Controlling post-meal blood sugar levels is important for people with diabetes, as it can help you stay healthy. The short-term effects of persistent post-meal blood sugar spikes include reduced energy levels, lower brain functioning, and feelings of sadness or anxiety. Long-term effects have been shown to include earlier onset of heart and kidney disease, and the progression of existing eye disease.
According to the Diabetes Canada clinical practice guidelines, the blood sugar level for most people should be between 5.0 and 10 mmol/L two hours after the start of a meal. (Your healthcare team can help you identify the blood glucose targets that are right for you.) If your blood sugars are spiking after eating, or still running high two hours after a meal, there are some things you can do to get them into target range.
- Pay attention to carbohydrates. Carbohydrate breaks down into glucose relatively quickly, so it has a bigger effect on blood sugar levels than other macronutrients (i.e. fat and protein). When planning your meals, consider the amount and type of carbohydrate you’ll eat: the Diabetes Canada clinical practice guidelines recommend that women should consume between 45 and 60 grams of carbohydrate per meal, while men should consume 60 to 75 grams of carbohydrate per meal. Choose legumes, brown rice, and whole grain breads and pastas more often; eat fewer refined and processed carb-containing foods (for example, white bread, white pasta or white rice). Check with a dietitian for more information about healthy eating.
- Load up on veggies. Foods that contain fibre can help prevent surges in blood sugar levels, while providing essential nutrients. Veggies are one of the easiest ways to incorporate fibre into your diet. Generally, darker vegetables are higher in fibre, so choose carrots, beets, broccoli or Swiss chard more often.
- Eat acidic foods. A number of studies have found that acidic foods slow digestion and lower blood sugar spikes. Acidic foods include seafood, tomatoes and other fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, cherries and grapes.
- Increase post-meal physical activity. Physical activity helps slow digestion and can also lower your blood sugars. A number of studies have shown that even 20 to 30 minutes of moderate physical activity – such as going for a walk – can reduce post-meal blood glucose levels. To be effective, you should get moving within 30 minutes of your meal.
- Keep your blood sugar in check between meals. It’s important to keep your blood sugar levels at target before – as well as after – meals. If your fasting blood sugar level is at target before you eat, then the rise you experience after a meal won’t be so dramatic. The Diabetes Canada clinical practice guidelines recommend that fasting (pre-meal) blood sugar levels for most people should be between 4.0 and 7.0 mmol/L. (Your healthcare team can help you identify the blood glucose targets that are right for you.)
- Eat your breakfast! We’re all in a hurry to get out the door every morning, but don’t be tempted to skip breakfast. A recent study showed that people with diabetes who didn’t eat breakfast had higher blood sugar spikes after lunch and dinner than people who ate their morning meal. Remember, people with diabetes are advised to consume three meals per day, spaced no more than six hours apart. (You may benefit from a healthy snack, especially if you are taking insulin; ask your healthcare team if snacks fit into your nutritional plan.)
- Try medications that specifically decrease post-meal blood sugar. Different insulins act at different speeds. Your healthcare team can explain your insulin options, and help you choose the regimen that’s right for you.
While a slight rise in blood sugar is normal after a meal, large spikes that happen often can be harmful. Follow these seven quick tips to help ensure that your post-meal blood sugar levels are under control.