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So your new normal consists of throwing a granola bar in your bag, chugging as much coffee as possible, and hoping for the best. Then noon rolls around and you’ve gone from feeling like a Botticelli painting to a Jackson Pollock. What gives? You might be dealing with hypoglycemia, aka low blood sugar.
There are different types and causes of hypoglycemia, which we’ll cover in a second. But as a general FYI, here are some quick diet tips for avoiding low blood sugar.
- Eat something nutritious every 3–4 hours instead of three large meals.
- Avoid foods high in saturated or trans fat.
- Keep a healthy snack at the ready at all times.
- Reduce your intake of sugars.
- Choose whole grains over simple starches.
- Eat lean protein.
- Load up on soluble fiber.
- Avoid going to bed on an empty stomach.
- Eat breakfast.
- Load up on fiber from leafy greens and veggies.
- Have a light snack before and after a longer high-intensity workout.
Feel better? Good.
While those with diabetes are more likely to experience hypoglycemia, there are two types of non-diabetes hypoglycemia — reactive and non-reactive.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia
Symptoms can range from minor to severe.
Some minor symptoms include:
More serious symptoms (unlikely unless you take diabetes medication that lowers blood sugar) include:
- muscle weakness
- slurred speech
- blurry vision
- consistent drowsiness
- unconsciousness, fainting
Hypoglycemia with diabetes
For those with diabetes, hypoglycemia happens when there’s too much insulin and not enough glucose in the blood.
- not eating or skipping meals
- drinking alcohol without food
- taking too much insulin
- increasing physical activity
Hypoglycemia without diabetes
There are a variety of issues that can cause hypoglycemia in people without diabetes. Causes include:
- binge drinking
- liver disease
- eating disorders
- excessive exercise
- nausea or hunger
- changes in vision
- pounding heart
Reactive hypoglycemia (aka postprandial hypoglycemia)
Reactive hypoglycemia occurs within 4 hours following a meal. The exact cause is unknown, but it often relates to variations in your diet, such as the time of day food passes through the digestive system.
Signs of reactive hypoglycemia may include:
- pale skin
Non-reactive hypoglycemia (aka fasting hypoglycemia)
Non-reactive hypoglycemia isn’t necessarily related to food. It may be the result of an underlying condition.
Possible causes include:
Heavy drinking: Drinking prevents your liver from doing its normal job of releasing glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream because it’s too busy focusing on processing alcohol. (Sounds a bit like trying to study during college amiright?)
Chronic illness: Liver, heart, and kidney disorders can lead to hypoglycemia.
Eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can severely damage your body’s ability to process sugars. Your body is depleted of the fuel it needs to generate glucose, resulting in hypoglycemia.
Medications: Certain medications, such as quinine (Qualaquin), which is used to treat malaria, are known to cause hypoglycemia.
Hormone deficiencies: Children may be affected by hypoglycemia if they have a growth hormone deficiency. Adults and adolescents with pituitary gland or adrenal gland disorders may also be affected.
Tumors: Although rare, certain tumors may cause excessive production of insulin in the pancreas, causing hypoglycemia.
Here are some meal plans to help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Sleeping is the best. But your blood sugar levels drop during the night while you sleep. So you should eat something right when you wake up.
Some stable breakfast choices include:
- oatmeal with fresh berries and milk
- nuts and sunflower seeds over Greek yogurt
- hard-boiled eggs
- whole-grain toast with nut butter
- unsweetened yogurt with fruit
- oatmeal with cinnamon and unsweetened applesauce
Studies indicate cinnamon may help lower blood sugar for those with diabetes. That’s because cinnamon, which comes from the bark of the cinnamomum tree, is a rich source of antioxidants like polyphenols and flavonoids.
Sprinkle it on top of steel-cut oatmeal, the most unprocessed form of the food. It contains lots of soluble fiber to slow down carb absorption, helping to keep blood sugar stable. Stay away from instant oatmeal versions, as they contain added sugars.
What about coffee?
Everyone’s body processes caffeine differently. For some, it may have no effect on blood sugar. For others, it may.
