What to eat for hypoglycemia
In this article, we list meal plans for people with hypoglycemia, as well as other tips for managing the condition.
What is hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar, which may cause symptoms including fatigue and confusion.
People with persistent low blood sugar may have hypoglycemia. Having low blood sugar is often associated with diabetes, but it is possible to experience hypoglycemia without having diabetes.
Other common causes include hormonal deficiencies, critical illnesses, and excessive alcohol consumption.
When blood sugar drops within 4 hours of eating a meal, a person may be experiencing reactive hypoglycemia. This condition is caused by excessive insulin production after eating.
Hypoglycemia symptoms including:
- feeling weak or faint
- feeling mentally sluggish
- anxiety and irritability
- feeling tearful
- heart palpitations
- turning pale
- blurred sight
- tingling lips
A person should always try to eat breakfast as soon as possible after waking up, as blood sugar levels may have dropped during the night.
It is advisable to limit intake of fruit juices in the morning and stick to juices that do not have added sugar, as these may cause blood sugar levels to become unstable.
Some ideal breakfast choices include:
- hard-boiled eggs and whole-grain toast
- oatmeal with berries, sunflower seeds, agave, and cinnamon
- Greek yogurt with berries, honey, and oatmeal
Cinnamon is thought to help reduce blood sugar levels and can be sprinkled on many breakfast foods.
A small, high-protein meal is recommended for lunch.
Lunch should be a small meal but packed with protein, healthful fats, and complex carbohydrates that will continue to release energy slowly.
Some good lunch ideas for hypoglycemia are:
- tuna, chicken, or tofu sandwich on whole-grain bread with salad leaves
- chickpea and vegetable salad
- grilled fish, a baked sweet potato, and a side salad
It is necessary for a person with hypoglycemia to be aware of the glycemic index or GI of the foods they eat. Some foods that appear to be healthful may have a high GI. Fortunately, there is often an alternative that has a lower GI.
For example, sweet potatoes have a relatively low GI and are full of antioxidants, making them a better choice than other types of potato, such as white russet potatoes, which have a high GI.
While it may be tempting to eat more in the evenings, a person with hypoglycemia should keep their evening meals small. A good dinner choice will include protein and complex carbohydrates.
Dinner ideas include:
- chicken or tofu with brown rice and vegetables
- salmon with steamed vegetables or salad
- a bean stew with lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, and tinned tomatoes
People with hypoglycemia should try to include small, nutritious snacks in between meals to keep blood sugar levels constant and ensure they are having enough vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, proteins, and fibrous carbohydrates in their diet.
Eating one snack mid-morning, another mid-afternoon, and something small close to bedtime can help keep blood sugar levels stable throughout both the day and night.
Some healthy snack options are:
- a small apple with a few slices of cheddar cheese
- a banana with a handful of nuts or seeds
- a slice of wholegrain toast with mashed avocado or hummus
- whole-grain crackers topped with a small can of sardines or tuna
- carrots, peppers, and cucumber dipped in hummus
- a vegetable smoothie
It is important to remember that people who exercise regularly may need to eat more frequently, as strenuous or sustained physical activity can cause blood sugar levels to drop.
A person should eat a small snack that includes carbs and protein before a workout. Good choices include:
- a piece of fruit or handful of berries and whole-grain crackers
- Greek yogurt mixed with berries
- an apple with a spoonful of peanut butter and a slice of cheese
- a small handful of mixed dried fruit and nuts
- a no-sugar peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread. No-sugar peanut butter may be purchased online.
Exercising on a full stomach is not advisable, so keeping pre-exercise snacks small and remembering to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water are important.
Tips for managing hypoglycemia
Consuming complex carbohydrates and healthy fats may help to manage blood sugar levels throughout the day.
A person experiencing a minor case of low blood sugar can consume 15–20 grams (g) of fast-acting carbohydrates, such as a small glass of fruit juice or a few crackers.
If a person is still experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar after 15 minutes, they can eat another 15–20 g portion of carbohydrates.
Following a hypoglycemia diet will help to manage symptoms and prevent blood sugar from dropping.
Reducing simple sugars and increasing complex carbohydrates can help control blood sugar levels throughout the day and prevent any sudden spikes or dips.
A person with hypoglycemia can try the following lifestyle considerations:
- eating frequent meals
- avoiding high sugar foods, including sweets, sugary drinks, and fruit juices with added sugar
- choosing foods with low GI scores
- reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption
When to see a doctor
Eating or drinking a small amount of fast-acting carbohydrates, such as a piece of fruit or fruit juice, can treat minor cases of hypoglycemia.
However, anyone experiencing more severe or regular symptoms should see their doctor, as soon as possible. Hypoglycemia is a manageable condition, and getting an early diagnosis means the symptoms can be controlled.
Left untreated, the symptoms of hypoglycemia can become more frequent and dangerous. The symptoms also mimic other conditions, so it is important for a doctor to diagnose the condition and rule out other possible causes.
Severe symptoms of hypoglycemia, including loss of consciousness, require immediate medical attention.