Glucose is the basic fuel used by the cells of the body to produce energy. Although the body stores some glucose as glycogen and can use fat and even protein for energy production, we largely depend on a constant glucose supply from food. As the blood glucose levels drop to lower levels, a person feels tired, irritable, sleepy and has difficulty concentrating.
Normally the body keeps the glucose levels in the blood within a narrow range. This ensures that blood glucose levels does not drop to dangerously low levels in a healthy person. But even at lower levels within the normal range, a person may experience symptoms that we tend to attribute to hunger and low blood glucose levels.
If you are a diabetic, then maintaining a constant blood glucose level is essential. Just as the glucose levels can reach dangerously high levels in diabetics, it can also drop to lower than normal levels. These hypoglycemic attacks in diabetes mellitus can be extremely dangerous. It can cause a person to faint which in turn may lead to serious injuries, particularly when driving, operating heavy machinery or negotiating a flight of stairs.
Diabetics also have to be cautious of ketoacidosis where the body starts breaking down fats and the byproduct known as ketones accumulate in the bloodstream. Diabetic ketoacidosis is one of the many diabetic emergencies that can be fatal.
Here are 10 helpful tips to maintain your blood glucose levels throughout the day whether you are a diabetic or not.
Consistent Meal Time
Meal time should be within a 2 hour gap everyday. If you usually eat lunch at 1pm, try to keep to this time although you may sometimes have to eat as early as midday or as late as 2pm. The same applies for breakfast and dinner. Once you have missed the 2 hour gap, you have essentially missed a meal.
The problem with eating too late to make up for the meal that you missed is that you may spoil your appetite for the next main meal in the day thereby exacerbating the problem. Do not try to eat extra during the next meal to make up for what you have missed. This is a sure way to feel sleepy and contribute to weight gain. Instead keep nutritious snacks handy for a quick bite if you are at risk of missing a meal.
Number of Meals
We all know that we should never miss a meal be it breakfast, lunch or supper but are we meant to only eat 3 meals in a day? Considering that most adults are awake and active to some degree for at least 16 hours in day, this would mean gaps with no food for at least 5 hours or more. Actually we should be eating at least 5 times in a day -3 meals and 2 snacks – to maintain constant blood glucose levels. The size of the meal should fit the upcoming activity so breakfast would usually be a higher calorie meal and dinner the smallest.
Eat the Right Foods
Since our personal and cultural preferences for foods may vary, as well as the availability of different foods in different regions, there is no way to conclusively identify what the right foods are for a person. About 60% of every meal should be carbohydrates but it is about opting for the right carbs.
Due to the variation in taste preference from one person to another, you should look at the glycemic index of your carbs. Low GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates release glucose slowly and over a longer period of time. This prevents sudden spikes in blood glucose levels that requires your pancreas to secrete more insulin. It also sustains you until the next snack or meal.
Calorie Distribution in a Day
Calories are the energy potential within food and the amount of energy expended in physical activity. For the average adult male who wants to maintain a healthy body weight, you would need about 2,500 calories daily. Women need slightly less at about 2,000 calories per day. If you are trying to lose weight then your daily calorie intake should be lower around 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day.
If you are opting for 5 meals a day then you would want to eat at least 25% of your daily calories in each of the main meals and 12.5% of the calories per day in snacks between breakfast and lunch as well as between lunch and supper. Never skip breakfast and carry easy-to-eat snacks like energy bars with you in case you may miss a meal. Although you should consume more calories for breakfast, avoid eating more than 800 calories in any single meal.
Avoid the Sugars
You would think that sugary foods and drinks are the best way to keep your blood glucose levels stable. Actually it is possibly one of the worst edibles that you can opt for. When you have a high sugar intake, you may feel good for a short while but the body increases insulin secretion. Insulin removes glucose from the bloodstream to keep the blood glucose levels stable.
So the initial ‘sugar high’ is short lived and you will then dip into a ‘low glucose’ state soon after due to the circulating insulin levels. All high glycemic index foods have a similar effect. Therefore sugary foods and drinks may be useful when you need a quick surge of glucose but should be avoided if you want to maintain consistent blood glucose levels.
Exercise is one of the more effective non-dietary ways of regulating the blood glucose levels. It is not about exercising every now and then but rather about being consistent with an exercise program. Ideally a person should exercise for at least 30 minutes at a time for 4 to 5 days in a week. Initially during exercise there is a release of blood glucose stores but with sustained activity, the cells start taking up the glucose.
Large amounts of insulin are not necessary because the glucose uptake is a result of increased metabolic activity due to exercise. In diabetics the entire process may be a bit disordered but exercise has other benefits apart from the direct effect on blood glucose levels. Large stores of body fat affects glucose tolerance and with exercise, weight loss improves your body’s response to glucose.
Stay Away from Alcohol
Alcohol is one of the ‘problem drinks’ when it comes to maintaining blood glucose levels. It is not only a problem for people who drink large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis but even for the occasional drinker. Initially alcohol increases insulin secretion causing a drop in blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia). This effect is only seen during the time of drinking alcohol and glucose tolerance restores to a normal state afterwards.
Chronic alcoholism has a more pronounced and long standing effect on blood glucose levels. Alcoholics deplete their glycogen stores, the body’s sensitivity to insulin is reduced and alcohol even affects the breakdown of other nutrients into glucose. This results in elevated blood glucose levels for prolonged periods as alcoholics are at a high risk of developing diabetes mellitus.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on February 17, 2013