What Is a Normal Blood Sugar and How to Get It Back on Track
Normal Blood-Glucose Levels
• 80-90 mg/dL before meals
• Up to 120 mg/dL after you eat
My Family History of Diabetes
Diabetes has been in my family for generations. My grandmother was a diabetic, my father is diabetic, and during my pregnancy I almost developed prenatal diabetes. Given my family history and my own personal experience, I've learned a lot about this condition over the years. It turns out that there are many things we can do to control our blood sugar though the foods we eat.
Normal Blood Glucose Levels
What are normal blood glucose levels?
- Before meals: 80-90 mg/dL
- After meals: Up to 120 mg/dL
Keep in mind that the blood glucose level before a meal for a non-diabetic and a prediabetic person may be very similar. As you can see in the graph below, how your blood sugar fluctuates after eating a meal can be more telling than your pre-meal glucose levels. However, if your pre-meal glucose level is over 100 mg/dL, you should see a doctor. A fasting glucose level of 126 mg/dL is considered diabetic.
In this article, you will learn about the progression of Type 2 diabetes and how you can reverse it.
Understanding the Diagnosis
If you are reading this, you probably have been told by your doctor that you have, or someone you care about has, diabetes or prediabetes. You may be surprised, shocked, or even scared. You wonder how and why this is happening.
Basically, diabetes means that the level of glucose in your blood (or blood sugar) is too high. Everyone has glucose in his or her blood. We need it to provide energy for all the cells in our body. Having diabetes means you have more than you need, way above normal blood sugar levels.
The diagnosis of diabetes is somewhat arbitrary and keeps changing over time. Some time ago, your fasting glucose levels had to be 140 mg/dL or higher to be considered diabetic. Today the official number is 126 mg/dL, and in the future, it may be even lower.
The important part to realize is that it is not something that happens overnight. It is a process that takes years, and the sooner it is recognized and stopped, the better.
Type 2 Diabetes Is a Gradual Process That Can Be Reversed
Type 2 diabetes does not just suddenly come out of nowhere, like a bolt of lightning, although many people may feel that way when they first hear the diagnosis.
Quite to the contrary, it usually progresses gradually from normal blood glucose levels through various intermediate stages of prediabetes until your glucose control becomes so poor that you are diagnosed as having full-blown diabetes. It takes 10 or 20 years for most people to progress from normal to diabetic blood-sugar levels, and most of them don’t know that it is happening.
The good news, however, is that by making some substantial changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can reverse the progression of the disease, and even return your blood sugar levels back to normal.
How Diabetes Progresses
In the chart at the top of this article, you can see the different patterns a person's blood glucose levels can follow as diabetes progresses. Here's what's happening.
1. Normal blood glucose levels
There's a very specific range of glucose your body considers normal in your blood, between 80 and 90 mg/dL, or milligrams per deciliter—the equivalent of about one teaspoon in total.
When you eat a meal, your food gets broken down into glucose, which enters your bloodstream. For a normal person, that means your glucose level might rise up to 120 mg/dL or a little bit more, depending on what food you ate. Your body then needs to move the excess glucose out of your bloodstream and into your cells, where it can be stored and used for energy. To move this glucose, the pancreas produces insulin, which "unlocks" cells so that glucose can enter, removing it from the blood and returning your glucose to its normal level within a couple of hours.
Prediabetes begins when your body is beginning to lose control of your blood sugar levels—the video below explains how a high-sugar diet can lead to insulin resistance, a cause of prediabetes. It used to be called borderline diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), but whatever the name, the condition means you are at an extremely high risk of progressing to full-blown diabetes.
At this stage, your fasting blood glucose levels may be close to normal when you wake up in the morning and before meals. The cutoff for prediabetes is considered 100 mg/dL. However, after eating the same meal, the levels rise higher than normal to almost 200 mg/dL. Because the peak is higher, it also takes longer for it to come down. Then about four or five hours later, they may drop lower than normal—below 70 or even 50 mg/dL, causing symptoms of “low blood sugar,” which include shakiness, nervousness, and intense craving for food, especially something sweet.
What this means is that your body is losing control over its blood-glucose levels. The amount of insulin your body produces right after a meal is not enough to remove the extra glucose. Then your glucose becomes extremely high, and your pancreas kicks into overdrive, producing way too much insulin. This overcompensation removes too much glucose, causing your levels go too low, a condition called hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This can go on for years before the person is diagnosed with diabetes.
