A glucose meter is a device that you use at home to monitor the concentration of glucose in your blood. For people who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, a glucose meter is pretty much a necessity to prevent abnormal blood glucose levels.
A glucose meter can alert you if your blood glucose is too high or too low, allowing you to intervene with glucose tablets, insulin, or other medication to prevent a hypo or hyperglycemia. People with diabetes usually have to measure their blood glucose multiple times per day, as your blood sugar fluctuates markedly during the day.
Logging blood glucose levels over time is also important, as (especially for type 2 diabetics) you can tell whether your diabetes management plan is working.
The more time you spend with abnormal blood glucose levels, the worse your health outcomes tend to be, so blood glucose monitoring with a good glucose meter is a cornerstone of modern diabetes care. As you can imagine, accuracy is critically important—that’s why it’s important to pick one of the best glucose monitors for daily use.
The big picture
A glucose meter is an essential tool for monitoring your blood sugar levels if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The best glucose meter is one that’s both easy to use and accurate.
Our research team found that the Bayer Contour NEXT is the top glucose meter on the market that fits the bill thanks to its on-board memory, customizable alarms, and fantastic accuracy.
1. Bayer Contour NEXT
The Contour NEXT from Bayer offers great accuracy, portability, and a good number of features. Their simple test strip system is easy to use, making this a favorite among older adults looking to control their blood sugar levels.
Why we like it: Bayer has got accuracy down pretty well, and the test strips could hardly be easier to use—there’s no manual data entry required.
The on-board memory of the device is very convenient for checking your pre and post-meal blood sugar levels, and you can even see your average across one week, two weeks, or the whole last month. Another great feature is the ability to set reminder alarms to check your blood sugar at the same time every day.
Flaws: While the Bayer Contour NEXT is super easy to use, one drawback is the lack of more advanced features like automated data storage. The device clearly has a lot of on-board memory, but it can’t export the data for long-term storage.
2. FreeStyle Freedom Lite
The FreeStyle Freedom Lite is a small but powerful glucose meter. It scores well on independent lab testing, and requires only a tiny amount of blood to take an accurate reading. Thanks to its accuracy and simplicity, it’s an excellent all-around choice.
Why we like it: The FreeStyle Freedom Lite’s accuracy is fantastic, and it requires no manual coding of test strips—you just plug in a fresh strip and you’re ready to go. A blood glucose reading is ready in about five seconds. If you want something that’s small, portable, and very accurate, the Freedom Lite is the way to go.
Flaws: One consequence of the small size of the Freedom Lite is that it lacks some of the features you’ll find in more sophisticated glucose meters. One of the biggest missing pieces is the ability to transfer stored glucose data to your smartphone or computer.
3. TrueMetrix Self Monitoring Blood Glucose Meter
TrueMetrix strikes a good balance between simplicity and desirable features, while maintaining great accuracy and a few perks that are hard to find in top of the line devices.
Why we like it: TrueMetrix has a broad range of features that make the process of monitoring blood glucose less of a pain: it supports testing from alternative test sites (like your palm, which is less sensitive than your fingertips), and its on-board memory can store up to 500 glucose readings, along with the date and time of the reading. Results are ready in just four seconds, and the display screen is large and easy to read—which makes it great for older adults.
Flaws: While the on-board device memory is impressive, there’s no way to wirelessly transfer that data elsewhere; you’ll have to copy it by hand if you want to log it electronically.
And while alternative test sites are great, they aren’t guaranteed to be as accurate as your fingertips. Of course, just because a glucose meter is capable of reading blood from other test sites doesn’t mean you have to—TrueMetrix works great at the fingertip, which might be the best plan for accurate readings in any case.
4. Prodigy AutoCode
As the name suggests, the Prodigy AutoCode makes testing easy and simple—no old-fashioned manual entry of test strips codes necessary. The Prodigy AutoCode is also excellent for users who want to store their data electronically, thanks to its ability to download data via USB.
