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Focus on: Blood Sugar Levels

If you find yourself feeling faint or light-headed, it could be a sign your blood sugar levels have dipped – find out how to prevent yourself running out of steam…

Our bodies need enough energy to accomplish our daily activities. Fuelling it through a proper diet is similar to putting petrol in a car. When you don’t get enough of the right nutrients you won’t be able to function.

What is blood sugar level?

It’s the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood and is expressed as millimoles per litre (mmol/l). Normally, blood glucose levels stay within narrow limits throughout the day: roughly 4 to 8mmol/l before meals, less than 10mmol/l 90 minutes after a meal and around 8mmol/l at bedtime. They are higher after meals and usually lowest first thing in the morning – often the reason you feel light headed when you jump straight out of bed.

Most foods affect blood sugar levels in some way:

Protein usually has a small effect. Even though it can produce small amounts of blood sugar, it takes time. Most people who eat average amounts of protein see little or no effect on their blood sugar.

Fat doesn’t turn into sugar. It slows down how fast the stomach empties. This can lower your blood sugar soon after meals. Ideally, fats consumed should be unsaturated and contain no trans fat.

Carbohydrate has the biggest effect. It is the major source of blood sugar after you eat. Carbohydrate is your body’s major source of fuel. Grain products should be whole grain, for maximum health benefits.

In addition, beverages (water, iced tea, juice) are important to keep you hydrated and prevent fatigue, especially when you are physically active.

Why control blood sugar levels?

When very high levels of blood glucose are present for years, it leads to damage of the small blood vessels. This in turn increases your risk of developing late-stage diabetes complications such as: eye disease, kidney disease, nerve disease and cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack, hypertension, heart failure, stroke and even gangrene, in very severe cases.

By keeping your body’s blood sugar level stable, you will significantly reduce your risk of these health problems.

How can I measure my blood sugar?

If you are worried that your blood sugar levels are high, then you can buy home testing kits – ask your local pharmacist to advise you. Testing strips are available on NHS prescription.

You can learn to measure blood sugar levels simply and quickly with a home blood glucose level testing kit. All kits have at least two things: a measuring device and a strip.

Put a small amount of blood on the strip. Now place the strip into the device. After about 30 seconds it will display the blood glucose level.

How often should blood glucose levels be measured?

It really depends on your lifestyle. In broad terms, people who have Type 1 diabetes should measure their blood sugar levels daily before meals. Some days one or two tests can be done, while on others four or five might be needed.

Blood sugar should be measured any time you feel unwell or think your blood sugar level is too high or low.

Diabetes and blood sugars
Diabetes occurs because the body can’t use glucose properly, either owing to a lack of the hormone insulin, or because the insulin available doesn’t work effectively.

Type 1 is treated with insulin and by eating a healthy diet. Insulin can’t be taken by mouth because the digestive juices in the stomach destroy it. This means that for most people it has to be given by injections. Most people find giving the injections simple and relatively painless, since the needle
is very fine.

Injections can be given using either a traditional needle and plastic syringe, or with an injection pen device, which many people find much more convenient.

Inhaled insulin has recently become available for treating people with a proven needle phobia or people who have severe trouble injecting.

Type 2 may have been considered the ‘milder’ form of diabetes in the past, but this is no longer the case

For many people, type 2 diabetes can be controlled by diet alone. Medication in tablet form is used when diet doesn’t provide adequate control.

Keep your blood sugar levels level
If you are feeling like you may have low-blood sugar (and you are not diabetic) then it is tempting to grab a high calorie, sugary snack to make you feel back to normal. But your best bet is actually bread.

Don’t choose any bread, though. Make sure it’s wholegrain, as getting about 17g of grain fibre a day (the kind found in wholegrain breads and cereals) could slash type 2 diabetes risk by a third, research shows. And rye bread seems to steady blood sugars best.

Although some fruits and vegetables are great sources of fibre too, they don’t actually have the magic touch that cereal fibre has, according to a recent study.

It may be that magnesium and phenols in wholegrain bread interact with the cereal fibre to help lower diabetes risk.

So grab that slice of bread next time and make sure you up the fibre intake in your diet.

Manage your blood sugar with these snacks

Celery sticks with peanut butter, fresh juice
Cereal with fruit
Cottage cheese, fruit and whole grain crackers
Eggs with low-fat, lean meat served in a pitta bread or tortilla
Fresh fruits and vegetables (with all meals)
Grilled cheese on wheatgerm bread with tomatoes, piece of fruit
Sandwich (chicken, tuna or turkey) on wholegrain bread, piece of fruit
Smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruits

Photos iStockphoto/Shutterstock

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