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Causes of Spikes in Blood Sugar

written by: Bobby Mathew • edited by: lrohner • updated: 11/19/2010

Ever wonder what makes blood sugar levels spike? It's the type, as well as the amount, of foods you eat. Find out how you can avoid spikes that cause diabetes complications.

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    If you are a diabetic, you may be concerned with what makes blood sugar levels spike. This is especially true since blood sugar spikes are more associated with long-term diabetes complications than readings you get when your blood sugar is more stable.

    The truth is that nearly anything that has carbohydrates will cause some type of spike in your blood sugar. This is even true for people who are not diabetic. However, diabetics are not able to process the carbohydrates normally and may have more exaggerated blood sugar highs and lows. There are certain foods that will cause a more rapid or sudden increase in blood sugar than others.

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    The Carb Contributer

    Here's a fact for anyone wondering what makes blood sugar levels spike: All carbohydrates break down into glucose, the simplest form of sugar, in the body. So any type of carbohydrate you eat has at least some potential to raise your blood sugar levels.

    Some foods will spike your blood sugar more than others. Use the glycemic index to determine which foods may cause more severe spikes. The glycemic index is a measure of the potential of a given carbohydrate to increase blood sugar levels (find out more about the glycemic index here). High-glycemic foods with an index of 70 and above will spike your blood sugar more than low-glycemic foods with an index of 55 or lower.

    High-glycemic foods include things like potatoes, white rice, sugary drinks, white flour and products made out of white flour. Low-glycemic foods include fruits like plums, apples, and oranges, as well as unrefined whole wheat, oatmeal and barley, along with a broad range of vegetables.

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    More About Carbs and the Glycemic Index

    Over cooking may increase the glycemic index of some foods. For example, pressure-cooked beans have a higher glycemic index than beans cooked without a pressure cooker. Similarly, "al dente" pasta has a much lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked longer. This is because of the way cooking methods break down the components of food into simpler forms of sugar.

    What makes blood sugar levels spike besides the type of carbohydrate you eat and how you cook it is what you eat with the carbohydrate. If you eat a carbohydrate by itself, it has a higher potential to raise your blood sugar than if you were to eat it with protein or fats. This is because proteins and fats take longer to leave the stomach. Eating carbohydrates with proteins and fats will slow the rate at which the carbohydrates empty from your stomach and result in a more gradual rise in blood sugar. Diabetics are often recommended not to eat carbohydrates by themselves by health professionals, as mixing macro-nutrients is a good way to lower the overall glycemic index of a meal.

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    The Amount of Carbs Are Just As Important

    The amount of carbohydrates you eat at once plays a large role in how much your blood sugar will spike. While eating low-glycemic foods have a weaker potential to raise your blood sugar, if you eat too much of that kind of food it can cause a large spike. This is why portion control is important when it comes to carbohydrates and blood sugar. The glycemic index is not the only thing to take into consideration when pinpointing what makes blood sugar levels rise.

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    Final Thoughts

    There are other things that can cause blood sugar spikes. Stress, whether physical or mental, is a significant contributor to rises in blood sugar levels. After surgery or during an illness or injury, blood sugar levels can quickly rise over the course of a few hours. Certain medications can also cause spikes in blood sugar, such as steroids.

    Avoiding blood sugar spikes allows you to avoid diabetes complications such as eye diseases, nerve disease, erectile dysfunction, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. While it may seem that carbohydrates are a key contributor to spikes in blood sugar, it must be noted that physical inactivity plays a large role in maintaining blood sugar levels in addition to the remedies already mentioned.

    Exercise can increase insulin sensitivity and prevent large spikes in the long run. Another way to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar spikes in the long run is to reduce abdominal fat, which is closely associated with blood sugar control. Both diet and exercise can help you achieve your goals.