The energy you need to work, play, or even just think straight comes from blood sugar, or blood glucose. It circulates throughout your body all the time.
Blood sugar comes from the foods you eat. A hormone called insulin helps move the sugar from your bloodstream into cells in your body, where it’s used for energy.
But if your blood sugar levels drop too low, you can experience a wide range of symptoms, some of which can be serious. If you’re prone to dips in your blood sugar levels, knowing what to do can help keep you safe.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the types of foods that can quickly raise your blood sugar, as well as other steps you can take to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level.
Your blood sugar tends to fluctuate throughout the day. It’ll be lower when you first wake up, especially if you haven’t eaten for the past 8 to 10 hours.
Your blood sugar will go up once you eat. Depending on when you last ate, here’s what’s considered to be a normal blood sugar range:
|Fasting||2 hours after a meal|
|70–99 mg/dL||Less than 140 mg/dL|
Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, is when your blood sugar levels fall below 70 mg/dL.
The point at which low blood sugar symptoms become noticeable is different from one person to the next.
Some people may feel jittery, irritable, or lightheaded when their blood sugar level falls to 70 mg/dL. Other people may not feel any symptoms until well below that mark.
A quick, simple blood test can measure your blood sugar level. If you have diabetes or another medical condition that sometimes causes episodes of low blood sugar, it’s important to regularly check your blood sugar with a home test.
If a test shows that your blood sugar is below normal, you can take steps to adjust it quickly.
Symptoms of low blood sugar vary from person to person and can even be different from one episode to the next. You may experience specific symptoms the first time your blood sugar dips, and different symptoms the next time.
The most common mild to moderate symptoms of low blood sugar include:
- jitters or shaking
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- sudden hunger
- trouble concentrating
- pale complexion
- racing or irregular heartbeat
More severe symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- inability to eat or drink
In some cases, a condition called hypoglycemia unawareness can develop after frequent episodes of low blood sugar. This happens because the body gets used to low blood sugar, so symptoms become harder to pinpoint.
Hypoglycemia unawareness can be dangerous, as it reduces the opportunity for treating low blood sugar and increases the likelihood of severe hypoglycemia.
For mild to moderate symptoms, you can usually take steps yourself to get your levels into the normal range. For severe symptoms, it’s important to get immediate medical assistance.
Because your blood sugar comes from the foods and beverages you consume, one of the easiest ways to raise your blood sugar fast is to grab a quick snack.
The American Diabetes Association recommends the 15-15 rule if your blood sugar dips below 70 mg/dL: Eat at least 15 grams of carbohydrates, then wait 15 minutes to recheck your blood sugar.
If you’re still below 70 mg/dL, have another 15 grams of carbs, wait 15 minutes, and check your levels again.
Among the foods you can try for a quick blood sugar boost are:
- a piece of fruit, like a banana, apple, or orange
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- 15 grapes
- 1/2 cup apple, orange, pineapple, or grapefruit juice
- 1/2 cup regular soda (not sugar-free)
- 1 cup fat-free milk
- 1 tablespoon honey or jelly
- 15 Skittles
- 4 Starbursts
- 1 tablespoon of sugar in water
Foods that contain protein or fat, such as peanut butter, ice cream, and chocolate, may be helpful if your blood sugar level has dropped but isn’t below 70 mg/dL.
These higher-fat foods, as well as whole-grain bread and other high-fiber foods, take longer to absorb into your bloodstream. Because of this, these foods won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as foods that have more simple carbohydrates.
Two products — glucose gel and chewable glucose tablets — are also effective at quickly raising blood sugar. They’re available without a prescription and are recommended for people who experience frequent episodes of low blood sugar.
If you’ve had severe low blood sugar symptoms in the past, speak with your doctor about whether a glucagon kit is right for you. Glucagon is a hormone that triggers your liver to release glucose into the bloodstream.
These kits are only available by prescription. They’re used to raise your blood sugar when you’re not able to eat or drink, such as in a state of unconsciousness. Therefore, someone else, like a friend or family member, typically administers this medication for you.
An episode of low blood sugar that necessitates assistance from another person is by definition severe hypoglycemia. The kits come with a syringe and needle that can be used to inject glucagon into your arm, thigh, or buttocks.
Be sure to ask your doctor when and how to use a glucagon kit. Also, let your family and friends know how to use it and how to recognize a hypoglycemic emergency.
There are many different factors that can cause a dip in your blood sugar levels. Here are some of the most common causes.
Food and drink
Skipping meals or going too long without a meal or snack can cause just about anyone to experience a drop in blood sugar. Other causes related to food and drink include:
- not eating enough carbohydrates throughout the day
- not eating for hours after you wake up in the morning
- drinking alcohol without eating enough food
Exercising more or harder than usual can lower your blood sugar. After a particularly strenuous workout, take steps to ensure that your blood sugar level doesn’t drop too low by:
- consuming foods that are high in simple carbohydrates, like fresh fruit, chocolate milk, or hard fruit candies shortly after your workout
- not waiting too long before you eat a regular-sized meal
If you have diabetes, you may need to take synthetic insulin. In some cases, taking insulin can cause hypoglycemia due to:
- taking too much of it
- your body suddenly responding differently to the insulin
- the interaction of insulin with other drugs, including sulfonylureas and meglitinides
Several health conditions can also affect your blood sugar. Among them are:
- anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders
- hepatitis and other liver conditions, which can affect how your liver produces and releases glucose
- pituitary gland disorders, which can affect the release of hormones that control glucose production
- low adrenal function
- kidney disease, which can affect how waste products, including medicines, are flushed from your body
- insulinoma, which is an insulin-producing tumor of the pancreas
- advanced cancer
- inadvertently taking too much diabetes medication (insulin or sulfonylureas)
It’s essential that you get immediate medical attention if your blood sugar drops and you have severe symptoms, like seizures or loss of consciousness.
If you have diabetes and your blood sugar drops, and the usual quick-fix treatments don’t help raise your blood sugar above 70 mg/dL, it’s also important to get medical care as soon as possible. This happens more commonly with taking too much long-acting insulin or sulfonylurea diabetes pills.
Also, be sure to get medical care if you don’t have diabetes but have symptoms of hypoglycemia that don’t go away or get worse after you’ve eaten at least 15 grams of carbohydrates.
Low blood sugar can be a temporary issue caused by skipping a meal or not eating enough food. It can be harmless, especially if you’re able to quickly raise your blood sugar by eating a snack.
Sometimes, though, a drop in blood sugar can be related to diabetes or other underlying health conditions. If your symptoms are severe, or if eating a snack doesn’t help or makes you feel worse, be sure to get immediate medical attention.
If you feel your blood sugar isn’t well controlled, talk with your doctor to see whether there’s a treatment plan that may be well suited to keeping your blood sugar within a healthy range.
And if you know you may be prone to drops in blood sugar, always keep gel tablets or other quick fixes with you when you’re on the go.