Should you get a blood sugar monitor?

One of the latest nutrition crazes is tracking our blood sugar levels. I’ve seen countless posts on social media about keeping carbs under control to those pesky curb glucose spikes.

But do we actually need to?

And what does the data we get from the monitors actually tell us?

First, let’s see what these blood sugar monitors are.

What is a continuous glucose monitor?

A continuous glucose monitor, or a CGM as it’s affectionately shortened to, is a device that measures your blood sugar levels. It’s normally attached to your upper arm and is connected a smart phone app to sync the readings to.

a person looking at their blood sugar readings on their phone

It means someone can check if their blood sugar levels are too high or too low and it allows people to see patterns/trends in their blood sugars.

They were originally designed for people living with type 1 diabetes as it allowed better monitoring of blood sugar levels and so meant insulin dosing would be more accurate. People with type 2 diabetes can also utilise these monitors.

Unfortunately, diet culture has taken this and ran with it. And now a CGM seems to be pushed for everyone to help them ‘understand’ their bodies and manage their ‘sugar spikes’.

But the harsh reality is, most people don’t need one.

When we eat something containing carbohydrates, it will get broken down into sugar and our blood sugar levels will rise. We then have the hormone insulin to bring our blood sugar levels back down. This process is completely normal and is what’s expected to happen. And this is what a blood sugar monitor will show you.

a plate of fried rice garnished with carrot and celery sticks

If someone has type 1 diabetes, their body doesn’t produce insulin. So, they need to check their body sugar levels and inject the correct amount of insulin to bring their blood sugars back to normal range.

I can understand having an interest in seeing how your blood sugar level reacts to different foods. But I’ve seen companies promising personalised nutrition programmes after 6 weeks of collecting blood sugar data, alongside collecting stool samples. *Cough* ZOE *Cough* I think this is a hefty claim to make.

It’s true that we all react differently to foods, and we’ll have different peaks and troughs in our blood sugars, but we don’t need to have a continuous glucose monitor. The average person doesn’t need to worry about this, and we don’t have enough evidence to say that it’s something we should all be doing.

It is true that persistently high blood sugar levels can contribute to having more inflammation in the body. But you don’t need a blood glucose monitor for this. Having a balanced diet with wholegrain carbohydrates is the recommended way to manage blood sugar levels.

 Wholegrain carbohydrates take longer to digest and so will slow down a rise in blood sugar, and a balanced diet with protein and fat will also slow digestion of the sugar.

a roast dinner with meat, carrots, broccoli, and yorkshire puddings

Yes, having a sweet snack will cause someone’s blood sugar to ‘spike’, but our bodies are equipped with the hormones insulin to handle this. And if it’s something we have occasionally within a balanced diet, then it’s okay.

Are glucose hacks worth it?

I also wanted to touch on some of the ‘glucose hacks’ that I’ve seen circulating. These are little tips to help people manage their blood sugar levels. Again, I don’t know why there’s such a push for the average person to obsess over their blood sugar levels, but diet culture always wants something from us.

Let’s go through a few of the hacks and see if there’s any merit.

Have a spoonful of vinegar before a meal – there is scientific research that says 10-30ml of vinegar daily can help us control our blood glucose levels after a meal. This also works if the meal is high in carbohydrates.

It’s thought that the acetic acid in the vinegar slows down the rate at which your stomach empties into your small intestine. This means that the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugar is slowed down too. I just don't think it's worth it to do vinegar shots before each meal.

a bottle of vinegar next to two apples

Eat your vegetables first, then protein, then carbs – the idea behind this is that if at each meal someone eats the vegetables first, it coats the stomach and slows down the digestion of the carbohydrate eaten after. This then has a lesser glucose spike.

There have been small research studies in healthy people that does show that eating vegetables first leads to a significantly lower glucose rise after eating. But I don’t know how practical this tip is, especially if you're eating a meal where everything is already mixed together, like a casserole for example. It also ignores the fact that eating a balanced meal e.g. rice and beans, will slow the rise in blood sugar levels anyway.

Go for a walk after meals – exercise helps lower our blood sugar levels as the sugar leaves our bloodstream to go into the muscle so it can function. So, if you’ve eaten a meal, even if it’s something high in carbohydrates, then a brisk 30 minute walk afterwards can help to get the blood sugar levels down. So this hack is true but might not always be practical to do this.

person walking in park

These glucose hacks do have promise, but I think the stress of trying to achieve this for every meal consumed could bring more hassle than it’s worth. For example, if you’re enjoying a salad and you use vinegar as part of your dressing then go for it. But I don’t think being strict and carefully measuring out a dose at every mealtime is the healthiest relationship to have.

I also don’t like the association of exercising after a meal to bring sugar levels down. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but it can easily slip into disordering eating behaviours and compensating for food with exercise.

I fear this obsession on glucose is overcomplicating things for people that don’t need to worry about it.

Key points:

  • When we eat carbohydrates our blood sugar rises, and the hormone insulin brings it back down to a normal level.
  • A continuous glucose monitor allows us to see our blood sugar levels before, during and after a meal.
  • A glucose monitor is unnecessary as it shows us the normal fluctuation in blood sugar levels.
  • Blood sugar ‘hacks’, such as having vinegar before a meal to lower blood sugar, do work. But they can add extra stress and cause worry that is unwarranted.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post! I'd love to hear your thoughts below.

Bye for now 👋


Vinegar and blood sugar levels:

Order of food reduces blood glucose:

Exercise lowers blood sugar: and


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