Your recent lab work shows your blood sugar is too high. But you’re scratching your head because you know you’re doing everything right.
You’re eating all the right satiating, most blood sugar-stabilizing foods. You avoid foods that spike blood sugar and insulin. Simply put, you know how to eat.
What gives? You’re left thinking, “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high?!”
Get ready because there are actually eight factors additional factors that could be sabotaging your blood sugar or your blood sugar test results, including:
- Hand soap that contains sugar
- EMF exposure
- Poor sleep
- Food sensitivities
- Bio-individuality and metabolism
- Too much emphasis on the glycemic index of foods.
This article discusses how insulin affects blood glucose and how these eight factors may affect your blood sugar results.
Blood Glucose and Insulin
Insulin is a hormone that helps collect sugar from your bloodstream and guides glucose into cells to use as energy or to store for later.
After you eat, your body absorbs the sugar from food, and your blood sugar levels increase. Insulin is released in response to elevated blood sugar levels to help bring excess sugar into cells.
Generally speaking, fat and protein are going to stabilize blood glucose and insulin, while carbohydrates (starch and sugar) destabilize blood glucose and insulin.
But those macronutrients aren’t the only factors that influence your blood glucose and insulin levels, or your lab results when you test those levels.
Because insulin isn’t just released after meals. It also responds to glucose made by your metabolic pathways.
Blood Glucose and Insulin Reference Ranges
Standard reference ranges for blood glucose and insulin are often too broad to catch all imbalances, especially subclinical imbalances (disease that doesn’t present definite or obviously observable symptoms).
Functional reference ranges, which are slightly narrower and better indicators of imbalances, including subclinical imbalances, are the best gauges to consider.
The functional reference ranges for healthy glucose and insulin levels are:
- Fasting blood glucose: 80-90 mg/dL
- Non-fasting blood glucose: < 125mg/dL
- Fasting insulin: < 8 microIU/L,1 ideally not over 5.
If your body isn’t responding to insulin, it may be a sign of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when your cells don’t respond efficiently to insulin so glucose hangs around in your blood too long.
Your blood sugar can also remain high if your body isn’t producing enough insulin. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t create its own insulin, while type 2 diabetes is usually caused by problems using insulin.
So does high blood sugar in the morning mean you have diabetes? Not necessarily.
It’s not uncommon for health-conscious people to be left wondering, “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high,” because some surprising factors could be sabotaging your results.
8 Factors That Could Be Sabotaging Your Blood Sugar
Experts often oversimplify blood sugar. They tell you that eating X grams of carbs correlate with a specific blood sugar and insulin response. Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple.
These eight factors could be the reason you’ve been scratching your head thinking, “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high.”
The first factor is dehydration. Poor hydration is pretty common, especially when you’re testing your fasting glucose levels.
If you’re going to the doctor’s office in the morning after you fasted overnight, you may not have drunk any water or adequate water before your appointment.
Dehydration is even more common if you’re administering an at-home blood glucose test.
You wake up in the morning, stumble out of bed, and go wherever your test kit is in your home. You just swab your finger, you prick it, you test, and voila, you have slightly elevated levels.
You were just fasting. And in your daily diet you eat all the right foods. You tell yourself, “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high?!” You can’t help but wonder, “Oh my gosh, am I developing diabetes?”
Don’t panic. You may not be.
It may just be that you’re not adequately hydrated. When you’re dehydrated, your blood becomes more concentrated, making your blood sugar and other labs appear elevated.
But don’t go overboard and guzzle a bunch of water. That, too, can create negative results.
You may find that drinking water lowers blood sugar because overhydration dilutes blood. Making it appear like blood sugar and electrolyte levels are lower than they truly are.
We really want to make sure moderation is key here. Adequate hydration. Not under- or over-. Adequate.
When I would run labs for clients, and I’d see electrolyte balance come back slightly off, either somewhat elevated or deficient for different minerals, I usually wouldn’t get alarmed right off the bat.
I’d question if my client had actually been adequately hydrating. And then we’d watch how their levels looked in repeat results.
Just make sure you drink an adequate amount of water before blood tests, unless you’re otherwise instructed.
It’s easy to forget to drink water when we’re fasting for lab work. Remember, fasting means food and beverages that will cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels, but not water. Water is not part of fasting in this case.
So try to drink an adequate amount of water prior to your next test.