When you are diabetic, even your fasting blood glucose level will be higher than normal, over 100 mg/dL. It will zoom to an even higher level after eating, and because it is so high, it takes hours to go back to the starting level.
Reversing Type 2 Diabetes
The Importance of Early Diagnosis
Keep in mind that the blood glucose level before a meal for a non-diabetic and a prediabetic person may be very similar.
The blood glucose before meals is usually very similar to what is called the fasting glucose level, which means the blood glucose level that you have when you wake up in the morning, having fasted all night.
Diagnosis of diabetes is usually based on measuring your fasting level, so a person with prediabetes may be told that everything is fine. This will usually mean that such a person will continue the unhealthy lifestyle of eating too much food, eating the wrong foods (too many trans fats, too many processed foods), and exercising too little.
This is unfortunate, because being diagnosed with prediabetes would serve as an excellent wake-up call for many people to change their ways and adopt healthy habits. Obviously, it is much easier to reverse prediabetes before it progresses to full-blown diabetes.
What Your Body Needs
We already know that our modern lifestyle is actively causing this diabetes epidemic. And your diet is one of the major influences on your diabetes condition. The good news is that the human body is designed to heal itself, given that it is provided with what it needs to do its job.
Remember the saying “You are what you eat”? That is not far from the truth when it comes to diabetes.
You Are What You Eat
Just picture your body as a sophisticated machine that was designed to run on all-natural, organic fuel. For a million years this “machine” has been using fuel such as water, fruits, greens, vegetables, herbs, nuts, roots, and seeds.
That’s the fuel it’s been designed to run on.
That’s the fuel for which it’s been optimized.
Now suddenly, you put a different fuel in the machine: sugar, artificial sweeteners, white flour, coffee, donuts, cakes, sodas, hydrogenated fats, processed foods, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, etc.
Now, what’s going to happen to that machine?
Yep, it’s going to break down—no question about it. The engine will slow down and stop running.
If you keep filling up your body with fuels that it can’t use properly, eventually it will start to break down too. If you watched the video by Dr. Eric Berg above about how insulin resistance is built, you'll understand why. Your food is actually causing this reaction.
You would not want the airline company to use the wrong fuel before your next flight, would you? The airplane would likely crash and burn.
You do not do it to your car, do you?
The sad fact is most people take better care of their cars than they treat their bodies.
It's true, our bodies are amazingly resilient. They can function on a variety of diets, even very bad fuels that should never be eaten by a human—up to a point.
What is important that you can prevent, and in most cases reverse Type 2 diabetes, as explained in the TED Talk above. The disease is largely influenced by the person's lifestyle choices, most importantly diet and physical activity.
The truth is the best diet for reversing diabetes is the same diet that is best for maintaining overall health. The great majority of what we eat—at least 70% of calories consumed or more—should come from unrefined plant food. That means mostly fresh raw (or only lightly cooked) vegetables, lots of greens (eat a large salad with each meal and try drinking green smoothies between meals to curb cravings), as well as fruits. If you just follow these recommendations, you will be surprised how many of your chronic problems will disappear. This type of eating is also the best way to lose weight.
Book by My Favorite Diabetes Doctor
What You Need To Do: Start Taking Action
I’m sure you’ve heard it many times: “You need to lose weight,” “You need to eat a healthy diet,” “Don't eat too many carbs.” Blah, blah, blah.
You already know that to prevent becoming part of the scary statistics of diabetic complications—amputations, blindness, heart disease, stroke, etc.—you need to change your diet and lifestyle.
But how? It's never easy to change your life and completely alter many of your everyday habits that you have been practicing for years and years. You may think it's not for you—but it is.
Fortunately, I’m going to give you today some easy tactics that you can start using today that don't require a lot of time and effort. I’m going to give you a super-easy way to add all these “healthy fuels” your body is designed to run on to your diet so that you can thrive—the fresh raw greens, vegetables and fruits, as well as herbs, nuts, and seeds, which should constitute the cornerstone of your diet.
If you want to bring your sugar levels back to normal, you can't just add a little bit of these fuels while you keep consuming all the bad stuff. You need to consume lots and lots of them, while eliminating the foods that cause spikes in your blood sugar.
Here are the recommendations by my favorite doctor, Joel Fuhrman, MD, that I recommend everyone should follow for optimal health.