Why we like it: Prodigy successfully threads the needle between keeping things simple and giving you access to all of your data. The on-board device memory stores up to 450 measurements, and if you want to keep these, you can use the included USB cable to transfer the raw data to your computer. On top of that, the AutoCode boasts good accuracy in third-party testing.
Flaws: Though the Prodigy AutoCode is great for storing and exporting data, the USB connection is a little old-hat. The lack of a wireless connection (e.g. bluetooth) is sorely missed: there’s no simple way to backup or review data when you are away from your computer. Aside from that, the accuracy is good and using test strips is simple, though.
5. OneTouch Ultra Mini
If you want something that is super-portable and dead simple to use, OneTouch has a great product that will work well for you. The accuracy is quite good, too, making this a good option if you just want something that is simple and precise.
Why we like it: If you travel a lot and are sick of large, clunky glucose meters, the tiny size of the OneTouch Ultra Mini is hard to beat. There isn’t another glucose meter on the market that can match its accuracy and its small size at the same time.
Flaws: As you might expect, simplicity in a compact form factor does come with a few drawbacks in the way of features. Other products offer more options for logging and tracking your blood glucose levels over time, so if you want this suite of broader capabilities, another glucose meter might be a better fit.
6. Accu-Chek Aviva Plus
When it comes to glucose meters that are plain and simple, Accu-Chek Aviva Plus fits the bill perfectly. Using test strips is simple, no coding necessary. The readings are accurate, according to independent lab testing, and the device is a nice, portable size.
Why we like it: Not everybody needs wifi connectivity and fancy data processing features. Some people with diabetes—especially the elderly—just need something that is easy to use and gives accurate results. Accu-Chek Aviva Plus fits these specifications to a T.
Flaws: More tech-savvy users will be disappointed with the simplicity of the Accu-Chek Aviva Plus, so if you need more than just accurate results to sell you on a device, this isn’t the one for you.
7. ABOX Glucose Meter
The ABOX Glucose Meter is simple to use and has a big, easy to read screen on a light background. For older adults, that can be very helpful.
Why we like it: Among the glucose meters that are simple to use and have little in the way of advanced features, ABOX has one of the biggest and easiest to read screens. It also has an excellent on board data storage capacity: you can keep up to 900 glucose readings on the device.
Flaws: Like other simple and easy to use glucose meters, the ABOX Glucose Meter lacks modern features, so it’s hard to make good use of the on board memory storage.
8. iHealth Smart Wireless Glucose Meter
If you want to track your blood sugar in a systematic and automated way, iHealth’s Wireless Glucose Meter is definitely worth a look. This glucose meter comes with Bluetooth connectivity, making it easy to transfer, store, and track your results via your smartphone.
Why we like it: If you are a data geek, or if you just want to monitor your blood glucose levels over the long term, wireless connectivity is a must. The ability to transfer results and store them in the cloud is a great new feature that is surprisingly lacking in many of the other competitors for the top spots on our rankings.
Flaws: iHealth Smart Wireless Glucose Meter suffers from some reliability problems, and the test strips have shorter shelf lives than the test strips that work with other glucose meters.
Also, the only way to store your numbers is on an account online with the company—that limits your options if you want to analyze your data in a more sophisticated way.
9. CareTouch Blood Glucose Monitoring System
CareTouch makes a pretty simple and straightforward glucose meter that’s got the same basic functionality you’ll see elsewhere in other simple models, with a large easy to use screen and no manual coding for test strips.
Why we like it: CareTouch is one more option when it comes to a glucose meter that is portable, easy to use, and requires no manual coding of test strips. The sterile ejection of used test strips is a nice perk that’s not seen on many other glucose meters.
Flaws: CareTouch doesn’t really do much to stand out from the crowd: its data storage memory (300) is mediocre compared to the competition, and it doesn’t support any data exporting.
10. Choice Wireless Blood Glucose Monitor
If you want to know what the blood glucose meter of the future looks like, this is it. The slick, ultra-portable look of the Choice Wireless Blood Glucose Monitor is a nice break from traditional glucose meters that look straight out of the ‘80s. The wireless connection beams your blood sugar data straight to your smartphone.
