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Two hours after eating a meal, most adults without diabetes should have a blood sugar level of between 90 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and 140 mg/dL. If you’re an adult with diabetes, the level should be under 180 mg/dL.

These values aren’t set in stone, however. Your “normal” can differ from that of others depending on your age, diabetes type and insulin usage (if applicable), and pregnancy status.

Knowing what your blood sugar level is after eating can help you better understand which foods you should eat or which foods you should limit. It can also help your healthcare provider determine if you need insulin to control your blood sugar (or what dose you should be taking if you are already using insulin).

This article explains what normal blood sugar levels should be after eating. It also explains how certain foods can impact blood sugar and what you can do to maintain tighter control if you have diabetes.

Why Blood Sugar Matters
Blood sugar (glucose) is your body’s main source of energy.2 During digestion, carbohydrates such as sugars, starches, and fiber are turned into glucose. If you eat too many carbohydrates at one time, your blood sugar can spike to unhealthy levels. This cannot only lead to diabetes but make diabetes harder to control.

If you have diabetes, you need to maintain normal blood sugar levels to prevent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). If left unchecked, hyperglycemia can cause progressive damage to cells throughout the body, leading to serious health concerns like vision loss, kidney disease, heart attack, or stroke.

To avoid this, you need to check your blood sugar routinely and make necessary adjustments to your diet or medication doses to bring your levels back under control.
Your health provider may want you to check your blood sugar at different times of the day but will commonly recommend that you do so one to two hours after eating.

Who Needs to Monitor Their Blood Sugar?
If you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, tracking your blood sugar levels regularly will help you understand how medication, food, and physical activity affect them. It also gives you the chance to see when levels are rising and take action to correct them.

Checking your blood sugar may also be important if you are pregnant and either have or are at risk of gestational diabetes. This is a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy and cause harm to your unborn baby.

On the flip side, you may need to monitor your blood sugar if you have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This can be caused by the overuse of diabetes medications or by certain drugs that interact with them. Hypoglycemia may also be the result of a hormonal disorder (like Addison’s disease), alcohol abuse, or advanced liver, kidney, or pancreatic disease.

Beyond that, regular blood sugar monitoring is generally not necessary in healthy people without diabetes. They should, however, get their blood sugar tested every three years or so. If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, repeat testing is recommended at least yearly.

Target Blood Glucose Levels After Meals by Age
Your target blood sugar level after eating will vary based on your age and whether you have diabetes, are using insulin, or are pregnant.4 You can measure your blood glucose levels with a simple device called a glucometer.

Here are the current guidelines for post-meal blood glucose levels:

Children and teens under 18 with diabetes: Under 200mg/dl one hour after eating and under 180 mg/dL two hours after eating

  • Adults without diabetes who are not pregnant: 90-140 mg/dL two hours after eating
  • Adults with diabetes who are not pregnant: Under 180 mg/dL two hours after eating
  • Adults with diabetes taking mealtime insulin: Under 180 mg/dL two hours after eating
  • Adults with diabetes not taking mealtime insulin: Under 140 mg/dL two hours after eating
  • Adults with gestational diabetes: Under 140 mg/dL one hour after eating and 120 mg/dL two hours after eating

Pregnant adults with preexisting type 1 or type 2 diabetes: Under 110-140 mg/dL one hour after eating and under 100-120 mg/dL two hours after eating

How Food Affects Blood Sugar
When you eat, your body breaks food down into carbohydrates (“carbs”), proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Carbs are the nutrients that can cause blood sugar to spike when overconsumed.

However, not all carbs are converted into blood sugar at the same rate or have the same impact on blood sugar levels.

There are three broad categories of carbs derived from food:

Sugars (simple carbohydrates): Including fruits, baked goods, juices, sweetened beverages, and processed foods

Starches (complex carbohydrates): Including starchy vegetables, rolled oats, chickpeas, and barley

Fiber (non-digestible carbohydrates): Including whole grains, avocados, apples, dried beans, and broccoli

Simple carbohydrates are most easily broken down into glucose and, as such, can cause blood sugar to rise more quickly. Complex carbohydrates are broken down slowly and are less likely to cause spikes. Fiber can actually help bring down your blood sugar.

The level by which carbs can raise blood sugar is classified by a food’s glycemic index (GI). This is a ranking system based on a scale of zero to 100 that can help you assess which foods are more or less likely to cause a spike.

