Glucose is the fuel your body uses to energise your cells. It is mostly being released by eating carbs like bread, potatoes, fruit. And it travels through the bloodstream using insulin.
People who have diabetes have above normal levels of glucose in their blood. Either by not having enough insulin to transport the glucose or their cells are not responsive enough to insulin.
Benefits of measuring glucose.
Even though I am not diabetic, I knew monitoring glucose could potentially teach me a lot about my body. I mean, all you have to do is observe your energy levels and mental state after a McDonald’s meal. At some point, you will inevitably wonder what goes on in your body.
Also, high blood glucose for a longer period of time can actually damage kidneys, blood vessels, eyes, and other organs.
How did I do it?
I used the Abbott Freestyle Libre Sensor. It was by far the most convenient over-the-counter option I could find. And from several forums, I read it should be available in most countries in the world without a prescription. I think if you have diabetes, you would have more options at your disposal (ask your doc). And yes, I paid for it myself. Everything here is genuinely my own opinion.
Step 1: Get a sensor. You don’t need a separate monitoring device if you have a smartphone. I just ordered the 2 sensors for 180 SGD (135 USD). One sensor lasts for 14 days.
Step 2: Apply the sensor. I was a bit surprised at first by my mental block to not want to hurt myself with a tiny needle. After feeling like a wimp for a moment, I just took a hard swing at the left arm and the sensor was in place. No pain. You might feel some inconvenience during the 14 days the sensor lasts though. For the most part, I totally forgot it was there.
Here is my well-rounded biceps with the sensor attached.
Someone in a forum also suggested getting these patches to protect the sensor. This was an absolute must for me. I work out regularly and saw how the patch helped to keep the sensor dry and in its designated place.
Step 3: Download the app and put your phone next to the sensor for a scan. The NFC reader on your smartphone transfers the data from the sensor to the app. I scanned 9 times on average per day during the 28 days. But you don’t need to do it so frequently, I was just inquisitive. Don’t expect much from the app itself though. It is basic, but it works. The biggest downside is that it does not integrate with Android Fit or Apple Health.
Here are 10 things I learned from this experiment:
1. The Italian in hiding.
At first, I continued living my life as per usual. Just to see what is the “baseline”. After a few weeks, I started experimenting. For example, I had homemade pasta (from scratch), dried supermarket pasta, and pasta in restaurants. Surprisingly, my glucose levels remained quite stable. Genetics? No idea. Wheat is a common ingredient in Estonian cuisine.
2. Farewell Mr.Unagi.
One of my favorite dishes is Unagi Don (grilled eel and rice). Unfortunately, my body is seriously suffering to digest it. I guess that the white rice + teriyaki sauce is a deadly combo. But oh so tasty…
3. Choose brown/red rice, whenever possible.
Initially, I thought my body was just revolting against rice in general, but that did not prove to be true. Once I had brown or red rice, mixed with either vegetables or meat dishes on the side, the readings were not as elevated.
4. You can’t always trust your tastebuds.
I had 2 x mojitos during NYE and then took a pause to see the readings. The drinks came in a big glass with plenty of ice and didn’t feel sweet at all. But my readings were totally off by just those 2 drinks alone. Similarly, a salad with a regular amount of Japanese sesame salad dressing is surprisingly bad for me. You don’t always know how much sugar you might be consuming before you actually test for it.
5. My kryptonite.
I might not look like it, but I am addicted to cake. One of my favorites – the lemon meringue tart is a complete killer. Who knew?!? I will pretend I didn’t. While I indulge in a piece of heavenly cake, my body is dying at 200km/h. Also on the naughty list: Xmas fruit cakes, every candy I tried, cider, most cookies, and waffles.
6. Proportions matter.
1/3 protein, 1/3 carbs, and 1/3 of vegetables in a serving. Well, it comes out there is something to it! At least for my body. My readings for a bowl of pasta went higher vs meat, veggies, and potatoes in a single dish for example.
7. Long live the croissant.
Thank god, no high readings from eating most of the items in the bread department. My body just seems to say “meh” after a croissant. I shall continue to experience joy and grow horizontally.
8. Pace your meals.
One of my cravings is to almost immediately top up a regular meal with something sweet. Terrible idea. And a bad habit I need to root out over time. When I had the same sweet dish an hour later, then it had a much smaller effect on my glucose readings.
The amount of food in general seems to play a role in all of this, but I felt my data was inconclusive on that part.
9. Hangover on a graph.
Hangovers feel like s* for me. You too?!? Age has made things worse. On those days I usually start off planning to get a lot of stuff done but perform at maybe 30%. Of course depending on the Hangover Richter Scale. That’s why I almost always drink in moderation. I think wasting time makes me feel worse than the actual hangover. But every now and then I go past moderation. This was one of them.
10. Glucose and mental states.
On some occasions, my glucose was very low ( < 3.9 mmol/L). And only very few of those I could explain (eg. a hangover). Others I could not. In those moments I clearly felt less energetic in general, had difficulties focusing or be productive. My mind wandered off easily and was in constant search of distractions.
On the high end of the glucose spectrum ( > 7 mmol/L), I didn’t really notice that much of a difference when it happened. But I felt the “coming down” moments. I entered some sort of slump (processing of tasks/info becomes clearly slower), and again the mind is more easily distracted.
It is important to mention that glucose readings are a “short-term metric”. Borrowing from marketing measurement here. I am quite sure if I would have 5 croissants every day, then I would not just become fat but also feel the effects in other parts of the body. So not just individual dishes, but the ingredients and their quality matter.
The whole experiment was a lot more insightful than I initially thought. Of course, I saw some obvious readings from eating foods I already know are not good for the body. And the sensor helped to bring those feelings of guilt into a scaled perspective. At the same time, there were entirely new insights I could have not learned without the sensor. The line graph is unbiased and helps to compare the effects of different foods easily, no matter how your mental state is at any particular moment.
DISCLAIMER: Everyone’s body is different. Other people who have done this experiment, have all shown some general and some unique results. Your results might differ from mine. Also, I don’t have diabetes and I never buy the cheapest stuff. We probably have less meat in our household than most people I know.
For the data nerds out there, you actually get all these beautiful graphs when you create a Libreview account online. The app transferred all my data to the account, whereby I could go into the weeds and analyze my readings and notes more carefully. You can also download all your data in a CSV.