We’ve all been there. Whether you’re sitting at your desk at work, chasing the kids around at home, or just out and about… at around 2 or 3 p.m., it hits. That sinking, I-need-another-cup-of-coffee-if-I’m-going-to-make-it-through-the-day feeling. What causes this? And how do we avoid it?
Believe it or not, it’s pretty simple.
Our energy levels throughout the day are directly tied to our blood glucose levels. As someone who’s been living with type 1 diabetes since they were 5 years old, I know this all too well.
Sometimes, that afternoon crash feels pretty similar to a low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, episode. It’s possible that’s the cause, but it’s more likely to be a combination of your morning caffeine wearing off and up-and-down swings (or rapid changes) in your blood sugar that cause you to feel like you need a nap.
The key to avoiding the mid-afternoon crash lies in what you eat for lunch.
A balanced lunch with the right foods eaten to a satisfying fullness — not stuffed — can help prevent the crash.
But, I get it. We don’t always have time to prepare and enjoy a gourmet lunch. Sometimes (read: most of the time), we need something quick and easy to eat on the go.
4 things every crash-resistant lunch needs
A crash-resistant and diabetes-friendly lunch that’s easy to eat on the go should always include these four elements:
- a high-quality protein source
- a good source of plant-based, anti-inflammatory fat
- complex carbohydrates instead of refined carbs, which basically means fiber
- nourishing vegetables that can help you feel fuller faster
All these food types act as “buffers” for your body’s blood sugar after you eat. In other words, they prevent blood sugar spikes and the inevitable resulting crash. Fiber and veggies also help keep you feeling full and satiated for a longer period of time. But, how do they do this?
The benefits of slower digestion
After we eat, our food goes to our stomachs and usually sits there for anywhere between one to four hours. Simple carbohydrates — carbs without a lot of fiber — get processed the quickest. This includes anything sweetened. They can cause some intense, rapid blood sugar swings if we’re not careful.
When we add protein, fat, fiber, veggies, or all four to a meal, the speed at which our body digests our food slows down — which is a good thing! Slower digestion means we stay feeling full and energized for several hours. It also means that our body’s cells and muscles receive a steady, constant supply of energy, rather than getting it all at once.
As a registered dietitian, I help my clients build energy-stabilizing (read: blood sugar-stabilizing) meals so they can worry about more important things and not be dragged down by low energy levels throughout the day. And it helps that I have diabetes, too, and can empathize with how they’re feeling.
Let’s take a look at the recipe below as an example.
Recipe for a kale and chickpea tuna salad
If you’re on the hunt for an easy lunch recipe that won’t leave you in the lurch come mid-afternoon, this kale and chickpea tuna salad is a nutritional powerhouse guaranteed to give you the fuel you need to get you through the rest of your day. Whether it’s a busy day at the office or a crazy day at home with the kids, you’ll feel full, satisfied, and ready to tackle the afternoon.
Start to finish: 5 minutes
Yield: 3 cups
Serving size: 1-2 cups
- 1 5-oz. can of tuna
- 1 15 oz.-can of chickpeas with no salt added, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups chopped kale leaves
- 1/4 cup avocado oil mayonnaise
- Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and mix together. Make sure to thoroughly coat the kale, chickpeas, and tuna with the mayonnaise.
- Divide the tuna salad into 2-3 serving dishes.
You can enjoy it right away, or store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Just pair it with some whole-grain crackers or your favorite fruit, and you’re good to go!
Why it’s good for you
Kale has been in the spotlight for many years now, and rightfully so! It’s packed with vitamins and minerals like vitamins A and C, iron, and folate, to name a few. It’s also a good source of protein and fiber, both of which can help stabilize blood sugar levels after meals.
Chickpeas offer plant-based protein and blood sugar-stabilizing complex carbohydrates (hello, fiber!). Canned tuna is a quick and easy source of protein that’ll help keep you focused and full. I recommend brands that pack their tuna in water and don’t add any salt. Some of my favorites include Wild Planet Foods and Safe Catch.
And we can’t forget about that mayonnaise. A quality plant-based fat source like avocado oil aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, like the vitamin A found in kale. It can also add another layer of protection against post-meal blood sugar spikes or drops. My favorite is the Black Garlic Avocado Oil Mayonnaise by Chosen Foods.
Combine all of these together for this salad to keep your energy levels up and your blood sugar levels stable. It’ll also help you avoid that mid-afternoon energy crash.
Lunch can be a make-or-break meal when it comes to your mood or productivity in the afternoon. To help avoid a potential energy crash when you really need it, always remember the four keys to a healthy lunch: protein, plant-based fat, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. Combine all these to make a healthy recipe like the one above, and make the most of your afternoons!
Mary Ellen Phipps is the registered dietitian nutritionist behind Milk & Honey Nutrition. She’s also a wife, mom, type 1 diabetic, and recipe developer. Browse her website for yummy diabetes-friendly recipes and helpful nutrition tips. She strives to make healthy eating easy, realistic, and most importantly... fun! She has expertise in family meal planning, corporate wellness, adult weight management, adult diabetes management, and metabolic syndrome. Reach out to her on Instagram.