Hypoglycemia means that you have low blood sugar. People with diabetes often experience low blood sugar levels. Certain medications, excessive alcohol consumption, some critical illnesses and hormone deficiencies can also cause hypoglycemia without diabetes.
Reactive hypoglycemia is a condition that causes low blood sugar within a four-hour window after meals. Eating food raises your blood sugar levels, but people who have hypoglycemia make more insulin than is needed when they eat. This excess insulin leads to the drop in their blood sugar level.
Hypoglycemia is a lifelong condition, but you can help manage its symptoms through your diet. Follow these rules of thumb:
- Eat small meals every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals per day. Avoid foods high in saturated fats or trans fats.
- Choose foods with a low glycemic index score.
- Reduce or eliminate processed and refined sugars from your diet.
- Choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates.
- Reduce or eliminate alcoholic drinks, and never mix alcohol with sugar-filled mixers, such as fruit juice.
- Eat lean protein.
- Eat foods high in soluble fiber.
Here are some ideas for a diet plan for people with hypoglycemia.
You should eat a small meal as soon as possible after waking. A good breakfast should consist of protein, such as scrambled eggs, plus a complex carbohydrate. Try these:
- hard boiled eggs and a slice of whole-grain bread with cinnamon (several small studies indicate that cinnamon may help reduce blood sugar)
- a small serving of steel-cut oatmeal, like this protein-packed oatmeal with blueberries, sunflower seeds, and agave
- plain Greek yogurt with berries, honey, and oatmeal
In addition, be mindful of your consumption of juices. Stick to 100% juice varieties that do not have added sweeteners, and limit your intake to 4 to 6 ounces. Dilute the juice with water or choose a big glass of water with lemon instead.
Steel-cut oatmeal is lower on the glycemic index than other types of oatmeal, plus it contains lots of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps slow down carbohydrate absorption, which helps keep your blood sugar stable. Make sure to choose a type with no added sugar or corn syrup.
Also, caffeine may affect blood sugar in some people. Decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea may be your best bet for a hot breakfast drink. Discuss caffeine intake with your doctor to determine if it’s an important factor for you.
Fruits can be part of a nutritious mid-morning snack. They’re fibrous, provide beneficial vitamins and minerals, and contain natural sugars for energy. It’s best to pair fruit with a protein or healthy fat to sustain your fullness and keep your blood sugar level even. Having a whole-grain, fibrous carbohydrate paired with a protein or healthy fat is also a great option.
Try these healthy mid-morning snack options:
- a small apple with cheddar cheese
- a banana with a small handful of nuts or seeds
- a piece of whole grain toast with an avocado or hummus spread
- a can of sardines or tuna with whole grain crackers plus a glass of low-fat milk
If lunch typically means office takeout, opt for a tuna or chicken salad sandwich on whole-grain bread with romaine lettuce.
If you’re packing your own lunch, here are some ideas:
- a green salad topped with chicken, chickpeas, tomatoes, and other veggies
- a piece of grilled fish, a baked sweet potato, and a side salad or side of cooked veggies
All potatoes directly affect blood sugar, but some are less impactful than others. White russet potatoes are highest on the glycemic index, followed by boiled white potatoes, and then sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are full of antioxidants and may help regulate insulin.
Your mid-afternoon snack is a great time to reach for complex carbohydrates, particularly if you face a long commute home after work. Complex carbs are digested slowly. This means they deliver glucose at a slow pace, which can help your blood sugar level stay stable.
Complex carbs include:
- whole-wheat bread
- brown rice
A hardworking mid-afternoon snack could be:
- a no-sugar variety of peanut butter on whole-wheat bread or crackers
- a cup of brown rice with kidney beans
- veggies and hummus
If you love zesty flavors, make a large batch of cilantro-flavored Mexican brown rice and store it in individual serving cups for a delicious and healthy snack on the go.
Physical activity lowers blood sugar, so having a snack before exercising is a must. Before working out, grab a high-protein snack with carbohydrates. Good choices include:
- fruit and crackers
- Greek yogurt with berries
- apple with peanut butter
- small handful of raisins and nuts
- peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread
Just make sure not to eat a large meal before exercising. Include a glass of water, too.
Keep your evening meal as small as your other meals. Dinner is a good time to eat some protein and complex carbs. This simple-to-make lentil and quinoa soup provides both, plus it’s filling and delicious. Sprinkle on some parmesan cheese or have a glass of low-fat or skim milk on the side.
Eating a light snack close to bedtime will help keep your blood sugar stable throughout the nighttime hours. Try these:
- a high-protein, low-sugar brand of Greek yogurt coupled with berries and walnuts
- a no-sugar vegetable smoothie