How to Stop the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

Fight the Ups and Downs of Blood Sugar Extremes

Sheri Colberg-OchsBy Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

If you find that your blood sugars often fluctuate from too high to too low (and vice versa), you're on the blood sugar roller coaster. To learn how to eliminate the extremes, you'll have do a little sleuthing on your own. Get out your blood glucose meter, and for a week try testing before and after a variety of meals, activities, and stress relievers to figure out what makes it go up and down to stop the roller coaster for good!

Your blood sugars are affected by a large number of things, including what you eat (especially refined "white" carbohydrates), how long ago you ate, your starting blood glucose level, physical activity, mental stress, illness, sleep patterns, and more. If you take insulin and use it to treat highs, you can easily end up overcompensating and developing low blood sugars. If you develop a low, it's easy to overeat and end up high again. Large fluctuations in blood sugars make you feel cruddy and are bad for your long-term health, so it's time to learn how to stop the roller coaster!

Physical Activity

During this week, your goal is to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity on three days, at varying times of day. Check and record your blood glucose levels before and after the activity.

Physical Activity Check #1: For this first activity, pick one that you normally do (like walking or cycling) and try to do it at your usual time of day. Check and record your blood sugar immediately before starting and within an hour of completing the 30 minutes of activity. You will find that your body responds differently to varying types of physical activities, particularly when the time of day varies as well. If you exercise first thing in the morning (before breakfast and medications), it is not unusual to experience a modest increase in blood sugars, while the same bout of exercise later in the day may lower them.

Physical Activity Check #2: This time, experiment with another time of day or a different activity to test the effect. Check and record your blood sugars before and after. In some cases, exercise can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugars — in others it can help flatten out the extremes. The trick is to learn your body's unique responses to any activities you do — at different times of day and under varying conditions. The only way to do that is to use a blood glucose meter. The usual response to moderate aerobic activity is a reduction in blood sugar levels, but intense exercise can cause a temporary rise instead.

Physical Activity Check #3: This final time, do at least 30 minutes of a different physical activity or change up your exercise intensity. Measure and record your blood sugar before and after.

Refined Carbs

When you were diagnosed with diabetes, were you told that you could eat anything (within reason) and still manage your diabetes? While that is mostly true, it is important to fully realize the profound effect that rapidly-absorbed carbohydrates have on blood sugar. Anything refined — including foods or drinks made with white sugar, white flour, white rice, white potatoes, etc. — can cause blood sugar spikes, thus contributing to the blood sugar roller coaster. It is best to avoid these foods altogether, or to eat them in very limited quantities. In order to stop the roller coaster, take a closer look at what you're eating and drinking. This will help you find out what changes will have the best impact on your blood sugar.

Refined Carb Check #1: For starters, simply eat a carb-based food that you normally do (and know you probably shouldn't) to test its effect. Measure and record your blood sugar response an hour later — if it spiked more than 100 mg/dl, consider swaping that food for something that will have less of an impact on blood sugar.

Refined Carb Check #2: On the second day, cut back on your refined carbohydrate intake at a meal and substitute in a food higher in protein. For example, replace white rice with baked chicken breast. Measure and record your blood sugar before and 1-2 hours after eating to see if the substitution had a positive effect.

Refined Carb Check #3: This time, at least one time that you eat some carbs (even if they are not that refined) for a meal or snack, try cutting back a little on the total carbs you eat and replacing them with more protein or fat (such as eating peanuts instead of pretzels) to see how that impacts your blood sugars. Sometimes, even too much of a healthy carb as a snack (like a large apple or whole grain bar) can send you on the blood sugar roller coaster. Measure before and after to see the effect.

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Last Modified Date: March 12, 2014

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