If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, checking your blood sugar levels is key for managing the disease and maintaining your health. Even if you don't have diabetes, your doctor may ask you to check your blood sugar periodically if you have a history of the disease or have borderline high numbers. Other people like to check their blood sugar levels for other reasons. Using a glucometer is popular now for those who are following special diets -- sugar detoxes, low-carb and ketogenic diets in particular.
Accuracy and consistency (also called repeatability) are the top features to look for in a glucometer. These should take priority over the fancy bells and whistles you can find on some modern blood glucose meters. For diabetics, getting the readings right -- or at least within a reasonable range -- can be a matter of life and death, or at the very least the ability to consistently feel good.
We look beyond FDA and ISO compliance. Just because a blood glucose meter meets the current federal standards doesn't mean it's the best; as of March 2014, those standards allow the devices to be wrong by as much as 20 percent. To make our choices, we look at what independent testing organizations and clinical trials have revealed about these monitors' accuracy and dependability, plus user feedback about how well they perform in the real world.
(The Food and Drug Administration has, for several years, been pushing for stronger international standards for glucose meters; FDA officials say they may switch to higher federal standards on their own if necessary, but it hasn't happened yet.)
Glucometer technology has come a long way in recent years and continues to improve -- and users don't seem to mind a few quirks in their blood glucose monitors, as long as they're reasonably predictable.
Ease-of-use is another important consideration. Experts say this is not just for your convenience. The more complicated the process gets, the greater the chance that you'll get errors. Even with the simplest of meters, though, you'll still want to pay careful, consistent attention to the manufacturer's directions to ensure the most accurate results.
If you're sight-impaired -- a common complication of diabetes -- a talking glucose meter can literally talk you through the entire process, letting you do everything -- from setup to testing and recording your results -- without assistance.
The cost of the meter doesn't tell the long-term investment. Even if your insurance company covers the cost of diabetic supplies, be aware that it may only cover a limited selection of brands -- so check your coverage before you buy. If you don't have insurance, you can often get a free meter and sample of test strips from your doctor or even directly from the meter manufacturer.
Watch out for the cost of test strips, though -- they are the greatest overall expense in your diabetic testing kit. The test strips that accompany the monitors in this report range from $16 to $60 per box of 50; if you test your blood sugar four times a day that supply will last you a little less than two weeks. With more expensive brands, the cost of test strips can easily clear $1,500 per year.
The good news is that some of the manufacturers with more expensive test strips offer co-pay programs to help bring the cost per box of 50 down to about $15. These include Abbott Diabetes Care, which manufactures the FreeStyle Lite (Est. $25) and Roche Diagnostics, which manufactures the Accu-Chek Aviva Plus (Est $25) .
Some drugs and glucose meters can be a deadly combination. Certain drugs can cause errors with glucose meters that use a specific type of test-strip technology (known as GDH-PQQ), resulting in dangerous -- potentially fatal -- false readings. The FDA has issued an alert, and you should always consult with your care provider if you have any questions or concerns.
ConsumerSearch editors have analyzed the results of professional tests as well as user reviews to find the most accurate, consistent and easy-to-use glucometers for anyone, regardless of how often or why they test.