Studies suggest that consuming coffee (even decaf) may reduce your risk of diabetes. But, if you already have diabetes, 200 milligrams of caffeine (about two 8-ounce cups of joe) could cause blood sugar levels to rise or fall.
If you don’t have diabetes, consuming 200–400 milligrams of caffeine is unlikely to noticeably affect your blood sugar levels.
It’s best to limit the OJ and other juices to 6-ounces, since they’re high in sugar content and some brands contain added sugars.
You could also try diluting 100 percent orange juice with water to reduce the calorie and sugar intake while still satisfying a sweet tooth. Check out lower-sugar, lower-calorie versions of your favorite Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice blends and V-8 Splash.
Fruit is a fruitful mid-morning snack, as its packed with vitamins, minerals, and natural sugars to keep you energized. Their natural fiber, particularly from the skin, keeps you full for longer and staves off hunger pangs.
Pair fruits with a protein like string cheese or nut butter to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and keep you feeling full for longer. Pairing a whole grain with protein is also a winning combination for blood sugar management and satisfying hunger.
Some great mid-morning snack options include:
- a small banana with a dollop of natural (no sugar added) peanut butter
- whole-grain toast with sliced avocado and/or hummus
- a serving of tuna with whole-grain crackers
- a small apple with a serving of string cheese
Ordering a salad for takeout is a healthy option, but it’s easy to overlook the amount of fat or sugar added in certain dressings and toppings. (We see you candied pecans and almonds!) Pack your own and watch nutrition labels as you assemble your salad. Add a lean protein and lots of veggies to round out those greens.
Switch it up and enjoy these healthy alternatives to higher-sugar and higher-fat meals:
- grilled fish tacos with slaw
- a wholesome salad topped with lean protein, crispy veggies, and chickpeas
- turkey or tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread with tomatoes and spinach
- grilled chicken with a side of steamed veg and half a sweet potato
Stop. Carb-o time! Complex carbs (the brooding intense kind) deliver glucose slower than other forms of simple carbs (the flirtatious, vapid kind) and will keep you feeling full for longer.
Some examples of complex carbs include:
- 100 percent whole wheat bread
- beans and peas
- brown rice
- sweet potato
Working out is excellent for your mind and body, but it lowers your blood sugar — fast. Just like your greedy sibling draining your family data plan, exercise burns through your body’s energy stores.
A combination of proteins and complex carbs are a match made in pre-workout heaven.
Some excellent choices include:
- apple slices with nut butter
- unsweetened yogurt with berries
- whole-grain crackers with hummus
- a small serving of nuts and dried fruit (make sure there’s no added sugar!)
- steel-cut oatmeal with low-fat milk and cinnamon
Post workout snacks are important too. Your body needs to recover after a workout. Try these:
- Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries
- turkey slices on a whole-grain wrap with hummus and veggies
- low-fat chocolate milk (choose the one with the least added sugar)
Going for a second helping is tempting, but mind your portions and keep it balanced.
Whether you’re cooking for one or a whole family, these are some winning combinations to avoid a sugar crash:
- roasted chicken with asparagus and baked sweet potato
- low-sodium turkey chili with chives over brown rice
- spaghetti squash, turkey meatballs, and lower-sugar tomato sauce
- fajitas (choose high-fiber tortillas)
- lemon chicken piccata with a side of broccoli and cheese
For once mom was wrong. A light bite before bed will help keep your blood sugar stable while you catch your z’s.
Stick to high-protein options such as:
- low-fat Greek yogurt with nuts and unsweetened dried fruit
- cottage cheese with fruit
- low-sodium vegetable juice with a small serving of whole-grain crackers and cheese
Don’t let hypoglycemia drag you down! Diet is a powerful tool to keep your body balanced and in tip-top shape. If you’re prone to hypoglycemia, remember the basics:
- Eat when you wake-up and before you sleep.
- Always have a healthy snack on hand.
- Pair healthy fats with fiber and complex carbs with protein to feel full longer.
- Limit added sugars and simple carbs.
- Eat small meals/nutritious snacks frequently to avoid hunger and feeling overly full.
Do that and you’ll feel like a masterpiece 24/7.