Why we like it: When it comes to wireless glucose meters, this one is pretty good. It’s very hard to beat in the size department, too.
Flaws: Like other wireless models, connectivity is sometimes an issue, and the functionality of the app is mediocre at best. While this device is listed by several major health organizations, many users note that readings seem less accurate on this model compared to others. It seems like wireless functionality and accuracy are difficult to get working at the same time in the same device.
Who should buy a glucose meter?
Glucose meters are commonly recommended for people who have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed fairly early in life, while type 2 diabetes develops later, though it can also be influenced by genetic factors alongside the more commonly known risk factors (physical inactivity, being overweight, and a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars).
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are characterized by an inability for your body to control blood sugar normally. Glucose meters are a way to check at home how well your blood sugar is controlled. If your doctor has recommended glucose monitoring, or if your doctor has at least advised you to consider it, using a glucose meter on a regular basis is definitely the best way to keep track of your blood sugar levels.
For many people with diabetes, the biggest benefits of blood sugar monitoring using a glucose meter come from tracking your glucose levels over time. Doctors often recommend measuring your blood sugar several times a day; doing so can help you identify what makes you more likely to have abnormal blood sugar levels, and can help you see if your diabetes management plan is working long-term.
In the past, you could only track blood glucose over time by hand. Now, automated data logging is a feature that you’ll find in many of the best glucose meters on the market.
How we ranked
When we formulated our rankings, the most important criteria was accuracy. We based our accuracy evaluations on independent lab testing from Consumer Reports, published scientific research, and the list of approved devices by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—according to research published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology in 2015, devices that have been officially cleared by the FDA are significantly more likely to fall within their specified accuracy ranges during real-world use (1).
Surprisingly, the accuracy requirements put forth by the FDA are pretty loose: As long as a device comes within 15% of the true reading at least 95% of the time, it gets cleared. That’s why we relied on independent lab testing published elsewhere to augment the FDA’s list of cleared devices.
On top of accuracy, we also considered practical issues that affect your daily experience using a glucose meter. Size is first and foremost among these—a big, heavy, clunky device is a lot less convenient, which translates into a lower probability that you will test your blood sugar as often as you should.
Modern devices that offer features like Bluetooth connectivity and cloud-based storage of your glucose also scored well, as long as they were also accurate—while many users track their blood glucose the old fashioned way, using a pencil and paper, modern tracking can completely automate this process.
We made sure to include products that were both simple and easy to use as well as capable of more advanced features and functionality. Just like everyone’s diabetes treatment plan is different, so too will their needs when it comes to the features of a glucose meter.
Among the most accurate devices, we had a preference for devices that require less blood, and less user input for calibrating or identifying test strips. Products with easy to use and widely available test strips ended up at the top of our rankings, while those that had more hassle either got eliminated entirely or landed lower in the rankings.
Finally, after ranking by accuracy, features, and ease of use, we had our final list of the best glucose meters on the market. If you need to track your blood glucose on a regular basis, these devices are the best way to do it.
Using a blood glucose meter significantly blood sugar control if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Compared to the regularity and certainty of blood glucose levels monitored in a doctor’s office, home based glucose testing can seem like a wild west: there are so many different devices, different brands of test strips, different units of measurement, and many other factors that can make home based glucose monitoring vastly more challenging than getting a test done at the doctor’s office.
With all of this complication, does home based glucose monitoring really help? Fortunately, the answer appears to be yes, both for type 1 and type 2 diabetes. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine analyzed data from a group of patients in Northern California, all of whom had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes (2).
The researchers behind this article looked at how frequency of self-testing of blood sugar levels correspond to actual blood sugar control, based on evaluations at a doctor’s office. Even after adjusting for factors like age, income, and smoking, they found significant improvements in blood sugar control in both type 1 and type 2 diabetics.
Using a glucose meter improves long-term health as well. The entire rationale behind using a glucose meter is that spending less time with abnormal blood glucose levels should lead to better long-term health, and fewer complications from diabetes. Does this hold up?
