Should You Check Your Blood Sugar Even If You Don't Have Diabetes? What Dietitians Have to Say
One of the latest trends in 2022 is folks checking their blood sugar. Typically, people with diabetes tend to check their blood sugar regularly, but this new trend has people who don't have diabetes checking their blood sugar levels. Is this something you should be doing? Several registered dietitian experts weigh in.
How Your Body Regulates Blood Sugar
If you don't have diabetes, your body naturally regulates blood sugar levels. After you eat a meal, your body breaks down (aka digests) foods into their components, which are absorbed from your gut into your bloodstream. Any carb-based foods, like milk and dairy, starches and fruit, will be broken down into their components—much of which is glucose. Once higher glucose levels are detected in your blood—typically after a meal—the pancreas releases insulin, which causes the body to absorb glucose from the blood, thereby lowering blood sugar levels back to normal, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your blood sugar levels get too low, the insulin level goes down and glucagon is released, which causes the liver to turn stored glycogen back into glucose and release it into the blood. This helps bring blood sugar levels back to normal.
Is It Beneficial to Monitor Blood Sugar If You Don't Have Diabetes?
"I really can't imagine why, though it would certainly be fascinating," says Virginia-based Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RDN, creator of The Prediabetes Meal Planning Crash Course. Weisenberger explains that blood sugar levels fluctuate all day whether you have diabetes, prediabetes or neither. That is normal and exactly what's supposed to happen. According to the CDC, a healthy person's blood sugar levels range from about 70 to 140 mg/dL depending on food intake, exercise and more. In people with diabetes, however, depending on medications, blood sugar levels can vary more.
Weisenberger explains, "If you don't have prediabetes or diabetes, and your blood sugar fluctuates in the normal range, there's no need to measure blood sugar levels."
Why Does Someone with Diabetes Monitor Blood Sugar?
In a person with diabetes, if blood sugar levels become too high or out of control, it can lead to increased hunger and thirst, blurred vision, frequent urination, headache and fatigue. If someone's blood sugar gets dangerously high, it can lead to a condition called ketoacidosis, which can cause vomiting, dehydration, deep labored breathing, rapid heartbeat, confusion or disorientation, and even coma.
Most people with type 2 diabetes tend to check their blood sugar levels in order to make sure they stay within a healthy range. Weisenberger says, "When you monitor your blood sugar at home, you can see changes over the short term—unlike when you have quarterly lab checks at the doctor's office. Fasting blood sugar levels tell us a lot, but they tell us nearly nothing about how food and exercise affect blood sugar levels. For that understanding, we want to measure blood sugar levels more often." Weisenberger advises clients with diabetes to check their blood sugar levels right before eating and about two hours later. That gives a pretty good idea of how the meal affected their blood sugar levels. If they only checked after eating, they would not know the difference the meal made.
How Do People with Diabetes Monitor Blood Sugar Levels?
"Some people with type 2 diabetes with good levels of control will need to monitor only several times a week and when sick or when their schedule changes," Weisenberger explains.
Most people use a small hand-held monitor with glucose strips and a small needle to draw blood from a finger. Continuous glucose monitors are becoming more available and more popular. They allow the wearer to monitor their blood glucose levels 24/7, which is especially beneficial for people at risk of extreme highs and lows.
Why Would Someone without Diabetes Monitor Blood Sugar?
Dana Angelo White, M.S., RD, a cookbook author and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., says she really doesn't see the point of monitoring blood sugar if you don't have diabetes. "As a temporary experiment, it may be interesting to monitor the blood sugar fluctuations that occur during meals, sleep and exercise. Seeing how your body responds appropriately may provide some reassurance and, of course, may help you make some changes (that you already knew you should make)."
Technology Available for People without Diabetes
Nutrisense is one of some other tools available to people who do not have diabetes yet want to monitor blood sugar. According to White, Nutrisense uses reliable technology from Freestyle Libre. The subscription includes a sensor you scan with your phone a few times a day for constant blood glucose monitoring. A sensor is attached to the upper arm and is paired with an app that logs all the data. "It was interesting to see the data," White says, who tried the new technology. "But I am not sure why healthy folks need this device in their lives."
Keeping Blood Sugar Well Managed
What you eat can help keep your blood sugar better regulated whether you have diabetes, prediabetes or neither. Weisenberger advises people to "balance your food groups and your macronutrients at each meal. I prefer to do this with the Plate Method of meal planning."
The American Diabetes Association created the Diabetes Plate Method to help people with diabetes plan their meals more practically. Nonetheless, people without diabetes can also use this method. Before beginning, you want to start with a dinner plate about 9 inches in diameter. If you need more calories than average—because you work out regularly, for example—you can use an 11- or 12-inch plate. In comparison, someone who needs fewer calories can use a smaller dinner plate of 8 inches in diameter. Remember that the number of calories you need depends on factors like age, height, sex, health conditions and exercise, among others.
- Step 1: Fill half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables.
Examples of nonstarchy vegetables include artichokes, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, radishes, tomatoes, turnips and salad greens. Nonstarchy vegetables do not have a significant effect on blood sugar levels.
- Step 2: Fill one-quarter of your plate with lean protein.
Protein is used in the body for cell structure, to produce hormones like insulin and for many other functions. Foods high in protein, like fish, chicken, meats, soy products and cheese, are called "protein foods." You can choose animal- or plant-based protein options.
- Step 3: Fill the last one-quarter of your plate with carbohydrate foods.
Carbohydrate foods include grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, and milk and yogurt. When choosing a grain, opt for whole grains whenever possible. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa and bulgur. Starchy vegetables include winter squash (like acorn and butternut), corn, green peas, parsnips, plantains and potatoes. Legumes and pulses can also be part of this quarter of your plate, as they provide carbohydrates and protein. Examples include beans, edamame, lentils, nuts and nut butters, peas and tofu. Fruit and dairy products belong on this quarter of the plate too. This means you could choose a fruit salad or yogurt instead of whole grains or starchy vegetables to put in this quarter of the plate for a meal.
- Step 4: Add water or another zero-calorie beverage to complete your meal.
Beverages can affect your weight and blood glucose. Opt for water, seltzer, hot or cold plain tea or coffee—without or with just a small amount of any added ingredients like cream, sugar, milk or nondairy creamer.
- Step 5: Choose healthy fats in small amounts.
Healthy fats can be added to any part of the plate. For example, add a tablespoon of nuts, seeds, avocado or vinaigrette to salads.
The Bottom Line
Experts agree that if you don't have diabetes, there really is no need to monitor your blood sugar levels. However, if you're concerned about your blood sugar levels, a healthy lifestyle and balanced eating habits can help you keep them in check. For additional concerns, talk to your health care provider for a personalized approach.