Ways to Lower Your A1C Level

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Diabetes is a serious, chronic condition that can lead to many complications. But there are ways to manage your condition.

Getting your A1C level tested, especially if you’re at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, is a good way of taking care of yourself. An early diagnosis helps you get treatment before complications can occur.

Tips for lowering A1C level

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You can lower your A1C by making changes to your:

  • exercise regimen
  • diet
  • medication

If you already have diabetes and are taking medications that can cause low blood sugar levels, find out your optimal levels.

Here are nine ways to lower your A1C:

1. Make a food plan

Eating the right foods is essential to lowering your A1C, so you want to make a plan and stick to it. There are a few important strategies for this:

  • Make a grocery list. When you’re trying to fill your basket with nutrient-dense foods while minimizing sweets, having and following a list can help you avoid impulse purchases. And if you’re trying out new recipes, your list can help make sure you get home with all the right ingredients.
  • Meal prep ahead of time. When you’re fixing a nutritious meal, you can save time by doubling the recipe, so you have another meal readily available later in the week.
  • Build in flexibility. Plan to give yourself options before you need them, so you’re not scrounging for a fallback when the cupboards are bare and your stomach is rumbling.
2. Measure portion sizes
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It’s important to choose not just the right foods to lower your A1C but also the right amount. Here are a few tips to avoid overdoing it:

  • Get familiar with the appropriate portion sizes. You don’t have to measure every food you eat by the gram to learn to recognize and make a habit of thinking about what’s a right-size portion and what’s too much.
  • Use smaller plates at home. It’s not uncommon to want to fill your plate in the kitchen, but for portioning purposes, it might help for the plate to be smaller.
  • Avoid eating from a bag. In the interest of mindful munching, if you’re having a few crackers, pull out a reasonable serving, then put the rest back in the cupboard for later.
  • Be mindful when going out to eat. Rather than order an entrée that’s more food than you need, you may want to ask a friend if they’ll split something with you. Or you can plan to take half home to eat later in the week.
3. Track carbs

The appropriate amount of carbohydrates varies from person to person and is worth discussing with your doctor, but in general, carbs are easy to overdo if you’re not keeping track. It can be helpful to maintain a food diary or use an app to keep track of your carb intake.

Starting out, you may have to take some time looking at nutrition labels, but with practice, this will become a quick and easy process and will help you get a sense of which foods are most carb-heavy so you can adjust accordingly.

4. Plate method

Also called the Diabetes Plate Method, the idea here is to simplify your mealtime calculations while eating the right foods in the right proportions. Picture a plate that’s less than a foot in diameter and divide it up into quarters:

  • Half of what’s on the plate — that is, two quarters — should be low carb vegetables. There are many to choose from, including broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, cucumber, and anything leafy, like lettuce, cabbage, spinach, and so on.
  • The next quarter of the plate should be lean proteins, which include fish, chicken, eggs, shellfish, cheese, tofu, and lean cuts of pork or beef.
  • The last quarter of the plate goes to carbs, including grains like rice and whole grain bread, as well as fruit and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
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With practice, you can apply the same proportions and ideas behind the plate method to foods that don’t lend themselves to being divided across a plate like sandwiches, for instance.

5. Have a realistic weight loss goal

Set yourself up for success. It’s important to be practical because a slow, steady approach to weight loss (a pound or two a week, at most) tends to get the best results when it comes to keeping weight off.

It’s also worth noting the results don’t have to be drastic to meaningfully improve your health. Experts say even 5 percent can make a difference. This means if someone at 180 pounds adjusts their exercise and food habits and works their way down to 170 over a few months, the resulting health benefits can be worthwhile.

Talk with your doctor about what weight loss goal makes sense for you and how best to work toward it.

6. Exercise plan
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Increase your activity level to get your A1C level down for good. Start with a 20-minute walk after lunch. Build up to 150 minutes of extra activity a week.

