November is Diabetes Awareness Month, with this year’s focus being prediabetes and preventing diabetes. You may know the basic guidelines for preventing diabetes, but are you familiar with how glucose is regulated in the body? We all know that diet and exercise are important, but understanding the why and how of glucose regulation can be a powerful motivator in helping you make better choices for your health.
What Is Glucose?
Glucose is the type of sugar you get from the food you eat, which is used to fuel the body. We get glucose mainly from carbs, such as bread, pasta, potatoes, and fruit. Its primary function is to give you energy.
How Glucose Is Regulated in the Body
Many systems work together to make sure glucose is produced and distributed properly. After you’ve eaten, food is broken down by acids and enzymes, which is when glucose is released. It is first absorbed by the intestinal cells, and then released into the bloodstream.
When you eat, your body gets to work at breaking down your food into useful functions. Glucose is the simplest form of energy the body is able to utilize, which is used to fuel the brain and supply you with energy throughout the day.
If more glucose is available in the blood than is needed to meet your body’s energy needs, excess glucose is converted and stored as fat. Think of it as your fuel reserve. Only in this case, you don’t want too much stored. This is why glucose management is important.
What Happens When Your Glucose Levels Are Too High
In a world where it’s easier to snack on the donuts on the counter than dig through the fridge for those carrots you bought weeks ago, most of us eat too many carbs day in and day out. Eating in excess (providing more energy than your body needs) and eating high glycemic index foods results in high blood sugar. Chronically elevated blood sugar can lead to decreased insulin sensitivity, which disrupts normal glucose regulation. Over time your body won’t be able to efficiently use all the glucose you’re fueling it with.
Symptoms of high blood sugar include fatigue, increased thirst, and increased appetite. More severe symptoms can develop later on, so it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling so you can recognize the signs early. Blood sugar is considered high if it’s over 130 mg/dL before a meal or 180 mg/dL within a few hours after a meal. Many don’t start feeling the effects of high blood sugar until it’s over 200.
4 Tips to Maintain Healthy Glucose Levels
Simply put, keeping your glucose at a healthy level is critical to your overall health. It helps with weight management, keeps you fueled with energy, and supports other systems throughout your body. Consistently high glucose levels is an indicator of prediabetes, so supporting healthy glucose regulation should be a priority as you plan meals and establish and maintain a consistent workout routine.
Below are a few things you can do to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
1. Exercise regularly. Exercise is about more than just burning calories. It can also help increase insulin sensitivity, which means your cells are better able to use the sugar in your bloodstream. High intensity interval training (HIIT) appears to be especially helpful for glucose regulation. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week.
2. Be careful with carbs. Your body needs some carbs to function, so don’t try to cut out all carbs from your diet. Just be more mindful about which carbs you’re eating, and when. Avoid refined sugars and white flour, which are found in a lot of snack foods and breads. Focus on fiber-rich foods like whole fruits and whole grains. In fact, a high soluble fiber intake can help maintain healthy blood glucose. If you have a sweet tooth, try reaching for an apple or some blueberries to satisfy your craving.
3. Drink lots of water. In addition to keeping you hydrated, it also helps your kidneys flush out excess sugar.
4. Eat smaller portions. It’s oh-so-tempting to indulge in sweet treats and starchy meals. But you’ll be doing your body a favor if you simply eat less. Avoiding mindless snacking is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. Also, don’t rush through your meals. Take the time to really enjoy your food and pay special attention to how full you’re getting. Eating too quickly often leads to overeating, whereas if we take our time we often realize we’re full sooner.
Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider if you think your glucose levels might be too high and before you make any major changes to your diet.