What is A1C?
The A1C test—also known as the hemoglobin A1C or HbA1c test—measures your average blood sugar level over the past 2 to 3 months. A1C is used to help diagnose prediabetes, type 1, and type 2 diabetes and to monitor treatment plans. A doctor will diagnose diabetes if a person’s A1C level is 6.5 percent or higher on two separate occasion and prediabetes at or above 5.7 percent. In a person with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends an A1C below 7 percent.
But why is it important to lower your A1C?
Lowering A1C levels can help slow the progression of diabetes and reduce the risk of complications — such as nerve damage and cardiovascular disease — in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Physical activity, diet, and medication can help manage blood sugar levels, and therefore also lower A1C levels. Even small changes in A1C levels can have significant effects.
Exercise and lifestyle tips to help lower A1C levels
- Add 150–300 minutes of moderate physical exercise (like walking briskly) each week. People who use insulin should talk to their doctor about adding exercise.
- Move more with routine activities. Housework, gardening, and casually walking can all help reduce blood sugar.
- Regular blood sugar monitoring helps you meet your targets and make necessary dietary and activity changes.
- Following your treatment plan by taking prescribed medications and lifestyle therapies, such as stress reduction techniques (e.g. meditation, yoga).
- Set a modest weight loss goal (if needed) and make small changes to achieve weight loss with help of dietitian. Even small weight loss can improve your A1C.
- Tracking your progress is useful for self-motivation, for monitoring changes, and for identifying which strategies work.
- Get family and friends involved. Lifestyle changes are often easier to adopt if friends and family encourage and participate in your progress.
Everyone, especially people with diabetes, can benefit from a healthful diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole foods and is low in sugar, salt, and fat.
Monitoring carbohydrates is helpful because they most directly increase your blood sugar. However, while all carbohydrates are sugar, they are not all equal. Complex carbohydrates with fiber (e.g. whole grains, fibrous vegetables, legumes) take longer to digest and have a slower and less significant impact on blood sugar levels. A person will digest simple sugars — candy, cake, white bread, white rice, pizza — more quickly. This can trigger a blood sugar spike. Frequent glucose spikes can speed up the development of diabetes and increase the risk of complications.
General diet tips to lower A1C levels
- Be mindful of portion sizes
- Eat regularly, every 3-5 hours
- Eat similar sized portions at meals and snacks
- Plan meals ahead of time
- Keep a journal of food, medication, and exercise
- Spread out carbohydrate-rich foods throughout the day
- Choose less processed or whole foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts
- Eat a balanced diet complete with healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
Diabetes is a complicated illness. In cases of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, you have the power to improve and even reverse the progression of the disease with diet and exercise. For more information on how to manage diabetes and lower your A1C, reach out to a registered dietitian trained to manage the complexity of the disease through medical nutrition therapy.
For personalized guidance, check out Karen Kruza, Registered Dietitian at Kruza Nutrition.