Hypoglycemia: Effects of Low Blood Sugar
Updated: Jun 14, 2022
I often talk about the harmful effects of high blood sugar, but today we're switching gears to discuss why you don't want your blood sugar to be too low.
The goal is to have a balanced blood sugar all throughout the day, but until you learn how to achieve that balance you may find yourself on the blood sugar rollercoaster of highs and lows.
What is Hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia is a condition caused by low blood sugar. Blood sugar < 70 mg/dL is considered too low and should be treated.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia are:
trembling or shaking
dizziness or feeling light-headed
tingling around the mouth
Causes of Hypoglycemia
I'll touch on a few common causes of hypoglycemia in this article, but if you often find your blood sugar dropping you should consult your trusted medical practitioner.
If you have insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes, going too long between meals can cause your blood sugar to drop too low. Eating at regular intervals can help you better regulate your blood sugar.
Eating a high-carb meal, or a meal of predominately carbs, not balanced with protein, fat, and fiber, will likely cause your blood sugar to increase rapidly. Insulin is secreted in response to high blood sugar but can be released in excess causing your blood sugar to plummet. This is called reactive hypoglycemia.
This can also happen if you're insulin resistant because your body often needs to release more and more insulin because the cells begin to ignore the insulin. In this case, the body may overproduce insulin.
Learn how to build your plate to achieve balanced blood sugar.
Download my sample meal plan.
Not Refueling After Exercise
High-intensity or cardio workouts deplete the glycogen stored in your muscles. Your muscles also use glucose and stored glycogen to repair your muscles after a workout. If you've increased your exercise, make sure you are taking in some carbohydrates in your next meal, or have a small, balanced snack.
If you're taking insulin or other medications to help control your blood sugar this may be causing blood sugar dysregulation. It's important to talk to your trusted medical practitioner to ensure your dosage is correct.
Additionally, there are other medications that can cause negative side effects, such as hypoglycemia, when combined with insulin. It's always a good idea to make sure you aren't having drug interactions by talking with your trusted medical practitioner.
Alcohol raises blood sugar, but can cause blood sugar to drop too low afterwards. This is the case even if you aren't drinking a sugary cocktail or wine.
Risks of Hypoglycemia
If left untreated, hypoglycemia symptoms may include:
loss of consciousness
What If Your Blood Sugar Drops Too Low
If you have symptoms of low blood sugar or have checked your blood sugar and the results are < 70 mg/dL, eat a snack that contains about 15g of carbohydrates and recheck your blood sugar after 15 minutes.
1 small apple (4 oz) + a handful of nuts
1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup of blueberries
1/2 cup of plain, full-fat yogurt + 1/2 cup of berries
1/2 cup of sweet potato + butter or nut butter
Whole grain crackers + full-fat cheese or nut butter
1/2 of a banana + nuts or nut butter
1/2 of a peanut butter sandwich
cottage cheese (4% milk fat or higher) + 1/2 cup of fresh pineapple
Alternatively, you can opt to take one glucose tablet. This may be something you choose to keep in your car or purse if you are having difficulty managing your blood sugar. Typically, one glucose tablet has 4 grams of sugar which should raise your blood glucose by 20 mg/dL.
If you still feel hungry after raising your blood sugar with a glucose tablet, have a snack that contains protein and fat, not carbohydrates. Some examples are, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, olives, full-fat cheese, beef jerky (without sugar), or celery with nut butter or guacamole.
How To Avoid Hypoglycemia
Knowing what to do when your blood sugar dips too low is important, but ideally you'll learn to balance your blood sugar and prevent hypoglycemia all together.
Balance Your Plate
Focus on eating balanced meals and snacks. You want to avoid eating carbs without protein, fat, and fiber. This will help slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
Eliminate Simple Sugars
Removing simple sugars from your diet will help prevent the rollercoaster of highs and lows. These are things like fruit juice, soda, sugary coffees and teas, cookies, and candy.
Eat At Regular Intervals
Going too long between meals will cause your blood sugar to dip too low. This typically causes most people to make unhealthy choices because they need something, anything, right now! Eating at regular intervals will allow your blood sugar to remain balanced.
This doesn't mean, eat six small meals a day or every 2 hours. If you're eating balanced meals, you should be able to go several hours between meals and be guided by your hunger signals. Skipping a meal and not having a snack isn't an option.
Refuel After Exercise
If your workout ends just before mealtime, just eat your next balanced meal. However, if you have a few hours before your next meal it's wise to have a small snack. You can use the 15g snack examples above for ideas on what you can eat after a workout. You may need more depending on the length and intensity of your workout. Be sure to check your blood sugar.
Talk To Your Doctor
If you believe your medications are causing your blood sugar to dip too low, it's important you have a conversation with your doctor right away.
There is a wide range of healthy blood sugar numbers, however, if your blood sugar is too low it's just as dangerous to your health as is blood sugar that is too high.
Anyone with insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes should be focused on maintaining balanced blood sugar and staying off the blood sugar rollercoaster. We know the progression from insulin resistance to Type 2 is real and this is your best chance of avoiding it.
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