Hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose, can cause potentially life-threatening reactions in people with diabetes. But people who do not have diabetes can also have hypoglycemia, which cause shakiness, sweating, lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating and weakness. Non-diabetic hypoglycemia, often called functional or reactive hypoglycemia, can often be modified by careful attention to diet. Choosing the right type of snacks reduces the rapid rises and falls in blood sugar that cause hypoglycemia. Pick snacks that contain protein, fats and carbohydrates with a low-glycemic load.
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Because hypoglycemia occurs one to three hours after a meal, eating a snack designed to prevent hypoglycemia during this time frame can ward off symptoms. Avoid snacks that contain refined sugars, which raise your blood sugar levels rapidly but also cause a rapid fall in people with reactive hypoglycemia, who often have abnormal insulin responses. Insulin helps cells absorb glucose. Protein, fat and fiber all help stabilize blood sugars. Carbohydrates have a low-glycemic load, meaning they have a minimal effect on raising blood sugar levels and also help stabilize blood sugars. Avoid caffeine and alcohol; both can increase the symptoms of hypoglycemia.
Nuts are a good snack for people with hypoglycemia. They contain a number of elements that slow the absorption of glucose. Nuts are high in protein, fats and fiber, all of which increase the time needed to break down and absorb glucose. Nuts are also easily portable, so you can carry them with you for a quick snack on the run.
Fruit and Cheese
Although fruit, which contains carbohydrates, may not seem like a good choice for hypoglycemia, many fruits have a low-glycemic load. Fruits with a low-glycemic load include apples, pear and oranges. Fruits are also a good source of fiber, which also slows absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. Adding a piece of cheese to a fruit snack supplies protein and fat, both of which also break down more slowly and keep blood sugars stable.
Peanut Butter and Whole Wheat
Whole wheat has a lower glycemic load than refined grains, which remove the fiber from the grain. Peanut butter contains both protein and fat. Pairing whole grains with protein and fats keeps your blood sugar stable for a longer time. Don’t choose commercial peanut butter and crackers; make your own so you can add more peanut butter.
Yogurt and Fruit
Yogurt made without added sugar supplies protein and fats. Add fresh fruit for fiber, and you have a snack that will add carbohydrates for energy along with the protein, fat and fiber that slow glucose metabolism.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders: Hypoglycemia; October 2008
- Jackson/Siegelbaum Gastroenterology: Hypoglycemia; Frank Jackson, M.D.; 2008
- Linus Pauling Institute: Glycemic Index and Gylcemic Load; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; December 2005
- McKinley Health Center: Nutrition for Reactive Hypoglycemia; 2007