You have probably noticed that what is normal for you is not necessarily normal for other people. You may have a friend who can seemingly eat anything and stay slim and trim, but if you so much as walk past a doughnut, pastry or some other baked good, you gain 2 pounds. These person-to-person differences also occur with blood sugar levels.
What may be slightly high for you may be acceptable for someone else. The reverse could be true. This is why doctors deal with “ranges” when talking blood glucose levels, rather than pointing to a specific number. It is also why diabetes patients frequently test their blood glucose levels. They want to keep it in a healthy range, and they do so with insulin injections, oral medications, as well as smart nutrition and exercise.
Understanding the Measurements
In the United States, blood sugar is usually measured in milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood. This is expressed as mg/dl. In the United Kingdom, Canada and elsewhere, you will see blood sugar reported as a ratio of millimoles/liter. This is expressed as mmol/L. For comparison, you can multiply a Canadian or British glucose level reading by 18 to create an American reading. If a UK person’s fasting blood glucose level is 6, their US reading would be 108 mg/dl.
Normal, Fasting, Post-Meal Glucose Levels
Getting to know your blood sugar level means understanding when and why it can spike and drop. There are many things you eat or drink throughout the day that cause a change in your glucose level. This is why diabetes patients will frequently check their levels at strategic points during the day. If you check your glucose level first thing in the morning after you get out of bed before you eat, this is called your fasting blood sugar level. You should also check your blood sugar right before and 2 hours after eating.
It is also good to know how a person’s blood sugar level has changed over time. There is a long-term glucose test called hemoglobin A1c. You will also hear is referred to as HbA1c, or just A1c. This test provides you with an average reading over the last 2 to 3 months. Comparing your A1c to your current readings and past A1c results lets you know if your diet and exercise efforts have you heading in the right direction. A1c readings are expressed as a percentage.
For someone without diabetes, normal glucose levels are:
- Fasting – under 100 mg/dl
- Before meal – 70 – 99 mg/dl
- 2 hours after a meal – under 140 mg/dl (this is also called postprandial sugar level)
- A1c – under 5.7%
For someone with diabetes, glucose levels considered acceptable are:
- Fasting – 80 – 130 mg/dl
- Before meal – 80 – 130 mg/dl
- Postprandial – under 180 mg/dl
- A1c – under 7.0%
A finger-stick blood test and a glucose meter can tell you what your approximate blood glucose level is at any moment. If you currently are not diabetic or prediabetic, you should schedule regular testing with your doctor every year or two. A diabetic diagnosis will require testing at the previously mentioned times each day, and possibly even more frequently.