Monday, October 4, 2010

Low blood sugar?

Q. I have a lot of trouble with low blood sugar. Any tips for what I should or shouldn't be eating to help manage this?

A. My first question would be whether low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is really the problem.

Several years ago, my sister told me she had problems with low blood sugar. She hadn't actually been to see a doctor. But she'd noticed that when she felt head-achy, queasy, or shaky (which was fairly often), drinking some juice or eating some crackers usually made her feel better--for a little while. She started carrying little boxes of raisins and animal crackers around in her purse and eating them throughout the day to keep her blood sugar from dipping.

As she told me all of this, I wondered if her "treatment plan" was actually part of the problem.
I suggested that she try replacing the raisins with a similar-sized portion of peanuts. When she tried it, she found that the recurring symptoms she associated with "hypoglycemia" largely want away. (What are big sisters for?)

Although hypoglycemia is a real (and potentially serious) thing, most people who self-diagnose themselves with the condition are not actually suffering from hypoglycemia. Often, the problem is not that their blood sugar is too low but that it has been too high. Compare, for example, hopping down off a curb with jumping down from a 5-foot wall. You end up on the ground either way, but bigger the jump down, the more you're going to feel it in your joints.

Eating foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause a sudden, steep rise in blood sugar levels followed by a "crash." Foods that that are lower in sugar and/or contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats cause a more gradual, sustained rise in blood sugar, followed by a gentler return to baseline. As was the case with my sister, "low blood sugar" problems can often be solved simply by getting off the blood sugar roller coaster.

Try cutting down on sugar (don't forget sweetened beverages) and adding protein and fiber to your meals and snacks and see if you feel better. If you don't, it might be time to check in with your doctor.
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N