Fitness trackers that count our steps can be fun and motivating. But, if you want to avoid pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease, spend your money on a blood glucose meter. For less than half the cost of a Fitbit, you can have a meter (and some test strips and lancets) that tells you whether your body is able to manage sugar levels in your blood. This measure can alert you to hidden problems and help you craft a diet that is better suited to your body’s needs.
Diabetes is a big deal. It is costly to manage, destructive enough to take years off your life, and basically to-be-avoided. It is a huge risk factor for heart disease, too. The sooner you can catch your body veering from healthy toward pre-diabetes, the better. A Fitbit can’t help you catch the gradual creep upwards in fasting blood sugar that tells you that your metabolic balance is off. But a blood sugar meter can. And, since there are often no signs or symptoms associated with pre-diabetes, regular testing is the best way to make sure you are still healthy. There are more than 86 million pre-diabetics in America, and most (~90%) of them do not know they are sick. Early detection enables people to reduce refined carbohydrates in their diet and often reverse their disease. Early detection also minimizes the damage that elevated blood sugar levels inflict.
Just like a Fitbit, it is pretty easy to use a blood sugar meter – yours should come with basic instructions. The most important test is to measure your blood sugar when you wake up in the morning, after going at least 8 hours without eating. This gives you your fasting blood sugar level… healthy levels fall between 70-90 mg/dL. Levels from 100-125mg/dL signify pre-diabetes, and levels above 125 mg/dL signify diabetes. Once you have your meter, you can also test how long it takes your body to get blood sugar back in check after a meal. Blood sugars should be below 140 two hours after eating.
Just as a Fitbit can motivate you to get off the couch and walk a few extra steps, a blood sugar meter can motivate you to eat more balanced meals that work for your body. Simply monitoring your blood sugar every 15 minutes after a typical breakfast can show you what sort of a ride your blood sugar level took before returning to normal. Seeing what is actually happening in your body empowers you to tailor your meals to suit your particular needs. Through trial and error, you can find a mix of whole foods that satisfies yet does not put you on the 'wild ride' of the refined carbohydrate-induced blood sugar roller coaster. Above on the right, you can see a graph of how two breakfasts, similar in total calories, affected my blood sugar. Both breakfasts were built around yogurt. The first was full-fat Greek yogurt, plain with a little stevia for sweetness, plus a couple of tablespoons cream, 1/4 cup blueberries, and two tablespoons slivered almonds. The second breakfast was similar, yet low in fat -- organic fat-free blueberry yogurt, an apple, and a granola bar. Without a blood sugar meter, we are unaware of this ride that so many of us jump on at breakfast and stay on until bedtime. With a blood sugar meter, you can see the peaks and valleys, and plan a way off that ride (eat less sugar and flour!)
Are you one of the 78 million American adults with undiagnosed pre-diabetes? Stop by any drug store, invest in a blood sugar meter, and you will know tomorrow morning. It’s that simple. And, it is much more important than knowing (exactly) how many steps you took yesterday, don’t you think?