Where Your A1C Levels Need to Be and How to Get Them There
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 21 million people in the U.S. have already gone through the shock of hearing they have diabetes.
Along with those 21 million people, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also states that an estimated 8.1 million people are unaware that they have diabetes. For these folks, the news is still on its way, along with a sharp learning curve full of new terminology such as “blood glucose,” “insulin” and “A1C levels.”
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So, whether you’ve already been diagnosed or know a loved one that has, it’s a good idea to learn how to manage diabetes, including A1C levels.
Facts About Blood Glucose Levels
Successful management of diabetes revolves around management of blood glucose and insulin levels. According to WebMD, glucose is one component in the blood. Glucose is actually a certain type of sugar that the body obtains when you eat foods classified as carbohydrates. It is critically important as an energy source for nearly every function of the body. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that each of the body’s organs has what is called a “metabolic profile.” This means that each organ requires different levels of energy and in different forms.
For example, the brain requires constant infusions of glucose, which is its primary source for energy. Muscle tissues also have a high need for glucose-based energy, although unlike the brain, these tissues can store some glucose for use later.
The levels of glucose in the blood will naturally rise after a snack or meal. At this time, the body will release insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, to keep blood-borne glucose levels stable. Too-high or too-low glucose levels can cause irreparable damage to other organs and systems, including the eyes, the nerves, the circulatory system and the kidneys.
The full name for the A1C test that is used to measure levels of glucose in the blood is “hemoglobin A1C” or “glycohemoglobin”. This test is used to diagnose and monitor diabetes.
What Your A1C Test Results Mean
The A1C test measures how much glucose is clinging to your hemoglobin, which is a component protein of your red blood cells. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the A1C test results come back in the form of an average expressed as a number or percentage.
The ADA recommends aiming for an average A1C test result of 7.0 or lower, but this number is only meant to be used as a ballpark goal. Your doctor will be able to tell you what your personal A1C test result goal should be, and it may be higher or lower than the ADA recommended average.
In most cases, your doctor will want to do an A1C test at least twice per year.
Helpful Tips to Lower Your A1C Level
Understanding what blood glucose is, how insulin acts to keep blood glucose levels stable, and how the A1C test is used to measure your personal levels gives you the information you need to set your diabetes management goals. To start lowering your A1C level today, try some of these tips:
- Make breakfast your biggest, most energy-packed meal
A 2015 research study suggested that pairing a high-energy breakfast meal with a low-energy dinner meal will do a better overall job of managing blood glucose levels throughout the day. As well, keeping to a consistent meal schedule can help blood glucose levels remain constant and, as a side bonus, help you lose weight too.
- Get 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise daily
U.S. Health News reported that getting 20 to 30 minutes of physical exercise on a near-daily basis can build lean muscle mass and reduce adipose (fat) tissue. This is critical because lean muscle mass more effectively stores glucose as energy, taking it out of the bloodstream and keeping your A1C score lower over time.
- Aim for balanced portions AND caloric content at each meal.
As Everyday Health reports, both what you choose to eat and how much of it you eat matter equally when managing diabetes. Foods with a lower starch content, low sugar content, and high water content will give your body the tools it needs to manage blood glucose levels between meals.
Good Dietary Choices to Manage Symptoms
While a diabetes-friendly menu may not sound so appealing at first, if you have been accustomed to eating lots of processed foods, fast foods or high-sugar or high-fat foods, these are likely what caused your A1C levels to spike in the first place. Especially if you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Here are some tips from the ADA on what to incorporate into your diet:
- Whole (non-refined) grains
- Fresh or fresh-frozen non-starchy vegetables
- Fresh or fresh-frozen no-sugar-added fruits
- Lean proteins
- Low-fat dairy milk or other milk
- Healthy fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated) with Omega-3 fatty acids. Foods that contain healthy fats would be flaxseed (oil), nuts, fish oil, and salmon
- Citrus fruit, especially lemon, for a daily dose of vitamin C and soluble fiber
- Limit or eliminate completely alcohol of any kind, and limit your intake of high-calorie snacks and sweets.
What Foods Should You Avoid?
Ultimately, the foods that cause your A1C levels to spike are the same foods that can cause your body lots of other health problems, including cardiovascular and heart disease, kidney disease, poor immune system function, liver disease, and other potentially deadly health conditions.
In fact, Harvard Medical School reports that regularly consuming excessive sugar can actually increase your risk of contracting fatal heart disease.
Avoiding high sugar, high fat, and processed foods will do your body good in more ways than just balancing your blood glucose levels. Along with these guidelines, there are also a few not-so-obvious foods to avoid, with the main one being foods made from white flour.
Important Lifestyle Changes
There is no doubt that being diagnosed with diabetes can be stressful. Unfortunately, stress, like sugar, is a documented killer. The Diabetes Education Center notes that fluctuating blood glucose levels can throw your body into stress, so when you add in environmental stress, your diabetes can become harder to manage.
The best thing you can do to help your body is to do everything you can to de-stress. This will help you to stay healthy in body and mind.