Hypoglycemia Diet

You can still have low blood sugar even if you don't have diabetes. Hypoglycemia occurs when your fasting blood sugar is too low. Nondiabetic hypoglycemia refers to the condition in which a person without diabetes experiences low blood glucose (sugar).

Nondiabetic hypoglycemia can happen within a few hours of eating or while fasting, when you haven't eaten. The latter may be related to a more serious health condition.

When it’s not caused by a reaction to medications, such as taking too much aspirin, or a condition like cancer, you may be able to manage your symptoms by changing what you eat.

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How Food and Fasting Affect Symptoms

Hypoglycemia is when your blood sugar level drops below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). 

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:  

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion or nervousness
  • Dizziness or blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Hunger or craving for sweets
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Flushing 
  • Fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Numbness or coldness in arms or legs
  • Shakiness
  • Sleepiness
  • Sweating
  • Trouble speaking
  • Weakness 

These symptoms occur because your body is not getting enough glucose to keep your brain functioning properly. Your brain uses glucose as its main source of energy.

Glucose comes from what you eat and drink, so it is directly related to your diet. When you don’t have enough blood glucose, like if you have been fasting or have not eaten recently, your body will try to compensate by increasing insulin release. Your body will also trigger the release of hormones such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and norepinephrine to help your body raise blood sugar.

When you eat, whatever you choose will have an impact on your blood sugar level. Some foods are known to raise your blood sugar level more quickly than others, and this must be taken into account when trying to manage hypoglycemia at home.

Scheduling Meals and Snacks

When you plan your meals and snacks, it ensures that you’re eating enough of a variety of foods to keep your blood glucose normal. This is particularly important when you experience nondiabetic hypoglycemia. Managing your blood glucose means preventing symptoms.

For people who are prone to having low blood sugar, it's recommended that they eat smaller meals and snacks throughout the day. They should also eat about every three or four hours

Types of Foods

There is no such thing as "good" and "bad" food, but there are better and worse options when it comes to what and when you eat when you have nondiabetic hypoglycemia. Certain foods and lifestyle changes can help you prevent or manage hypoglycemia.

What Is the Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index (GI) food score is a tool you can use to understand how certain foods affect your blood sugar. Foods on the lower end of the scale are known to have a slower impact on your blood glucose, whereas foods on the higher end are known to have a much quicker effect. If you have low blood sugar, higher-GI foods may be better for you.

Eating tips for managing blood sugar levels:

  • Spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day. 
  • Aim for two to four servings of carbs each meal and one to two servings at snack times. One serving is 15 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Choose whole grains and high-fiber foods. 
  • Choose whole fruits over processed ones, such as fruit cups, jams, and juices.
  • Eat from a variety of food groups during your meals and snacks. For example, eat apples with peanut butter, turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato, and tofu with rice and vegetables.
  • Include lean protein with each meal for longer-lasting energy, such as fish, low-fat cheese, and eggs.
  • Add healthy fats in small amounts, such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.
  • Pair sweet treats and fruits with other foods.
  • If you drink alcohol, eat at the same time.
  • Know that foods containing fat or protein slow the blood sugar response and will not work if you need to quickly raise your blood sugar. This includes chocolate, ice cream, crackers, and bread.

Cinnamon and Blood Glucose

Cinnamon is a common household spice that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Research has found that cinnamon lowers fasting blood glucose levels and signals insulin release. This is true of both extracts and cinnamon sticks.

Foods to Avoid

Foods that cause a quick spike in blood glucose, which signals a spike in insulin and results in a drop in blood glucose, are not recommended if you have hypoglycemia. Your goal is to prevent drastic changes to your blood glucose.

Other types of food to avoid include: 

  • Foods high in sugar and concentrated sugar: These foods have a roller-coaster effect on blood sugar. They include cake, fruit pie, and frozen treats like ice cream, sherbet, and frozen yogurt.
  • Caffeine: Food items like coffee, cocoa, soda, and black tea have caffeine that causes the release of the hormone adrenaline, which can raise blood sugar.
  • Alcoholic beverages: Alcohol is known to cause low blood sugar, especially on an empty stomach. 

Quick Fix

The only way to be certain if you’re experiencing hypoglycemia is to check your blood sugar level with a glucose monitor. If you are having a hypoglycemic attack, then you need to get your blood sugar balanced quickly. 

The American Diabetes Association recommends treating hypoglycemia with the 15-15 rule, which states that you should:

  • Immediately eat or drink 15 grams of carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar.
  • Check your blood sugar after 15 minutes.
  • Have another 15 grams of carbohydrates if your blood sugar is still below 70 mg/dL.
  • Repeat these steps until your blood sugar is at least 70 mg/dL.
  • Eat a meal or snack to make sure it doesn’t lower again when your blood sugar is back in the normal range.

What to Eat for the 15-15 Rule

The 15 grams of carbohydrates you need to consume for the 15-15 rule can be:

  • Glucose tablets (check label for instructions)
  • Gel tube (check label for instructions)
  • 4 ounces (one-half cup) of juice or regular soda (not diet)
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar, honey, or corn syrup
  • Hard candies, jelly beans, or gumdrops (see label for how many to consume)

If you’re experiencing recurrent hypoglycemia attacks, you should see your healthcare provider to find out why they are happening and if you need to take additional steps to prevent or manage these attacks. 

Summary

Low blood sugar is not as common in people without diabetes, but it's just as serious when it happens. When you experience the symptoms of hypoglycemia, follow the 15-15 rule to gradually bring your blood sugar back up. If it happens often, talk to your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re concerned about hypoglycemia, it’s probably time to make some changes. You can manage nondiabetic hypoglycemia with adjustments to your diet that include eating foods that can help you maintain a blood sugar level within the normal, healthy range. If you do experience low blood sugar, you can follow the 15-15 rule for a quick fix. Talk to your healthcare provider to get a better understanding of why this is happening and if you should be taking additional steps to stay healthy.

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7 Sources
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