There are many different ways blood sugar (glucose levels in the blood) can be affected and cause problems with sugar control in people with diabetes. Each person reacts differently to various items that influence blood sugars. There are some compounds individuals with diabetes may want to examine to see how they influence their own blood sugar levels. For example, blood sugar levels can rise after drinking coffee, black tea, and some energy drinks due to the presence of caffeine. There are other compounds that may alter blood glucose levels and methods people with diabetes can use to see what compounds and actions influence their own blood sugar levels.
Upswing: Sugar-Free Foods
A number of foods claim to be "sugar-free," but these foods raise blood sugar levels because many of them contain carbohydrates in starches, fats, and even fiber. Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and xylitol add sweetness to foods but still may have enough associated carbohydrates to raise blood sugar levels. Foods with high levels of carbohydrates are likely to raise blood sugar levels very high, and eventually may cause organ damage over time in people with diabetes.
Upswing: Chinese Food
Foods high in fat can cause blood sugar to stay higher for longer periods of time. Pizza, French fries, and most fried foods are high in carbohydrates and fat. It’s a good idea to check your blood sugar about two hours after you eat such foods to see how your blood sugar levels are affected.
Upswing: Job Stress
Stress may cause your body to release hormones that can cause rises in your blood sugar. Although this is more common in people with type 2 diabetes, practice relaxation techniques with deep breathing and exercise, if possible, to reduce stress.
Caution: Birth Control Pills
Estrogen in birth control pills can affect the way a person with diabetes may respond to insulin. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises women with diabetes to use a birth control pill containing norgestimate and a synthetic estrogen. The ADA also suggests birth control injections and implants are safe for women with diabetes, but suggest they still have some effects on blood sugars levels. If women elect to use these birth control methods, they should monitor their blood sugar levels, especially for several weeks when these agents are first administered. Women with diabetes should discuss their birth control options with their doctor.
Lower: Household Chores
Normal activities such as mowing the lawn or cleaning the house count as moderate physical activity for a person with diabetes (and for other people, too!). This type of activity may help lower the blood sugar in a person with diabetes. People with diabetes should participate in mild to moderate physical activity because the activity may lower blood glucose and increase overall fitness.
Probiotic foods may help people with diabetes by improving digestion. Yogurt, for example, is reported to contain "healthy" bacteria that may help protect against gastrointestinal problems. The best yogurt choice is plain yogurt with no added sugar or fruit.
Lower: Vegan Diet
People with diabetes who switched to a vegan diet (no meat or animal products such as dairy or egg consumed) or entirely plant–based diet, according to some researchers, had a much better blood sugar control and required less insulin. Although the mechanism is not entirely clear, whole grains, fiber, and beans may function by slowing down carbohydrate digestion, thereby producing sugars at a lower rate. People with diabetes should check with their doctor before they make any major changes to their diet.
Some studies suggest sprinkling your food with cinnamon may lower blood sugar in individuals with type II diabetes. Study investigators suggest cinnamon can add flavor without adding salt, carbohydrates, or calories. Moreover, cinnamon may improve the body’s ability to use insulin. People with diabetes should discuss use of cinnamon with their health care professional before making any dietary changes.
Regular testing of your blood sugar is important to determine how it fluctuates during a typical 24-hour period. Blood sugar can fall low during sleep for some people with type I diabetes; these people may benefit from a small snack just before bedtime. For other people, blood sugar can rise in the morning even before eating breakfast – this is due in part to changes in hormones or a drop in insulin levels. A good way to determine how your body utilizes glucose is to use a continuous blood glucose monitor on occasion. It can help you determine the blood glucose fluctuations that are normal for you.
Most clinicians agree that physical activity almost always can improve an individual’s health, whether they have diabetes or have normal blood glucose levels. Unfortunately, when people with diabetes do intense or endurance type exercises, their blood sugars may spike up and then drop for as long as 24 hours. People with diabetes should check their blood sugar before, during, and after exercises to be sure their blood sugar levels don’t go too high or too low. Good blood glucose monitoring, coupled with appropriate treatments, can avoid this blood glucose roller coaster effect of highs and lows.
Rollercoaster: Female Hormones
Another roller coaster effect of high and low blood sugar occurs due to hormone changes. Female’s blood glucose levels fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and during menopause. Frequent blood sugar level determinations can help people with diabetes manage this roller coaster effect due to hormonal changes.