Unlimited (Eat as Much as You Want)
The nice thing is that you can have as much of these foods as you like—in soups, salads, side dishes, or snacks!
- Fresh, raw greens and vegetables. Sixty to eighty percent of your daily intake should be raw (or lightly cooked) plant food. Make huge salads as main dishes or side dishes to your cooked soups, or prepare green smoothies, green juices, and raw soups.
- Steamed/lightly cooked green vegetables. You can eat as much as you want, but make your goal at least one pound daily. There are an incredible variety of green vegetables you can include: think broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens, escarole, dandelion, beet greens, Swiss chard, all lettuces and herbs, etc.
- Non-starchy vegetables. Eat vegetables such as peppers, onions, tomatoes, celery tops, cucumbers, or eggplants, cooked or raw.
- Mushrooms, cooked or raw. Mushrooms are probably one of the most under-rated food sources out there—and yet they provide amazing health benefits, including stimulating the immune system and helping to fight infections and cancer. Mushrooms contain about 80 to 90 percent water, and are very low in calories (only 100 calories per ounce). They have very little sodium and fat, and eight to 10 percent of the dry weight is fiber. Add mushrooms to soups, salads, and sandwiches, or use them as an appetizer.
- Legumes. Beans, bean sprouts, peas, lentils, soybeans (including tofu), and others—eat as many legumes as you like, but try to have at least one cup daily. You can prepare them cooked or sprouted.
Limit These Foods
People who have difficulty losing weight may also eliminate starchy vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, and dried fruits, sticking instead to limited amounts of low-sugar fruits and all of the foods in the unlimited category.
- Fresh fruits. Most people can eat unlimited servings of fresh fruit, but if you notice it causes any blood sugar spikes, it's best to limit yourself to two to three cups of low-sugar fruits such as berries.
- Cooked starchy vegetables or cooked grains. Limit yourself to one cup of starchy vegetables and cooked grains combined. This category includes butternut or acorn squash, corn, sweet potatoes, cooked carrots, brown rice, whole-grain breads, whole-grain cereals. Avoid breads and cereals as much as possible.
- Raw nuts and seeds or avocado. Nuts, seeds, and avocado are very healthy but high in fat and calories, so limit yourself to either one ounce (28.5 grams) of nuts and seeds or two ounces of avocado. Nuts and seeds are especially nutritious when pre-soaked or sprouted. They are optional for overweight persons while they follow this plan.
- Ground flaxseed. Limit your flaxseed consumption to one tablespoon a day.
- Non-dairy milk. Dairy products are a no-go on this plan. If you need a substitute, drink at most a cup a day of a non-dairy milk such as soy milk, preferably low-sugar—it's high in protein.
- Dairy products. There is some debate on this, with some doctors recommending no dairy whatsoever (others say that milk fat has protective effects). What is certain is that milk products contain sugars known as lactose—and the amount of sugar stays the same whether or not it is non-fat.
- Animal products. According to Harvard Magazine and WebMD, studies have shown that eating meat can cause insulin resistance. Processed meat (51 percent higher risk of developing diabetes), which includes ham, bacon, and hot dogs, is much worse than non-processed meats (19 percent risk of developing diabetes).
- Soft drinks, fruit juice, dried fruits. All of these are high in sugar.
- Salt, sugar. Sugar is self explanatory. But did you know that sodium also can lead to insulin resistance? What's more, it also increases the risk of common diabetes complications such as heart attacks and strokes. The American Diabetes Association recommends limiting your intake to 2300 mg (one teaspoon) of salt a day. For perspective, one serving of broccoli naturally contains 50 mg of salt, so avoid adding salt to your food.
How to Incorporate Vegetables
This is the perfect fuel our bodies were meant to run on. But switching your fuel supply to these foods may seem like mission impossible at first. Especially the greens—most people don't eat them at all, and even those who are health-oriented don't consume nearly enough of them. Many of us don't like them or find them unpalatable.
A good way to make these vegetables more palatable is by turning them into a smoothie. There are many variations, so you will be able to find one that fits your palate and you needn't get bored!
Incredible Smoothies has gathered 20 recipes that worked for diabetic readers. As you try out recipes, monitor your blood sugar. See an unusual spike? Perhaps that's not the smoothie for you. Feel satisfied for hours? Then that's one you should add to your rotation.