Number two is soap. Yes, soap.
Even clean varieties of soaps often contain ingredients that cause unexpected results in lab tests.
Take Seventh Generation Soap. It’s clean, unscented, natural, and hypoallergenic. It’s like the ultimate soap if you want to be careful with not just what you’re putting in your mouth but what you’re putting on your body as well.
Still, this soap has an ingredient in it that, if left on your hands, may skew blood sugar test results, especially if you’re testing at home.
There aren’t many ingredients in the Seventh Generation Soap. Water is the first ingredient. This means it’s the most prominent ingredient, as ingredients are always listed in descending order by total weight.
The third ingredient, of about ten ingredients, is decyl glucoside.
Decyl glucoside is a sugar molecule. The word glucoside gives it away. It sounds like glucose right?
Even after thoroughly washing your hands, a slight soap residue may remain on your hands. This situation has happened to me before.
I washed my hands pretty thoroughly, rinsed thoroughly, swabbed my finger with an alcohol swab, proceeded to test, and my blood sugar results came back slightly elevated.
I was thinking, what’s going on here? I’m doing everything right and eating all the right foods. So I questioned, what’s the variable here? I thought, “Oh my gosh, soap!”
I quickly went into my bathroom looking for test control. I grabbed my bottle of Everyday Shea body wash from the shower. It has about three ingredients. I looked at the ingredients, and there was no derivative of sugar.
I washed my hands with it, rinsed thoroughly, swabbed my finger again, and retested all within a span of a couple of minutes from when I did the original test, and my results came back within the ideal range.
I retested using both soaps again and reproduced the results.
I’m not singling out Seventh Generation. It’s not a bad soap. Sugar derivatives are actually a pretty common ingredient in soaps, not just Seventh Generation soaps. They’re not going to harm you. Just be mindful of it when testing your blood sugar levels.
Keep in mind: in this case, soap doesn’t trigger a blood sugar or insulin response in your body. Instead, the substance adds an unwanted variable to in-home blood sugar specimen collection, which can skew test results. Your blood sugar itself isn’t actually imbalanced.
However, the next case is different.
EMFs could be an environmental factor that causes you to wonder why “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high.”
Electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) are very common in the modern world. Still, it’s a newer confrontation for humans as a species.
We’re constantly inundated with EMFs from
- Cell phone usage–almost everyone keeps their phones close these days.
- Cell phone towers, which are now almost everywhere, especially in highly-populated areas.
- Wi-Fi connections in your home. Very few of us use wired networks these days
It’s very hard to get away from EMFs these days. EMFs can negatively affect blood sugar levels, and not just blood sugar levels, but also your insulin. Your doctor doesn’t usually test for it either.
In the study, “Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Field Radiation, EMFR, Generated By Activated Mobile Phones on Fasting Blood Glucose,” researchers tested the effects of EMFR on Wister albino rats. The study found “rats exposed to mobile phone radiation for longer than 15 minutes a day for a total period of three months had significantly higher fasting blood glucose and serum insulin compared to the control group.”2
They also looked at another biomarker for cell function. That biomarker indicated insulin resistance risk. It was significantly increased in the groups exposed for 15 to 30 and 46 to 60 minutes a day compared to control rats.
Let me tell you, these periods of time are peanuts compared to the amount of time most humans are exposed to in the modern world. The researchers concluded that the study showed an association between long term exposure to activated mobile phones and an increase in
- Fasting blood glucose
- Blood glucose
- Serum insulin in albino rats.
Another study, “Effects of Mobile Phone Radiation on Health of Diabetic Patients,” found evidence
…that mobile phone radiations adversely affect human health. Talking over a mobile phone has proved to increase the blood glucose levels in humans in case when age is ranging from 40 years and above. Also if humans are affected from high level of blood sugar they are already diabetic patients. The results from samples have also proved that blood glucose levels have increased dramatically to higher levels, when such people are made to talk over 15 minutes on a mobile phone.3
Again, 15 minutes is peanuts.
The study concluded, “mobile phone usage is harmful for the health of diabetic patients if they are already reporting high level of glucose in their blood.”
We just don’t have enough research on this right now. I would say it’s very likely the case that mobile phone usage EMFs would impact people who are fairly stable, but there are groups that are going to be more adversely affected than others. People with diabetes are an example of one of the vulnerable groups.
