comfortably stay within would be 80 to 130 mg/dL," says Crean.
Here are some super-convenient ways to get your blood sugar back on track, stat.
Fruit's an excellent food to level out your blood sugar with, says Janet Zappe, RN, a certified diabetes educator at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's Diabetes & Metabolism Research Center. Fruit contains natural sugar and carbohydrate. Since the act of chewing takes time and effort, you're much less likely to overeat fruit than say, fruit juice.
Try gummy bears or jelly beans. "A small pack is usually 15-17 grams [of carbs], which is ideal," says Zappe. "They're inexpensive, hold up to weather conditions, and only take a few minutes to eat."
Typically found in the kids' food aisle, juice boxes are easily portable, and a perfect way to score 15 grams of carbs without going overboard, adds Zappe.
If nausea tends to strike when your blood sugar's low, candied ginger can give your body the one-two punch necessary to both raise your blood sugar and alleviate queasiness, says Texas-based certified diabetes educator Linzi Cruz, RD.
Since glucose tablets are premeasured, you don't have to worry about overeating or raising your blood glucose too much. "They hold up in heat or cold, and come in tons of flavors," says Zappe. You can keep rolls in your desk at work, in your car console or even on your bedside table.
"Liquid glucose is premeasured and can be used at room temperature," says Zappe. "They're more expensive than other options, but the fact that they're liquid increases the absorption speed."
Pictured recipe: Creamy Pesto Chicken Salad with Greens
Much like raising your glucose shouldn't be a rushed process, neither should lowering it. "We're an instant society, and neither can happen instantly," says Zappe. "Overtreating causes blood glucose to move too far in the opposite direction, causing more problems."
To gradually lower your blood sugar (and, in turn, prevent future spikes), experts recommend the following.
"For random high blood sugar, I often recommend drinking up to 30 ounces (about 4 cups) of water per hour for 2-4 hours," says Zappe. If your blood sugar is persistently elevated, rehydrating on the regular is paramount. When the kidneys filter excess glucose from the blood and send it packing through your pee, water goes with it—and if there's not enough available, the body will steal H20 from other cells to make it happen (hence that Sahara feeling in your mouth when your blood sugar's too high).
"Not eating until your glucose levels come back down can be a helpful way to stabilize blood sugar," says Rocio Salas-Whalen, M.D., triple board-certified endocrinologist and founder of New York Endocrinology. The temporary reprieve from food prevents your glucose from getting any worse, and gives your body the opportunity to level out your, well, levels.
As long as your doctor hasn't given a restriction, one of the best ways to bring your blood sugar down is to exercise—say, going for a walk or bike ride for 15 to 30 minutes. Moderate exercise can help reduce insulin resistance. "When the cells are more sensitive to insulin, exercise helps to bring the sugar from the blood into your cells to use for energy, lowering blood sugar as a result," says Crean. (This is for a person with type 2 diabetes. If a person has type 1, they need to confirm they aren't high from lacking insulin, says Zappe.)
"Stress alone can increase blood sugar levels, which can be a frustrating cycle if you're working to avoid highs," says Crean. (Cue more stress.) When you're stressing, hormones like cortisol and glucagon are secreted, which cause blood sugar levels to go up so that your body has enough energy to combat the stressful situation. Finding relaxation techniques that work for you can help lower your blood sugar on the fly. Try breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation or a guided meditation.
Aim to include 20-30 grams of protein as part of your next meal, with lower-carb options as sides (try our Creamy Pesto Chicken Salad with Greens, pictured above). "Protein is key for lowering blood sugar, as it stimulates the release of hormones that help insulin move glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells more effectively," says Cruz.
Of course, if you have diabetes and are on insulin, using it is ultimately the most effective and fastest way of lowering your glucose. "Using insulin will help the muscles and organs absorb the sugar and utilize it better as energy, which in turn will decrease glucose levels in the blood," says Salas-Whalen.
If you have constantly elevated (or low) glucose levels and can't seem to get them leveled out, it may be worth a visit to your doctor's office. They can help you develop a diabetes management plan, or put you in contact with a dietitian who specializes in diabetes education.