A sugar called glucose is a body’s main source of fuel for its many functions. This sugar fuel enters the bloodstream when food breaks down in the digestive system. If your child’s blood sugar levels become abnormally low, he has a condition known as hypoglycemia and he may experience symptoms such as shakiness, headache, sudden behavior changes and confusion, according to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Adapting your child’s diet may help reduce his risk of seriously low blood sugar levels.
Hypoglycemia is a symptom of an underlying condition. Hypoglycemia can occur once in a while, such as if a child overexerts herself without eating enough food for fuel, or it can be a recurrent problem. Although hypoglycemia in children is most often associated with diabetes, many other conditions can cause hypoglycemia. Your child could have a standalone condition called reactive hypoglycemia, where her symptoms occur within about 4 hours of eating a meal. Certain medications, tumors, a hereditary enzyme and hormonal deficiencies can cause hypoglycemia, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Long-term treatment methods for your child’s condition will depend on the underlying problem. For instance, a child with diabetes may not be helped by diet alone; she may also need to take insulin and constantly monitor her blood sugar.
Meal Frequency and Size
If your child has frequent episodes of hypoglycemia, you may help reduce his blood sugar dips by offering him a nutritious meal or snack every two to three hours, according to the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center. The size of your child’s meals and snacks is also an important part of keeping his blood sugar levels in check. Offering small meals such as a whole sandwich and some carrot sticks split into two separate mini meals will help glucose release into your child’s bloodstream at a slow and even pace.
Include high fiber foods in every meal and snack you offer your child. Fiber, in foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grain crackers, is slower to digest and helps extend process of carbohydrates breaking down into sugar. Soluble fiber, in foods such as beans and oat bran, is particularly helpful in keeping your child’s blood sugar levels steady because it forms a sticky gel in her intestines and delays stomach emptying, food digestion and absorption of glucose, according to Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology. Include some fat and protein in each meal to further slow down the release and absorption of glucose. For instance, add turkey and cheese to whole-wheat crackers and top salads with nuts.
“Quick Fix” Sugar
Ask your pediatrician to help you plan out when your child needs “emergency” sugar and what type of food or drink to offer your child if he starts showing serious hypoglycemia symptoms. In most cases, 1 cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of honey or sugar or ½ cup of any fruit juice or regular soft drink will help quickly boost your child’s blood sugar level, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Your pediatrician may recommend that you offer your child smaller doses if he is small. Because simple sugars do cause rapid blood sugar spikes and dips, keep candies, soft drinks and other sweets to a minimum in his diet under other circumstances.
- University of Illinois McKinley Health Center: Nutrition for Reactive Hypoglycemia
- Children’s Hospital Boston: Hypoglycemia
- TeensHealth from Nemours: What is Hypoglycemia?
- National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: A to Z List of Topics and Titles: Hypoglycemia
- Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology: Hypoglycemia Diet: Frank W. Jackson, M.D.
- Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford: Low Blood Sugar