Long-term follow-up data suggest that it does: one study published in the journal Diabetologia tracked a group of adults with type 2 diabetes for almost ten years, keeping track of who regularly monitored their blood glucose levels and who ended up having serious medical events related to diabetes: amputation, heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, or death (3).
The researchers found that people who regularly monitored their blood glucose had approximately half the rate of serious health outcomes compared to those who did not regularly monitor blood glucose. These findings underscore the benefits of tracking your blood glucose consistently over long periods of time: by spending less of your life at dangerous or harmful blood sugar levels, you can mitigate the risk of diabetes-related health problems in your future.
Glucose meters are surprisingly sensitive to the conditions you use them in. As such, for optimal accuracy, it’s important to store and use your glucose meter the right way. Test strips should be stored in a dark, fairly dry place like a cupboard, that never gets too hot or too cold. Somewhere that experiences wild temperature swings, like your car, is not a good idea. If possible, you also want to use your test strips in a place that’s at a moderate temperature and not too humid.
Before testing your blood sugar, wash and dry your hands well. Power your glucose meter on and prepare a test strip. Then, using a clean and sterile lancet, prick your finger on the side of your fingertip (it’s less sensitive than the very top) and squeeze out a drop of blood onto your test strip and wait a few seconds for your glucose meter to record a reading.
If you keep track of your blood glucose levels manually, make sure you record the date, time, and your glucose level. If your glucose meter automatically records this data, make sure you sync your monitor to your phone, and you’re done! Make sure to dispose of the test strip and the used lancet properly.
Q: Are blood sugar and blood glucose the same thing?
A: Yes—“blood sugar” is a more colloquial term for blood glucose. Technically, there are many different kinds of sugar, like sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
Glucose in particular is consumed by every cell in your body, and to sustain this energy consumption, your body shuttles glucose around in your bloodstream. Doctors and scientists usually specify that they are talking about glucose in the context of blood monitoring, but in conversation, especially with patients, the term “blood sugar” is used more often. In practice, you can treat these terms as identical in their meaning.
Q: How accurate are glucose meters?
A: The typical accuracy of a glucose meter that passes muster at the FDA is surprisingly lackluster. All that’s required for a device to be certified from an accuracy standpoint are for it to measure within 15% of the true blood glucose value, at least 95% of the time.
That means a device that’s completely off the mark one one in twenty times can skate right through regulatory approval. Concerningly, some research by experts on diabetes suggests that even among devices that do pass regulatory approval, many fail to meet their specified accuracy when used out in the real world (4).
Generally, even with a good glucose meter, a margin of error of 10% is quite likely. That means your measured blood glucose could be substantially higher or lower than the true value.
Q: Are there any glucose meters that don’t require blood?
A: Bloodless glucose meters are still an active area of research. One company had a device on the market that used an electric field to draw out glucose from your body without pricking your finger, but this device was withdrawn because it suffered from numerous problems: it didn’t work if you were sweating, it wasn’t very accurate, and the electric field damaged some peoples’ skin. Not good! Given the inconvenience of tracking blood glucose with strips, hopefully scientists will come up with a better solution. For now, standard glucose meters are your best bet.
Q: What is a continuous blood glucose meter?
A: A continuous glucose monitor is a device that is partially implanted into your skin. It broadcasts your blood glucose level wirelessly to a separate blood glucose meter.
Continuous glucose meters might be the future of tracking blood sugar levels, but they are far less popular now than traditional test strip kits, in part because most models need to be calibrated via regular test strips, and don’t always offer the same accuracy level.
Our team is keeping an eye on continuous blood glucose monitoring, though, as it’s an active area of research with a lot of potential upside.
Q: Can you check blood sugar without pricking your finger?
A: Unfortunately, there are no FDA-approved devices on the market that offer the ability to check your blood glucose levels without pricking your finger. It’s an active area of research for obvious reasons—finger pricks are inconvenient, and test strips and lancets generate a lot of waste that needs to be disposed of.