Get confirmation from your doctor first before you increase your activity level. Being active is a key part of reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

Remember: Any exercise is better than no exercise. Even getting up for 2 minutes every hour has been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes.

7. Take medications

The medications that lower fasting blood sugars will also lower your A1C level. Some medications primarily affect your blood sugars after a meal, which are also called postprandial blood sugars.

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These medications include sitagliptin (Januvia), repaglinide (Prandin), and others. While these medications don’t significantly improve fasting glucose values, they still help lower your A1C level because of the decrease in post- meal glucose spikes.

8. Supplements and vitamins

It’s worth talking with your doctor about supplements you might take to improve your A1C level. Some of those to consider include aloe vera and chromium. Aloe vera is a succulent that may inhibit the body’s absorption of carbohydrates. A 2016 review of studies found that it may lower A1C levels by around 1 percent.

A 2014 analysis of prior studies suggests chromium, a mineral found in vegetables like potatoes and mushrooms, as well as oysters, can lower A1C by more than half a percent in people with type 2 diabetes.

However, a 2002 review of previous research found that chromium had no impact on glycemic control in those who do not have diabetes.

9. Stay consistent
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Lowering your A1C levels depends on making changes that become habits. The best way to make something second nature is to keep doing it consistently, so your week-long streak turns into a month and so on.

Particularly where eating patterns and exercise are concerned, slow, steady progress tends to deliver the best long-term results.

A1C level

Sugar from food makes its way into your bloodstream and attaches to your red blood cells — specifically to a protein called hemoglobin.

Your A1C level is a measure of how much sugar is attached to your red blood cells. This can help determine if you have diabetes or prediabetes and can help inform how best to manage it.

What is the A1C test?

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The A1C test is a blood test that screens for diabetes. If you have diabetes, it shows whether treatment is working and how well you’re managing the condition. The test provides information about a person’s average levels of blood sugar over a 2- to 3-month period before the test.

The number is reported as a percentage. If the percentage is higher, so are your average blood glucose levels. This means your risk for either diabetes or related complications is higher.

Although A1C is the gold standard of diabetes diagnosis, keep in mind that it’s not always accurate. Many clinical conditions can affect A1C, including iron deficiency anemia and other blood disorders that affect red blood cells.

What does the A1C test measure?

A1C is one of the primary tests used for diabetes diagnosis and management. It can test for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but not for gestational diabetes. The A1C test can also predict the likelihood that someone will develop diabetes.

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The A1C test measures how much glucose (sugar) is attached to hemoglobin. This is the protein in red blood cells. The more glucose attached, the higher the A1C.

The A1C test is groundbreaking because:

  • It doesn’t require fasting.
  • It gives a picture of blood sugar levels over a period of weeks to months instead of at just one time, like fasting sugars.
  • It can be done at any time of day. This makes it easier for doctors to give and make accurate diagnoses.

What do the scores mean?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, an optimal A1C is below 5.7 percent. If your score is between 5.7 and 6.4 percent, the diagnosis is prediabetes.

Having prediabetes puts you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes within 10 years. But you can take steps to prevent or delay developing diabetes. If you test positive for prediabetes, it’s best to get retested every year.

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There’s an increased chance of prediabetes developing into type 2 diabetes if your A1C is 6.5 percent or higher.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, keeping your A1C levels below 7 percent can help reduce the risk of complications.

If you receive a diagnosis of prediabetes or diabetes, your doctor may prescribe a home monitor to allow you to test your blood sugar. Be sure to talk with your doctor to learn what to do if the results are too high or too low for you.

Talking with your doctor

It’s important to talk with your doctor about what steps you can take to help lower your A1C levels. They can help you set and monitor practical goals and may also prescribe medication.

Additionally, your doctor may connect you with a dietician who can help you better understand the nutrition component of lowering your A1C levels, as well as determine the best ways to adjust your diet and habits around food in health- promoting, practical ways.

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