by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.
If you’ve ever had a blood test where they asked you not to eat for twelve hours beforehand, then they were probably testing your fasting blood glucose level. This week, I got an email from a reader who’d recently had such a test and found out that her fasting glucose was too high. She’s wondering exactly what that means and what—if anything—she should do about it.
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What Does Glucose Do?
It’s normal to have a certain amount of glucose—or sugar—in your blood. It’s there because it’s on its way to your cells where it will be converted into the energy that powers all of your body’s functions. No glucose = no energy = no life.
It’s also normal for your blood sugar to rise after you eat. Blood sugar levels go up as the food you’ve eaten is digested and converted into glucose. Then, as that glucose is taken up by your cells, blood sugar levels fall back to baseline. At least they’re supposed to.
Doctors test your glucose after you haven’t eaten for eight to twelve hours in order to see where your baseline is. If your fasting glucose levels are high, it’s sort of like having an elevator that only comes down to the fifth floor instead of returning all the way to the ground floor.
What Is High Glucose and Why Does It Matter?
Fasting glucose readings in the high-normal range—while they’re not an emergency—are considered an early warning sign that you may be headed for trouble.
Although there are a few different things that can cause high fasting glucose, this test is usually done to screen for diabetes. If your glucose levels are really high, your doctor will probably order additional tests to confirm a diagnosis and begin treatment. Readings in the high-normal range—while they’re not an emergency—are considered an early warning sign that you may be headed in that direction. Consider it a wake-up call. And I don’t recommend that you hit the “snooze” button.
4 Ways to Lower Your Glucose Levels
There are several things you can do to help lower your fasting glucose levels.
Lose weight, if you need to. People who are carrying around a lot of extra body fat are generally less able to clear sugar from their blood into their cells. That means less energy for the cells and chronically high blood sugar. This is especially true if your fat tends to accumulate around your middle as opposed to in your butt. In his article on Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Rob explains the mechanics of insulin resistance. But the solution is to get serious about taking off excess weight. At the beginning of this year, I did a five-part series on how to find the best diet. If you need to take off some weight, start by reading that series.
Get more exercise. Exercise helps to make your cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin, which keeps your blood sugar from creeping up. Exercise also helps with weight loss. If you need some tips and inspiration, check out Get Fit Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Slim Down and Shape Up. Ben was voted Personal Trainer of the Year but you can get his great tips and advice free right here on the Quick and Dirty Tips website.
Go longer between meals. One problem with the current trend of eating mini-meals every two or three hours is that your blood sugar really never gets an opportunity to return to baseline. (The other problem is that people’s mini meals tend not to be quite mini enough and people end up eating too many calories!). As I explained in my article “How Often Should You Eat?”going longer between meals can help you maintain healthier blood sugar control.
Avoid high glycemic foods. A diet high in sweets, pastries, white bread, fruit juice, and soda promotes blood sugar problems. A low-glycemic diet, on the other hand, not only helps prevent blood sugar issues, it can help repair them. Don’t worry, a low-glycemic diet is nothing new. It’s the same old thing I talk about week after week: plenty of vegetables, nuts, beans, and other protein foods, moderate amounts of whole grains and fruit, and not too much sugar or junk food. Below, you’ll find links to some more resources on planning a low glycemic diet.
What Else Can Cause a High Glucose Reading?
Finally, it’s possible that your wake-up call may have been a false alarm. Maybe you had some coffee before the test, which can elevate your blood sugar. Some prescription drugs can elevate your fasting blood sugar, including certain antidepressants, heart medications, hormone replacement therapy, and birth control pills. Although diabetes (or pre-diabetes) is the most common cause of high blood sugar, there are also other medical conditions that can elevate your numbers. And sometimes, blood tests are just wrong.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to repeat any abnormal blood test, just to be sure. But I suggest you take my advice to heart, no matter what. Even if future blood tests show normal glucose readings, the healthy habits I’ve outlined above will help keep them that way.
This is Monica Reinagel, reminding you that these tips are for your information but are not intended as medical advice. Please work with your health professional to determine what’s right for you.
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What is Type 2 Diabetes (House Call Doctor)
Finding the Best Diet (NutritionDiva)
What’s a Low Glycemic Diet? (Nutrition Data blog)
Glycemic Index of Common Foods (Harvard Health Publications)
Quick and Dirty Tips to Slim Down and Shape Up (Get Fit Guy)