However, actually measuring glucose accurately without access to blood is a very tough scientific problem. Several biotech companies are reportedly working on devices that can read glucose without a finger prick, but they have not yet been brought to market. The closest thing is a continuous glucose monitor, which is a device that punctures your skin but stays in place for up to several days at a time.
Q: What are normal readings on a blood glucose meter?
A: Normal levels of blood glucose depend on the last time you’ve eaten. If you are fasting, you want glucose levels of 80 to 100 mg/dL. Fasting is defined as not having eaten any food for at least eight hours—most people only achieve this right when they wake up in the morning.
After eating, levels of 170 to 200 are normal, but these should drop to 120-140 mg/dL within two or three hours (5). For type two diabetics, the more time you spend above these normal thresholds, the higher your risk of developing long-term complications of diabetes. That’s why monitoring your blood glucose levels is so important for controlling diabetes.
Q: What is the most accurate blood glucose meter?
A: Based on independent lab testing, the most accurate blood glucose meters on the market right now are the FreeStyle Freedom Lite and Bayer Contour Next.
These devices offer multiple advanced features that make them great choices as a glucose meter, but their industry-leading accuracy is certainly their best perk.
Q: Can you buy a glucose meter over the counter?
A: Yes, you can buy all of the necessary supplies for at home glucose monitoring over the counter: a glucose meter, test strips, a lancing device, and sterile lancets. Your doctor might have specific guidelines on the type of device you should get, or more importantly, the frequency with which you should test and record your blood glucose.
Q: How do you use a glucose meter?
A: The right way to use a glucose meter starts with how you store your equipment: keep your test strips and your glucose meter in a cool, dry, dark place when possible, and make sure you are not using expired test strips—they won’t be as accurate.
Before measuring your blood glucose levels, make sure you wash your hands and dry them well—residue from dirt, oils, sweat, or lotion on your hands can interfere with the functioning of your test strips and glucose meter.
Once you’ve put in a new test strip and turned on your glucose meter, use a fresh, sterile lancet to prick your finger and squeeze a drop of blood onto your test strip. Wait to get your results—it might take a few seconds. Then, be sure to record your glucose level, either manually or using the wireless connectivity on your glucose meter. You may need these numbers to adjust your treatment plan.
Q: How can you check the accuracy of a glucose meter?
A: To check the accuracy of a glucose meter, you need a standard to compare it to. Fortunately, when you go to the doctor’s office for a regular appointment, you can check your blood glucose level using your glucose meter right before you have your blood drawn for lab tests.
That way, you can compare your meter’s reading to the lab’s reading, which will of course have been tested on the same blood (i.e. yours) at more or less the same time. When you compare the results, make sure you’re looking at the same units—labs may report blood glucose in mmol/L or mg/dL. Any good blood glucose meter will be able to display either unit convention (or you can just convert then: take your mmol/L value and multiply it by 18 to get mg/dL, or divide your mg/dL level by 18 to get mmol/L).
Some labs also report glucose level in plasma equivalent, not whole blood equivalent, so again, be sure you are comparing the right numbers from your glucose meter and your lab results. If your glucose meter reading is off by more than 15% or so, and you’re sure you used it correctly, you might want to change to a different brand that offers better accuracy.
If you have diabetes or any other medical condition that affects your ability to regulate your blood sugar, tracking your blood glucose levels with a glucose meter is the best way to guide your overall management strategy.
Careful recording of your blood glucose levels is imperative for proper treatment; fortunately, a good glucose monitor makes this quick and easy. For best results, choose from one of our top ranked glucose monitors to ensure results that are as accurate as possible.
Make sure to wash and dry your hands before using your glucose monitor, and check to be sure your test strips haven’t expired. Blood glucose readings will be most accurate when taken in a place with ambient temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold, and not too humid either.
You can check the accuracy of your glucose meter by taking a reading right before you have a lab test done at the doctor’s office and comparing the results later.
Finally, tracking your results, either manually or using a Bluetooth-enabled glucose monitor with cloud storage, enables you and your doctor to figure out a management strategy to keep your blood sugar levels healthy over the long run.
For CPOE’s #1 glucose meter recommendation, click here.