How to lower your A1C level: a dietitian’s perspective

how to lower a1c

So you have been told by your doctor that your A1C level is elevated. You are worried that you will need to give up all your favorite carb-heavy foods. You also may be worried about some negative long-term effects associated with an elevated A1C level.

Does this sound like you? You are wondering how to lower your A1C level without giving up some of your favorite foods. Spoiler alert– you don’t have to!

If you want to learn more about how to lower your A1C level through diet and exercise, without giving up all your favorite foods, keep reading!

What is your A1C level?

The hemoglobin A1C level, referred to simply as A1C, gives an average blood glucose level over the past two to three months. Typically people with diabetes or at high risk for developing diabetes will have their A1C checked at least twice per year, sometimes every three months.

The A1C can also be used as a tool to check how well controlled a person’s diabetes treatment has been over the same timeframe. 

Since the A1C is a measure of average glucose levels over the past few months, it is unrealistic to think you can figure out how to lower your A1C level overnight. There is no way to quickly change your results when you realize you are due for your test in just a couple days!

What is a normal A1C level range?

According to the American Diabetes Association, a normal hemoglobin A1C is a value under 5.7. When the level rises to 5.7 to less than 6.5, it is considered the prediabetes range. When the value rises to 6.5 or higher, it is considered diabetes. Just one measure of A1C over 6.5 will give you the diabetes diagnosis.

How to lower your A1C level

The good news is that it is possible to lower your A1C level with proper diet and exercise. Ultimately the goal is to avoid spikes in blood sugar levels. Eating balanced meals and snacks can help accomplish this.

It is important to keep in mind that when you are able to lower your A1C level, the diet and exercise changes you made for this accomplishment must be maintained in order to maintain your levels. Even if you lower your A1C into a normal level, you cannot return to eating an unhealthy diet.

  1. When consuming a carbohydrate, add protein, fat, or fiber! Foods that contain protein, fat, or fiber will slow to absorption of the sugar from carbohydrates into the blood stream. Slower absorption means less of a spike in blood sugar levels.
  2. Include 30 minutes of exercise per day. Energy is needed in the cells during exercise and physical activity. Exercise helps bring the sugars fromthe blood into the cell, thus lowering blood sugar levels. 
  3. Avoid simple sugars. Simple sugars are foods that are high in sugar with little no nutritive value. Sweets and candies are example of simple sugars that should be consumed minimally for special occasions.

What creates a blood sugar spike?

A spike, or a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, occurs when someone eats a food that is easily passed into the bloodstream. This occurs with foods like simple sugars, candies, or processed and refined carbohydrates like white bread or white rice.

What prevents a blood sugar spike?

Just like there are foods that promote a quick rise in blood sugar levels, there are also certain foods that can help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood.

Carbohydrates that are high in fiber are digested more slowly and therefore help to keep blood sugar levels more steady. Some foods high in fiber include vegetables, whole grains, legumes, or fruits.

Consuming certain foods along with carbohydrates can also have a similar effect as fiber in slowing absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and preventing blood sugar spikes.

Adding protein or fats to a meal can help slow digestion, which results in slower movement of sugars from the digestive system into the bloodstream.

How to lower your A1C level overnight – is that possible?

The reality is that your A1C level did not rise to where it is overnight. So unfortunately if you are wondering how to lower your A1C overnight, you are out of luck. A1C levels take months to adjust based on a variety of factors.

You can make the decision to focus on improving healthy habits to work on improving your A1C, however it will take longer than overnight in order to see the change in your blood lab values.

Reversing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes

Through proper diet and exercise (and perhaps doctor prescribed medication), it is possible to lower your A1C levels enough to no longer qualify as prediabetes or diabetes.

However, this does not mean that you can return to a less than stellar diet and minimal exercise. Instead, you will need to sustain your healthy lifestyle in order to keep your A1C at an optimal level.

In conclusion

Through proper diet and exercise you can learn how to lower your A1C level. Starting with these simple tips as described above you can make a big impact in just a few months time. Of course for a more personalized approach it would be beneficial to seek help from a registered dietitian who can help you create an individualized nutrition plan of care.
If you would like to work with me, be sure to check out my nutrition coaching page to learn more!

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