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What an A1C test can tell your doctor and tips for eating better

GEHA | July 6, 2021

The combination of a healthy diet, exercise and medication can bring your blood sugar levels down.

More than 34 million Americans live with diabetes. That’s more than 10% of the population. Many more are unaware that they are at high risk for developing diabetes.

You are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes (the most common type) if you are age 45 or older, have a family history of diabetes or are overweight. Physical inactivity, race and certain health problems such as high blood pressure also affect your chance of developing the disease. Over time, diabetes can cause problems with your heart, kidneys, eyes, teeth and feet.

The symptoms of diabetes can include:

  • Overactive bladder and/or urinary tract infections
  • Extreme hunger or thirst
  • Feeling tired for no reason
  • Losing weight for no reason
  • Having cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
  • Having trouble seeing (blurry vision)
  • Losing feeling or having tingling in your hands or feet

The A1C test is a common blood test used to diagnose Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and to monitor how well you’re managing your diabetes. It reflects your average blood sugar level for the past two or three months.

Specifically, it measures what percentage of your hemoglobin — a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen — is coated with sugar. The higher your A1C level, the poorer your blood sugar control and the higher your risk of diabetes complications.

The results can help your doctor:

  • Identify prediabetes, which may lead to a higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease;
  • Diagnose Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes; and
  • Monitor your diabetes treatment plan and adjust your diabetes medicine if necessary.

If you have diabetes, A1C is an important tool for managing diabetes, but it doesn’t replace regular blood sugar testing at home. Blood sugar levels change throughout the day. If you’re reaching your A1C goal but having symptoms of high or low blood sugar, check your blood sugar often and at different times of the day.

A combination of diet, exercise and medication can bring your levels down. Here are some healthy eating habits worth developing:

  • Eat a variety of foods from each food group every day.
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Include more non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, asparagus, carrots and broccoli, and more whole fruit than juice.
  • Choose whole-grain carbohydrates such as brown rice, buckwheat, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread.
  • Limit foods that are high in added sugar.
  • Eat less fat. Choose lean meats, poultry and fish. Bake, broil, roast, grill, boil, or steam foods instead of frying. Also choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Cut the salt. Use more pepper and herbs for seasoning.
  • Avoid skipping meals.
  • Watch portion sizes and read food labels.

“Diabetes symptoms.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 April, 2021.
“All about your A1C.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 August 2018.
“Eating right with diabetes.”, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, February 2019.
“National diabetes statistics report”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 February 2020.