If you’re thinking “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high,” you might want to consider your EMF exposure and commit to taking proper precautions from EMF exposure. Precautions like…
Keep Your Phone Off Your Body
Be careful about not storing your phone in your pocket or resting it on your body, even for a short period of time. These are very powerful conduits of EMFs.
Men are more likely than women to have their phones much closer to their bodies simply because men will have their phones in their pockets, whereas women put phones in their purses. Be cautious about that.
Use A Blue Tube Earpiece
Don’t hold your phone directly to your ear. Even many cell phone instruction manuals indicate that you should hold the phone at least an inch away. Which I still think is too close. It’s better to put your phone on speakerphone and place it on a surface a foot or more away from you.
Avoid normal wired earphones, which conduct EMFs through the metal wires to your head.
And definitely avoid Bluetooth headsets, which wirelessly transmit EMFs directly to your head.
Ideally, use a special wired device called blue tube earphones. Again: blue tube. Not Bluetooth. Blue tube earphones conduct sound through a metal-free plastic tube to the earpiece.
Allegedly, some blue tube brands can block 100% of EMF exposure.4 I’ve personally used these accessories for speaking on my phone for the past decade.
If I don’t use my blue tube, I can feel a weird head buzz or an inability to concentrate when I’ve had greater cell phone exposure, so I don’t do that. I use the blue tube earpiece, and I don’t have those problems.
This is one of my preferred blue tube headsets.
Reduce Environmental EMF Exposure
Unplugging your Wi-Fi router at night may reduce some EMF exposure. But don’t rely on unplugging your Wi-Fi router at night if you have neighbors around you with Wi-Fi networks. That’s another concern.
Be sure to investigate if you live near a cell phone tower because this can increase your EMF exposure.
Limit Phone Calls While In A Car
The head of your car can actually amplify the cell phone signal, so be careful not to spend too much time using your phone when you’re in your car.
Get a Tesla BluShield Device
I’ve used Tesla BluShield devices for years now. I have a portable unit, and a plug-in unit that covers my whole home.
Tesla BluShield devices emit scalar frequencies into the surrounding environment that interrupt harmful EMFs. Your body becomes entrained to the scalar frequencies instead of the harmful frequencies.
You can check out more about Tesla BluShield devices here.
Stress produces a cascade of biochemicals in the body, including the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol adversely affects blood sugar levels. The stress hormone prepares your body to either run from danger or to fight it. In response, your body moves energy from storage so that it’s ready for you to use.
The problem lies in chronic stress. In ancient times, the stress hormone was produced to protect you during life threatening situations, like running from lions or bears. But that’s not the case with modern-day stress.
You don’t utilize the same amount of energy while stressed out typing away in your office cubicle as you do while running away from a predator. And modern-day stress doesn’t have the same hard stop as getting away from danger.
The source of stress is more difficult to get away from with emails going straight to our cell phones and longer work hours. So many people spend most of their lives stressed, and their hormone balance suffers.
All of these reasons are why I always say food isn’t just limited to what we put in our mouths. Food extends far beyond that. You could be eating all the right foods, but your blood sugar levels are elevated because of another factor.
Food extends to whatever we’re intaking in this greater ecosystem that we’re a part of. We are so much more than just what we put in our mouths.
As you become more aware of your stress levels and get the sources of your blood sugar imbalance dialed in, you might stop asking why “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high.”
Your sleep also plays a role in your blood sugar balance.
You’re at a higher risk for insulin resistance if you don’t have adequate hours of sleep or enough hours of clear, refreshing, deep sleep.5
Poor sleep increases the risk for more than just high blood sugar. It also increases your risk for
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Depression and anxiety
- Gastrointestinal diseases
You need to examine if there’s anything that might interfere with your getting high-quality sleep. Commit to these changes to improve your sleep quality:
- Add blackout curtains and turn off any sources of light in your room.
- Turn off any sources of noise or wear earplugs. You can add a white noise device to your room to mask other sounds.
- Keep your room at a cool temperature.
- Limit blue light exposure or wear blue-light blocking glasses while in front of screens.
- Consider taking a natural non-habit-forming sleep aid, like melatonin.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
6. Food Sensitivities
Now we start getting into the topic of bio-individuality. You could be eating all the right foods to stabilize blood sugar and insulin, but one of those foods or more than one may not be right for you.
