Whether you overdid it on sugary, high-carb sweets or had a little too much to drink at happy hour, it’s understandable if you get a little concerned or panicky when you see a high blood sugar reading and aren’t sure how to lower it. If you’re using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to track your blood sugar level, you’ll be able to check in regularly to see if your reading is too high (which is known as hyperglycemia) and to determine how long it has been elevated. If you’ve exceeded your blood sugar target range, specific exercise and hydration practices represent the best ways to lower your blood sugar fast. Nutritional strategies can help you maintain that lower blood sugar level.
What is the normal range for blood sugar?
The American Diabetes Association suggests keeping your blood sugar level below 130 mg/dL before a meal and under 180 mg/dL after eating. Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure your blood sugar level isn’t above the target range set by your doctor. (A blood sugar target range can vary from person to person and the time of day.)
Take action if your level exceeds your target range
If your blood sugar level does veer above your upper limit, it’s smart to have a game plan in place to lower your blood sugar level back down to a safe and healthy level as quickly as possible:
- Break a sweat. Exercise has been shown to help lower your blood sugar level quickly — and keep it down. According to a study in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology, exercising within 30 to 90 minutes of eating can help lower blood sugar levels and blunt the effects of too much glucose. Why does it work? When you exercise, glucose is taken up in skeletal muscle through an insulin-independent process. This effect occurs after just a single bout of exercise, meaning the glucose-lowering effects can be realized immediately. So, after a meal, focus on a workout that really gets your heart-rate pumping and requires real energy; a leisurely walk probably won’t have the same impact on your blood sugar level as a jog or brisk power walk.( Keep in mind: If your blood sugar is above 240 mg/dL, which can indicate the presence of ketones, you should avoid exercising as this could actually make things worse.)
- Hydrate. Drinking water helps pump up your blood volume, and therefore lowers the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream, helping to lower blood glucose values. So invest in a large, reusable water bottle and keep it nearby, wherever you are. Hydrate as soon as your CGM indicates your blood sugar level has risen above your target range.
- Contact your medical provider if your blood sugar levels are at or above 300 mg/dL persistently throughout the day. Your physician might talk with you about several possible medical treatments, such as metformin (Fortamet, Glumetza, others), sulfonylureas, thiazolidinediones, DPP-4 inhibitors, GLP-1 receptor agonists or SGLT2 inhibitors. Less commonly, insulin therapy may be considered, although for patients with type 2 diabetes, insulin is still considered a last-resort therapy. Learn more about the patient-centered approach to choosing appropriate pharmacologic treatment of blood glucose in the 2021 American Diabetes Association/European Association for the Study of Diabetes consensus report.
Foods to lower blood sugar
There aren’t any foods that have the ability to lower blood sugar fast. Thus, your best course of action for an elevated blood sugar level includes the exercise and hydration strategies mentioned previously. In the event of a persistent elevated blood sugar level of 300 mg/dL, call your medical provider.
However, a proper diet can help maintain a healthy blood sugar level, so it’s a good idea to fill up your plate with the following:
- Fiber-filled fare. Fiber helps slow digestion and stabilize blood sugar; thus, eating a diet rich in fiber can help people with diabetes better manage the condition. In fact, high-fiber diets have been shown to reduce the incidence of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 19 percent, according to a 2018 medical review. And they’re just as important if you’re trying to manage the disease. High-fiber foods include: oatmeal, legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils), sweet potatoes, spinach, and avocados.
- Minimally processed foods. All packaged food is processed to some degree, but a bag of triple-washed kale is going to be less processed than a bag of potato chips. When choosing foods that don’t spike blood sugar, aim to fill up on minimally processed foods, like fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
- Water. A 2017 study in the journal Nutrition Research found that low daily water intake was linked to increased diagnosis of hyperglycemia. While the eight-glasses-a-day rule is pure bunk, you should aim to drink enough to the point where you pee is very light in color or practically clear. Drink up!
A high blood sugar reading on your CGM is no doubt going to feel scary, but if you have a plan in place to handle it, you can be proactive about getting it back down into a safe and healthy range quickly. The best way to handle blood sugar spikes: Prevent them from happening in the first place. A diet rich in foods that don’t spike your blood sugar will be your best defense. But, life happens; so if your blood sugar level rises above your target range, exercise and hydration may help bring it back down. If your blood sugar level reaches or exceeds 300 mg/dL and persists at that high level over the course of the day, call your medical provider.
This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.