Diabetes Glossary

the word diabetes on a piece of paper

If you have diabetes, here are some terms that you might hear your doctor or dietitian say. Knowing what these terms mean can help you understand and manage your diabetes. 

Blood glucose (or blood sugar):

Blood glucose is the amount of glucose/sugar that is in your blood at any given time. When blood glucose levels are high, you may be diagnosed with diabetes.  The target blood glucose range for most people with diabetes is between 4.0 and 7.0 mmol/L before meals. Two hours after eating a meal, the target range is 5.0 to 10.0 mmol/L. Talk with your doctor, nurse or dietitian to know what your blood glucose goals are.

Blood glucose test:

A blood glucose test is a test that is done to see how much sugar is in your blood. This can be done by giving blood at a lab and having it tested (see hemoglobin A1C). It can also be done at home with a glucometer (see glucometer).


Carbohydrate is a nutrient from food that is a source of energy for the body. Carbohydrates include sugar, starch and fibre. Carbohydrate is found in grains and starches, fruit, some vegetables, legumes, milk, sugary foods and many prepared foods. Your body breaks down carbohydrate into glucose. This raises your blood glucose levels. If you have diabetes, you still need to eat foods that contain carbohydrates. What matters most is how much you eat and when you eat them.

Carbohydrate counting:

Carbohydrate counting is when you keep track of how much carbohydrate you eat. This is a flexible way to manage your meal plan and your food intake. You can work with a Registered Dietitian to decide how much carbohydrate you need each day. Then, keep track of the type and amount of foods you eat. Each food is given a number based on how much carbohydrate is found in a standard serving size. You add up the numbers so you can eat the correct amount of carbohydrates for your personal meal plan.

Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE):

A Certified Diabetes Educator is a health professional that focuses on diabetes care. Some nurses and dietitians choose to become CDEs. They need to have a minimum of 800 hours of practice in diabetes education. CDEs work at Diabetes Education Centres or Diabetes Education Programs and can help you learn more about managing your diabetes.


Diabetes is a disease that happens with body is not able to make or use insulin properly. There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas makes little or no insulin. To treat the disease, a person must inject insulin into their body and test their blood glucose levels often. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and teenagers. About 10% of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes:

Type 2 diabetes is when the pancreas does not make enough insulin or when the body does not properly use the insulin that it does make. Type 2 diabetes can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes, medicine and sometimes insulin. About 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. It usually develops in adulthood and less often in childhood.

Gestational diabetes:

Gestational diabetes is when diabetes begins during pregnancy. It starts when your body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy. It usually goes away after the baby is born. It affects about 2 to 4% of pregnant women.


Glucose is a major source of energy for most cells of the body including the brain. The carbohydrates from the food you eat become glucose in the blood. When the body is working well, insulin helps carry glucose from blood to your cells where it is used for energy. If you have diabetes, your body does not produce enough insulin or is not able to use it well in order to help carry glucose to your body's cells, so glucose stays in your blood. 


A glucometer is also called a blood glucose meter. This tool allows you to test your blood glucose levels by yourself at home. You can buy one at your local pharmacy. It is helpful for monitoring your blood glucose levels daily.

Glycemic Index (GI):

The Glycemic Index is a scale which ranks carbohydrate-rich foods by how much they raise blood glucose levels compared to a standard food. The standard food is either glucose or white bread. Foods that contain carbohydrates are rated as having a low, medium or high Glycemic Index. Vegetables, fruits, beans, oats, barley and low-fat milk products are low Glycemic Index foods. Highly processed foods such as white bread and corn flakes are high Glycemic Index foods.

Hemoglobin A1C (or HbA1c):

Hemoglobin A1C is a blood test done at the lab that measures your blood glucose control over three months. Checking your own blood glucose with a glucometer tells you what your blood sugar level is on any given day. However, the A1C test gives you a picture of your average blood glucose control for the past three months. It tells you more about how well you are controlling your diabetes over time. Most people with diabetes should have an A1C test every three months. Your Hemoglobin A1C should be less than or equal to 7%.

Impaired glucose tolerance:

Impaired glucose tolerance is when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Impaired glucose tolerance is the same as prediabetes.


Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It controls the amount of glucose in the blood. If you have diabetes, the pancreas does not make any insulin or enough insulin. Or, the body is unable to properly use the insulin it does make. This causes glucose to stay in the blood which can lead to health problems.


The pancreas is an organ in the body that is near the stomach. The pancreas is where the hormone insulin is made. 


Prediabetes is when a person’s blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. It is the same as impaired glucose intolerance. 

Registered Dietitian (RD):

A Registered Dietitian is a health care provider who promotes good health through food and nutrition. Dietitians have a university degree in food and nutrition. Dietitians can counsel clients to promote health and manage diseases such as diabetes. 

Last Update – August 16, 2018

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