You’re not going to know more about your unique food sensitivities until you investigate deeper with lab work, food journaling, and proper guidance. Too often, food issues are much more complex than “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high.” Oftentimes, it’s more than the number of carbs in your diet that’s impacting your blood sugar levels.
Food sensitivities can trigger a cortisol response in the body. As we discussed above, cortisol adversely affects blood sugar.
You need to be mindful about eating the right foods for you. Because there’s not always a universal “right” food or group of foods for every single human being. In fact, it’s actually the exception that a person can do well with just about any type of food.
7. Bio-individuality and the Blood Sugar Axis
If your blood sugar levels are elevated, you may need to look even deeper at your blood sugar axis. Your blood sugar levels are not always an accurate indicator of what’s going on with your blood sugar axis at large, or how you’re making energy from food.
Again, it’s more than just “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high.” It’s also about how your body metabolizes (breaks down and uses) nutrients.
When an insulin problem looks like a blood sugar problem
Sometimes a blood sugar imbalance is just a symptom of an insulin problem. There are cases where your blood sugar may actually be totally stable, but your insulin is not working very well. So your blood sugar really is stable, but isn’t in ideal zones. The perfect amount of blood sugar is just hanging out in your blood for too long because insulin isn’t collecting it. This isn’t a good thing.
Most doctors don’t run your fasting insulin levels. Anytime that I’d look deeper with a client, I’d always consider a broader range of factors than just glucose levels.
Another indicator of deeper issues is your hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). Sometimes, your glucose can come back perfectly in range, but your HbA1cs will not come back in range. This situation is because, again, there may be an issue with your insulin where your blood sugar just hangs out in your bloodstream too long.
This kind of prolonged exposure to blood sugar, when insulin isn’t adequately mopping it up, damages liver cells. Liver cells become what is called glycated, and you produce what are called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). It’s a very appropriate acronym for it: A-G-E, like aging.
Metabolic pathways go deeper than blood sugar
As you dig deeper into your metabolic pathways, you’ll become aware of even more nuance in the pathways and metabolites involved in how you make energy from food, store energy, and retrieve energy from storage, including:
- the GLUT-4 pathway
- the pentose phosphate pathway
- glycogen creation and storage
- protein and amino acids.
It may look like everything is totally fine, but something else is wrong in these other pathways. You may even be hypoglycemic, and your blood sugar levels look fine, but there’s something else going on further down a pathway. Or you may be at risk for complications of diabetes even when blood sugar levels look normal.
Looking at these pathways can offer additional possibilities and bring clarity to wondering why “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high.”
Take gluconeogenesis, which is a metabolic pathway that produces sugar from non-carbohydrate macronutrients, like protein. Yes, protein.
Metabolic pathways, like gluconeogenesis, could be behind your elevated blood sugar levels.
You’re not going to know these kinds of things unless you go a lot deeper with guidance, lab work, and a bio-individualized protocol that includes supplements and lifestyle practices.
I talk more about amino acid delivery in my articles about protein: Is Too Much Protein Bad For You? and Plant Protein vs. Animal Protein: The Myths and Facts.
8. Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is a system that numbers and ranks foods based on how they–generally–affect blood sugar (100 is the highest and zero is the lowest). The problem is this system is oversimplified and inaccurate.
When the glycemic index was created, it focused solely on carbohydrates and glucose. It didn’t and still doesn’t represent how non-carbohydrate foods influence blood glucose levels. (Learn more about carbs in my article Think You Know the Facts About Carbs? Don’t Be So Sure.)
A better alternative is the insulin index, which focuses on how food increases the level of insulin in the blood during the two hours after eating.
The insulin index is more useful than the glycemic index or even the glycemic load because it considers foods, like lean meats that do, in fact, trigger an insulin response, despite having no carbohydrates.
High insulin index foods increase your risk for insulin resistance and diabetes.7
- If you focus solely on eating the “right” foods, you may find yourself stuck wondering why “I eat almost no carbs and my blood sugar is still high.”
- Insulin is the hormone that brings glucose into cells from your bloodstream.
- Carbohydrates are usually considered the food that increases your blood sugar, but your body can also make glucose from protein and fat.
- Hidden factors that may increase your blood sugar levels include dehydration, certain soap ingredients, EMFs, stress, sleep, food sensitivities, bio-individuality and the blood sugar axis, and focusing too heavily on the glycemic index.
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Feature image copyright Erika Herman.