Diabetes Control: Going Beyond Blood Sugar

World diabetes day, National American diabetic awareness month concept with blood drop examination tool kit, blood sugar tracker record and heart with doctor's stethoscope
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“What’s your blood sugar?” “When did you last measure your blood sugar?” “How’s your A1C?”

When we talk about diabetes, we usually put most of the emphasis on blood sugar or blood glucose. That’s no surprise since blood glucose can jump or plummet quickly, changing the way you feel from one hour to the next. Even worse, a dramatic rise or fall in your blood glucose level can put you at immediate health risk. Without a doubt, if you have diabetes, monitoring and controlling your blood glucose is critical. But equally important is tending to the health of your heart and blood vessels.

Unfortunately, having diabetes at least doubles your risk of heart troubles. That’s a scary-sounding statistic, but there is good news, as well. There is a lot you can do to protect yourself, and many of the things you do to control your blood sugar — eat well, exercise, take medications — also protect your heart. I teach my patients the ABCs of diabetes care:

A: A1C – a measure of blood sugar control for two to three months
B: Blood Pressure
C: Cholesterol (and triglycerides)

Below are the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) recommended target goals for A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol. However, everyone is different and everyone’s diabetes is different, so you must discuss individualized goals with your healthcare team.

Note: < and > = less than and greater than
A1C: < 7%
Blood glucose:

  • Before meals: 70 – 130 mg/dl
  • 1 – 2 hours after the start of the meal: < 180 mg/dl

Blood Pressure: < 140/80 mmHg
LDL Cholesterol:

  • < 100 mg/dl
  • < 70 mg/dl for those with cardiovascular disease

HDL Cholesterol:

  • > 40 mg/dl for men
  • > 50 mg/dl for women

Triglycerides: < 150 mg/dl

Often people with diabetes put energy into one of the ABCs at the expense of the others. A healthy future requires you to manage all three, but sadly only 19 percent of Americans with diabetes have each of the three at target levels, Here are a few things you can do right now:

  • If you don’t already know, call your physician’s office to learn what your blood glucose target is for various times of the day.
  • Ask if your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are in control.
  • Meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop a personalized meal plan.
  • Use less salt and more herbs and spices in cooking.
  • Choose lower-sodium packaged foods, and use only half of a salty seasoning pack.
  • Cook more foods from scratch.
  • Spread a trans fat-free tub margarine instead of butter.
  • Sauté in cooking oils instead of butter, lard and other solid fats.
  • Eat more vegetarian meals.

Taking control of all aspects of your diabetes puts you in charge of your health now and in the years to follow. Now what can be more empowering than that?

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Jill Weisenberger
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a writer, nutrition consultant and speaker with a private practice in Newport News, VA, and is the author of four books, including the bestselling Diabetes Weight Loss – Week by Week and her newest title, Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. Follow her on social media and learn more at jillweisenberger.com.