blood sugar

You’re irritable and shaky, and suddenly you realize it’s been several hours since you’ve last eaten. Could it be you are suffering from low blood sugar? While issues with high or low blood sugar are symptoms of diabetes, even people who don’t have diabetes can have trouble with low blood sugar.

Understanding Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is the clinical syndrome that results from low blood sugar. The symptoms of hypoglycemia can vary from person to person but often include dizziness, nausea, weakness, headache, sweating, mental confusion, anxiety, and shakiness. It is diagnosed by a low blood sugar with symptoms that resolve when the sugar level returns to the normal range, which for most people is 90-110 milligrams per deciliter. You can easily purchase a blood sugar monitor at your local pharmacy to keep track of your sugar throughout the day.

Blood sugar, or glucose levels, vary throughout the day depending on what you eat, how active you are, and any diabetes medicines or insulin you take. Other factors, such as hormone fluctuations, can affect blood glucose levels as well. While hypoglycemia occurs primarily in people who have diabetes that are managing their blood sugar by diet or medication, it’s important to note that you don’t have to be diabetic to experience hypoglycemia. Even things like prolonged exercise, waiting too long between meals or snacks, and drinking excessive amount of alcohol can affect your blood sugar.

There are two types of hypoglycemia that each produce the same types of reactions.

  • Fasting Hypoglycemia: occurs when you have not eaten for several hours.
  • Non-Fasting Hypoglycemia: occurs after eating a meal that is high in carbohydrates. If your body is unable to respond appropriately, it either releases insulin too late, or releases an excessive amount of insulin.

What To Do When You’re Having a Hypoglycemic Reaction

If you are experiencing symptoms of hypoglycemia, it’s important to take immediate steps to bring your blood sugar back to a normal level. For me, the first sign of low blood sugar is always dizziness, which is followed by a headache and disoritentation.The quickest way to raise your blood glucose and treat hypoglycemia is with some form of sugar.  Fruit juices, hard candies, and even pretzels or crackers can can provide a quick-fix in raising your blood sugar back to a normal level.

It is important to “back up” that sugar filled snack with some sort of protein so your body doesn’t experience another drop in sugar. I keep a protein bar in my purse at all times.

Eating with Hypoglycemia

The foods you eat play an important role in preventing the symptoms you experience when your blood sugar is too low. While there are many causes of low blood sugar, the dietary recommendations are similar for all types of hypoglycemia.

  1. Eat three balanced meals a day with two or three planned snacks. Even when you’re trying to lose a few pounds, it’s important not to skip meals, even snacks. Try not to go any longer than 3-4 hours between eating.

  2. Plan your meals carefully. Balancing your meals with protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber helps to keep your blood glucose and insulin levels in balance. Having a high protein food at each meal or snack helps you maintain normal blood sugar levels between meals by delaying how quickly the carbohydrates are digested. Protein rich foods include fish, chicken, turkey, lean beef, tofu, beans, eggs, peanut butter, and dairy products like milk and cheese.
  3. High fiber foods digest more slowly and not only help prevent glucose from entering your bloodstream too fast, but they also help you feel full longer.
  4. Avoid concentrated sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar, honey, and corn syrup. These types of sugars are found in most sweets like cookies, candy, cakes, soft drinks, jams, etc.
  5. Having a healthy body weight is an important goal in managing hypoglycemia. With your body in the appropriate cycles of meals and snacks, along with daily exercise, you are making a large step toward achieving your goal weight.
  6. Alcohol consumption can be a large contributor to a hypoglycemic reaction. Always include a light snack when you are drinking a beverage that contains alcohol, and try to limit your daily intake of alcohol overall.
  7. By now we all know that we should be avoiding soda, but it’s not just the sugar that can cause havoc on your body. Too much caffeine can also cause a hypoglycemic reaction. Limit the amounts of coffee, tea, and soda in your diet.
  8. Eating smaller meals can also help maintain a normal blood sugar level.

Talk to Your Doctor about Hypoglycemia

If you find that you are having frequent bouts of low blood sugar, it’s important to talk to your doctor. While hypoglycemia can be treated by changes to your diet, it may also be an indicator of diseases ot problems with the glands that produce the hormones that are important in blood glucose control including the pancreas, pituitary, and adrenal glands.

Additional Reading:

The Glycemic Index Diet: Fad or Fabulous?

America’s Pre-Diabetes Epidemic

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