What Are Normal Blood Sugar Levels After Eating?

Your blood sugar level is influenced by several factors, including the food you eat. During digestion, carbohydrates are converted into sugar which your body uses as an energy source. Excess sugar from any source (that is, sugar that your body doesn’t need right away) is stored in your cells for later use. When your cells contain too much sugar, though, it can lead to type 2 diabetes. This is why eating a balanced diet to maintain a normal blood sugar range is important.

Blood sugar levels can vary based on many factors, including age and life expectancy, comorbidities like heart disease, stress, and lifestyle factors like physical activity, smoking, or drinking alcohol.

woman having breakfast

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Who Should Monitor Blood Sugar Levels

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, monitoring your blood sugar regularly will help you understand how medication like insulin, food, and physical activity affect your blood glucose. It also allows you to catch rising blood sugar levels early. It is the most important thing you can do to prevent complications from diabetes such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation. 

Other people who may benefit from checking their blood glucose regularly include those:

  • Taking insulin
  • Who are pregnant
  • Having a hard time controlling blood glucose levels
  • Having low blood glucose levels
  • Having low blood glucose levels without the usual warning signs
  • Having ketones from high blood glucose levels

Normal Postmeal Blood Sugar Levels 

Checking your blood glucose one to two hours after eating (postprandial) can help you understand how your blood sugar reacts to the food you consume. It can also offer insight into whether you're taking the right dose of insulin or if you need to follow up with your healthcare provider to discuss medication and diet or lifestyle adjustments. 

There are two ways you can measure your blood glucose levels: by pricking your fingertip (fingerstick test) using a glucometer or by using continuous glucose monitoring. How often you should check your glucose levels varies from a few times per week to four to six times each day. As a general rule, the American Diabetes Association recommends keeping blood sugar below 180 mg/dL one to two hours after eating.

However, your target blood sugar range will depend on the following:

  • Duration of diabetes
  • Age or life expectancy
  • Other health conditions or illness  
  • Heart disease or diabetes complications
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
Target Postmeal Blood Glucose Levels
Preschool children without diabetes (under 5 years old) <250 mg/dL
School-age children without diabetes (6-11 years old) <225 mg/dL  
Adolescents without diabetes (12-18 years old) <200 mg/dL
Children (0-18) with diabetes, one hour after eating 90 to 130 mg/dL
Children (0-18) with diabetes, two hours after eating​ 90-110 mg/dL
Adults without diabetes who are not pregnant, two hours after eating 90-180 mg/dL
Adults with diabetes who are not pregnant <180 mg/dL
Adults with diabetes taking mealtime insulin <180 mg/dL
Adults with diabetes not taking mealtime insulin <140 mg/dL
Women with gestational diabetes, one hour after eating <140 mg/dL
Women with gestational diabetes, two hours after eating <120 mg/dL
Pregnant women with preexisting type 1 or type 2 diabetes, one hour after eating <110-140 mg/dL
Pregnant women with preexisting type 1 or type 2 diabetes, two hours after eating <100-120 mg/dL

How Food Affects Blood Sugar

When you eat food, your body breaks it down into essential parts:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Fats
  • Vitamins and minerals

All parts are necessary in a healthy diet, but the three types of carbohydrates (starch, sugar, and fiber) are particularly important when it comes to your blood glucose level. While the general rule is that the more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood sugar level, not all three types of carbohydrates convert to blood sugar at the same rate. 

The foods that fit into each carb category include:

  • Starches, or complex carbohydrates: Starchy vegetables, dried beans, and grains
  • Sugars: Fruits, baked goods, beverages, and processed food items like cereals or granola bars
  • Fiber: Whole wheat products, chickpeas, lentils, berries, pears, and brussels sprouts

The glycemic index helps you find out which foods can increase or help decrease blood sugar levels. Based on a scale ranging from 0 to 100, high-indexed foods are rapidly digested, absorbed, and metabolized, resulting in marked fluctuations in blood sugar (glucose) levels, while low-indexed foods produce smaller fluctuations in your blood glucose. 

The American Diabetes Association advises adding lean sources of protein (such as meat, poultry, low-fat cheeses) and heart-healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, peanut butter) to help reduce the overall glycemic impact of a meal or snack.

