You don’t necessarily have to eat something sweet to consume sugar. Spaghetti sauce, sports drinks, catsup, barbecue sauce, yoghurt, and flavored coffees are among the food and drinks that are high in sugar. Even non-sweet carbohydrates like pasta, bread, rice, oatmeal, corn, peas, and potatoes become the simple sugar glucose once they are eaten and processed by the body.
At optimal levels, glucose is excellent fuel for the body. We’re not just talking about the energy it gives us to perform a wide range of movements that gets us through the day: red blood cells depend on glucose to produce energy; the liver stores glucose then distributes it to our muscles and cells to maintain ideal blood sugar levels; and the brain’s neurons require glucose constantly to do its job—from thinking and remembering to absorbing information.
But what happens when you have too much—or too little—glucose? To commemorate World Diabetes Day on November 14, May O. Sison, MD, Head Doctor of the Diabetes Care Center of top hospital in the Philippines Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), discusses the sweet and bitter truth about glucose—and what to do to keep your blood sugar at ideal levels.
Fasting blood sugar: Aim for this number
During a meal, the food you eat travels from your esophagus to your stomach, where acids and enzymes break it down, and glucose is produced. From there, glucose is absorbed by your intestines then goes straight to your bloodstream. Insulin released from the pancreas helps glucose enter the cells in our body.
“Blood sugar is at its lowest before a meal. It increases during a meal then dips once insulin transports glucose to the cells,” says Dr. Sison. “When you’re not eating, normal blood sugar is less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).
Hunger, says the doctor, isn’t the only sign of low blood sugar, which is around 70 mg/dl or less. “Cold sweat, dizziness, nervousness, and in extreme cases, confusion, are other telltale signs,” she says.
Conversely, high blood sugar (for a person without diabetes, it’s more than 100 mg/dl when fasting and more than 140 mg/dl two hours after eating) manifests in excessive urination, frequent hunger and thirst, weight loss, and the tingling “pins and needles” sensation on the arms, hands, legs, and feet. “High blood sugar also increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, eye disease, and nerve damage”, informs Dr. Sison.
How to maintain ideal blood sugar levels
Aside from keeping tabs on your blood sugar levels through regular checkups with your family physician, healthy lifestyle practices also help manage doctor-recommended levels. “Consume a diet of fruits and vegetables, schedule daily moderate exercise, and stick to your ideal weight,” advises Dr. Sison.
“Practicing good food choices also keeps your blood sugar levels within an acceptable range. Don’t skip meals. Drink water instead of juice or soft drinks. Eat fruits instead of candy. And watch not only how much you eat but what you put on your plate: make sure it contains protein-rich food and non-starchy vegetables too.”