Blood sugar spikes. What are they and should we worry about them?

Dr Joan Ransley

There are many articles and books about diets that purport to manage and prevent type 2 diabetes and blood glucose spikes. But what are blood glucose spikes and why do they need managing? Surely the body takes care of levels of glucose circulating in our blood. Confused? Please read on.

What is a blood sugar spike?

Blood sugar spikes occur when your blood sugar rises too high after you eat. Blood sugar levels are normally tightly controlled but diet and lifestyle factors can reduce the body’s ability to manage them effectively especially as you get older and if you are overweight.

When blood glucose levels spike regularly it can lead to a condition known as prediabetes which left unchecked can lead on to type 2 diabetes. Rates of Type 2 diabetes have increased 10 fold in the last 40 years among adults. People are also becoming diabetic at a younger age.

In countries like the UK and US more than 35% of the adult population are pre-diabetic and less than 1 in 10 know it. It is a serious problem and one that is getting worse.

Why are blood sugar spikes harmful?

Over time, high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels. This can cause other problems, such as heart and kidney disease and diabetic eye disease. It’s important to know whether you have high blood sugar so that it can be controlled and reduce the risk of damage to the body.

How do I know if I am experiencing blood glucose spikes?

The only reliable way to find out is to do a blood test to see if your blood glucose levels are consistently high. This test is called the HbA1c test and should be carried out by a qualified health care professional like your G.P. To find out if you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes complete the Diabetes UK self-assessment tool.

What is an HbA1c test?

HbA1c is glycated haemoglobin which is made when glucose (sugar) in your blood sticks to your red blood cells. Your body can’t use the glucose properly, so more of it sticks to your blood cells and builds up which can be dangerous. Normal levels are between 26 and 41 mmol/mol. Above these levels you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be reversed if treated early.

What should I do to reduce spikes in blood glucose and reduce the risk of developing type2 diabetes?

  • The most important thing to do if you experience spikes in blood glucose is to avoid foods containing highly refined carbohydrates including white flour and sugar - sometimes referred to as ‘white carbs’. Instead eat more wholegrain foods, vegetables and fruit.
  • Choose drinks without added sugar such as plain water, plain milk, tea or coffee without added sugar.
  • Eat food containing ‘good fats and oils’ including avocados, oilve oil, seeds and nuts.
  • Choose high fibre carbohydrate foods such as vegetables, pulses such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils.
  • Try to get your protein from healthier foods such as eggs, fish, chicken and turkey; unsalted nuts and seeds and pulses.

Move more

Poor blood glucose control often begins with a sedentary lifestyle. If your muscles are not used enough fat builds up inside the muscle fibres, insulin resistance develops and blood glucose spikes.

The best way to reverse this is to get active. Walking is a great way to keep blood sugar levels down. Most people walk less than 5000 steps a day. Ideally you should aim at walking 10,000 each day. Try to build up to it gradually.

Further information on managing blood glucose and preventing type 2 diabetes can be obtained from Diabetes UK

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