High Blood Sugar in Teens? Here are 7 Ways to Get Levels Back in Check

July 25, 2016

Healthy eating can help normalize blood sugar levels and get teens healthier. Here are seven tips:

Nearly one in five American teenagers has an abnormal glucose level, according to new government data. Findings were published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Andy Menke, PhD, an epidemiologist with Social & Scientific Systems, and colleagues. Using data from over 2600 participants aged 12 to 19 in the 2005–2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), investigators found a nearly 1 percent prevalence of diabetes – more than a quarter undiagnosed – and nearly 18 percent prevalence of pre-diabetes. (NHANES did not distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.)

The participants surveyed are “likely predominantly those with type 2 diabetes or, for those with prediabetes, at high risk for type 2 diabetes”, according to Menke.  Of the 2606 adolescents included, 62 had diabetes – of whom 20 were undiagnosed – and 512 had prediabetes. A number that was "higher than we anticipated," according to Dr Menke.

Healthy eating can help normalize blood sugar levels and get teens healthier. Here are seven tips:

So what should you buy when grocery shopping? First, you should always be sure to eat before you shop and shop from a list. These are healthy grocery shopping tips for everyone – and you should always read labels for dietary information and review ingredient lists. One important thing to look at on a food label is the total carbohydrate grams. This includes the sugar grams listed on the label as well as the other carbohydrates in the food. Other big no-no’s include trans fats and hydrogenated anything on ingredient lists.

Controlling blood sugar levels is critical for diabetics; understanding the principles of carbohydrate counting, since lower carbohydrate intake is associated with lower sugar levels in the blood, is essential. The nutrient term for sugars can also be identified by looking for -ose at the end of a word (i.e, glucose, fructose, and sucrose are all sugars). Looking for these on food labels will help identify foods that contain sugar.

Starting off the day with a solid breakfast is key. Some great choices include yogurt with granola or cereal, a veggie omelet with whole grain toast, a yogurt based fresh or frozen fruit smoothie along side eggs. Seed and nut butters like almond, peanut, and sunflower are not only protein rich, but rich in essential minerals as well; slice banana or strawberries on top. Nut and seed butters are extremely versatile and can even be mixed in with oatmeal to increase the nutrition content of this already nutritious breakfast choice. 

Inside the supermarket, avoid highly-processed foods. Don’t let yourself be swayed by any food that claims to be a diabetic food – read the labels carefully. Although they might seem to be lower in sugars, these foods often contain other substances that will raise blood sugar when they break down. Look out for sugar alcohols — including mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. Sugar alcohols can increase your blood sugar level (although not as much as sugars), so should not be considered a “freebee” food. Additionally, products such as diabetic ice cream, cookies, and candy MAY contain more calories than the foods they are replacing. Read labels and compare products – and switch to berries for dessert!

In the produce aisle, select fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as fresh herbs and spices to add flavor to your meals. Remember, all fruits and vegetables have carbohydrates, although they are complex carbohydrates, they still have an affect on blood sugar. Diabetic friendly vegetable selections include: celery, zucchini, kale, and broccoli, as well as other dark leafy greens. In the fruit family, choose apples, berries, passion fruit, apricots and rhubarb, and sprinkle with some antioxidant packed cinnamon. Fruits such as bananas, dates, mangos and pineapples should be consumed in moderation.

When buying grains, choose whole grains such as whole grain breads, brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat, and always make sure that the word 'whole' precedes the word grain on things like breads and pastas. Look for breads and cereals that do not list high fructose corn sweetener or other sugars including sugar, cane syrup or honey, on their ingredient labels.

When buying meats, avoid lunchmeats and processed meats like sausage and bacon. Be sure to choose fish that are high in omega-3 fats, such as mackerel, herring, salmon, tuna, lake trout, and sardines.

Everyone's nutritional needs are different. Still, the focus of any diabetes-eating plan is pretty much the same as any healthful diet — a nutrient-rich blend of foods based on moderate serving sizes. If your local supermarket has an in-store dietician, ask them for shopping tips based on your individual needs.

The study was funded by a contract from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Find the study here.