High-GI foods are processed quickly and tend to cause bigger spikes in blood sugar. Low-GI foods are processed slowly and are less likely to cause a spike.5

Diet for Keeping Blood Sugar Levels Normal
There are several ways you can manage your blood sugar through your diet and keep your levels as consistent as possible. For example, eating several smaller meals throughout the day rather than two or three big meals may help.

Method 1: Plate Method
The plate method is a simple way to plan well-balanced meals. Here are the steps to using the method to build your meals:

Start with a plate that is about 9 inches across or a typical salad plate.
Now, imagine there is one line down the center that divides the plate into two portions.
Add another imaginary line across one half of the plate so that you have three sections in total.
Now that your plate is divided, you need to fill it up! Here’s an overview of how each food component should fit into your meal.

Nonstarchy Vegetables

Fill the largest section with nonstarchy vegetables to ensure you get a healthy mix of foods that provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Examples of nonstarchy vegetables:

Broccoli or cauliflower
Leafy greens
Green beans or peas

Lean, Low-Fat Protein

Next, fill one-quarter of your plate with lean and lower-fat proteins. Keep in mind that some plant-based proteins like beans and legumes are high in carbohydrates and can raise blood sugar levels.

Examples of lean and lower-fat proteins include:

Chicken, turkey, and eggs
Fish like salmon, cod, tuna, tilapia, or swordfish
Shellfish like shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, or lobster
Lean beef cuts such as chuck, round, sirloin, flank, or tenderloin
Lean pork cuts such as center loin chop or tenderloin
Lean deli meats
Cheese and cottage cheese
Beans, lentils, hummus, and falafel
Nuts and nut butter
Tofu and tempeh
Plant-based meat substitutes

Fill the remaining quarter of your plate with carbs—the foods that will have the greatest effect on your blood sugar. Remember that many types of foods can fit into the carb category, including fresh and dried fruits, yogurt, sour cream, milk, and milk substitutes.

Method 2 Counting Carbohydrates
Another way to manage your blood sugar through your dietary choices is counting the number of carbohydrates in grams per meal.

Carb counting when you have diabetes varies depending on whether you take mealtime insulin, which is taken before or after meals to help prevent blood sugar spikes. If you do not take insulin at meals, you can keep track of your carbs by adding them up. This will give you a better idea of how your food choices affect your blood sugar.

Insulin-to-Carb Ratio (ICR)

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and take mealtime insulin, you’ll calculate the insulin-to-carb ratio (ICR) to manage blood sugar. You will need to count the total grams of carbs and match that to the dose of rapid-acting insulin to lower blood sugar:

Start by finding the total carbs on the nutrition facts label of the food you’re going to eat.
Next, figure out your portion size by measuring or weighing your food.
Remember that fiber does not count when it comes to blood sugar. You can subtract it from the total carb amount. This leaves you with a number called net carbs.
Add all your net carbs per meal, then divide that number by your personal insulin-to-carb (ICR) ratio.7

Method 3: Medical Nutrition Therapy
Medical nutrition therapy is a support service that you may need in addition to the dietary changes you make on your own. The goal is to empower you to make healthy food choices based on factors like your overall health, diet, and activity level.

This kind of support is offered by registered dietitians. They can do a nutritional assessment and offer counseling to help you with goal setting over several one-on-one sessions.

Treatment Managing Your Blood Sugar
A diabetes-friendly diet and routine blood glucose monitoring are central to managing diabetes. In addition, one or more of the following medications will be prescribed based on the type and stage of diabetes you have:

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors
Biguanides (including metformin)
Bile acid sequestrants
Dopamine-2 agonists
DPP-4 inhibitors
SGLT2 inhibitors

Additional strategies for maintaining tighter control of your blood sugar include:

Be more active: Regular exercise can make your body more sensitive to insulin.
Take your medications as prescribed: Avoid missing doses as this can lower the concentration of medications in your bloodstream and make the less effective.
Eat at regular times: Don’t skip meals as doing so can cause you to overeat and consume too many carbs.
Eat less saturated fat: Saturated fats found in red meats and processed foods can lead to insulin resistance and make your body less responsive to insulin.
Drink plenty of water: Doing so can dilute the concentration of glucose in your bloodstream.

Normal blood sugar levels are important for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If you have diabetes, tracking your blood sugar can help prevent serious health complications.

In general, your goal should be to have a blood sugar level below 180 mg/dL one to two hours after you have a meal or snack. However, what is considered normal blood sugar varies depending on your diabetes status, your age, and any other health conditions you have.

While carbohydrates play a significant role in blood sugar levels there are many ways to manage blood sugar through your dietary choices, as well as with medical nutritional therapy.