Managing Blood Sugar 

There are a few other ways you can manage your blood sugar, keeping blood sugar levels as consistent as possible and preventing blood sugar spikes while eating. Eating several smaller meals throughout the day rather than two or three big meals can also help. 

Plate Method

The plate method offers a simple way to plan perfectly portioned and well-balanced meals without any counting, calculating, weighing, or measuring. Start with a reasonably sized plate (about 9 inches across) or a salad or dessert plate. Now, imagine one line down the center, dividing the plate into two portions. Add another imaginary line across one half so that you have three sections in total. 

Fill the largest section (the side you did not further divide) with nonstarchy vegetables to ensure you get a healthy mix of superfoods that provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 

When you’re not eating a meal that fits perfectly into sectioned portions, like soups, pizza, casseroles, and pasta dishes, keep in mind the goal is to eat mostly nonstarchy vegetables and include smaller portions from the other two categories.

Examples of nonstarchy vegetables:

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli or cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Leafy greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Green beans or peas
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes 

Next, fill one quarter of your plate with lean and lower-fat proteins, keeping in mind that some plant-based proteins like beans and legumes can also be high in carbohydrates and 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 butters
  • Edamame
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Plant-based meat substitutes

To finish your plate, fill the remaining quarter with carbohydrates—food that has the greatest effect on blood sugar. Remember that many foods can fit into the carbohydrate category, including those high in natural sugar like fresh and dried fruits, yogurt, sour cream, milk, and milk substitutes. 

What You Can Drink With Meals

Add a low-calorie, low-sugar drink or choose water. Proper hydration is essential to helping your body remove excess sugar.  

Some drinks that are good for keeping your blood sugar level low include:

  • Unsweetened tea (hot or iced)
  • Unsweetened coffee (hot or iced)
  • Sparkling water or club soda
  • Flavored water or sparkling water without added sugar
  • Diet soda or other diet drinks

Counting Carbohydrates

Another option is counting the number of total carbohydrate in grams per meal. The way to do this varies slightly depending on whether you take mealtime insulin.

For those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who take mealtime insulin, they’ll calculate the insulin-to-carb ratio (ICR) to manage blood sugar after eating. This requires counting total grams of carbs and matching that to the dose of rapid-acting insulin to lower blood sugar.

Start by finding the total carbs on the nutrition facts label. Next, figure out your portion size by measuring or weighing your food. Remember that fiber doesn’t count when it comes to blood sugar so you’ll need to subtract the fiber from the total carb. This leaves you with the net carb (the amount that affects your blood sugar). Add up all your net carbs per meal and then divide this number by your personal insulin-to-carb ratio.

Everyone’s ICR is different and some people will even have different insulin-to-carb ratios for breakfast compared with other meals. If you do not know your ICR, ask your healthcare provider or dietitian.

If you do not take mealtime insulin, you can keep track of your carbs by adding them up to get a better idea of how your food choices are affecting your blood sugar or you can use the plate method. Some people also prefer counting carbs based on carbohydrate choices, where one choice contains about 15 grams of carb.

How Many Carbs Should You Eat?

There is no magic formula. The amount of carbs you need depends on factors like your body size, activity levels, and appetite and hunger. Talk to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN/RD) or certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) to help you figure out what works best for you.

Medical Nutrition Therapy

Medical nutrition therapy is a support service that includes nutritional assessment, diagnosis, and counseling geared to help people set priorities, goals, and action plans. It is centered around empowering individuals to make healthier food choices based on factors like their current state of health, dietary intake, and how active they are. It is offered by registered dietitians and nutritionists over the course of several one-on-one sessions.

A Word From Verywell

As with anything health-related, what is normal for you may be quite different from others. This is why ideal blood sugar levels after eating are discussed in ranges and why it’s important to establish your normal by monitoring food intake and how it affects your blood sugar. People with diabetes need to pay closer attention to the amount of carbohydrates they eat in order to maintain a healthy blood sugar level and keep their diabetes under control. With some consideration and a little effort, you can establish a diet that is not only balanced but also geared toward helping you live your best life. 

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Article Sources
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