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Hypoglycemia Without Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention

October 26, 2021
Written by
Team NutriSense
Reviewed by

You've likely heard of hypoglycemia as low blood sugar or low blood glucose levels. Although it's typically associated with people who have diabetes, it's a condition that anyone can experience. While it's not a disease per se, it can indicate health issues, so it's crucial to stay on top of it. You should know enough about the condition so you're aware of the symptoms, what can cause it, and what you can do to prevent it from happening. Read on to find out all this and more!

What Hypoglycemia Means

Before we walk through the signs and symptoms, it's essential to understand what this condition is. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a condition that people experience when blood sugar reduces to dangerously low levels. This is the opposite event of hyperglycemia or high blood sugar

While it's normal for glucose values to rise and fall, extremely low blood sugar can cause adverse side effects. And, while you can track some of the symptoms of hypoglycemia, they usually vary depending on the individual and the severity of how the body handles the glucose reduction. 

Signs and Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Since not everyone has the same symptoms of hypoglycemia, it's not always easy to pinpoint when you're experiencing them. There are also varying levels of severity for these symptoms and a difference in severity in the condition itself. There's hypoglycemia, and then there's severe hypoglycemia. 

Severe hypoglycemia occurs when blood glucose values drop so low that you require assistance administering either medication or fast-acting carbohydrates. You can alleviate these hypoglycemic symptoms (and often even prevent them) in less severe cases through simple diet and lifestyle modifications.

It's always a good idea to be aware of all the possible symptoms so you can address them before they become an issue. Whenever you experience the following, consider noting down the occurrence and severity so you can keep track:

  • Hunger
  • Dizziness/lightheadedness
  • Shakiness
  • Excess sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin

Common Causes of Hypoglycemia in Non-Diabetics

Now that we've taken a look at the signs and symptoms, we're sure you're wondering what causes them. Is it unhealthy food choices? What about your routine and lifestyle choices? Does medication affect your levels too? It can be challenging to keep track of everything going into your body. Still, an easy way to do this is to get a continuous glucose monitor to see what your body is reacting to in real-time. In the meantime, here are some of the most common causes of the condition to focus on: 

Reactive Hypoglycemia and Pre-diabetes

There are many reasons why hypoglycemia may occur among people who don't have diabetes. One of the most common causes is something called reactive hypoglycemia. It occurs after a meal that is typically high in refined carbohydrates. In these cases, your body overproduces the amount of insulin that it needs to process the meal, which results in your glucose dipping too low. Reactive hypoglycemia may be an early sign that you're at a higher risk of developing diabetes.

Medications

Many types of medication can cause hypoglycemia, especially if you have diabetes. For example, if someone with diabetes takes too much of their insulin or other diabetic medications, it can cause hypoglycemic events. While medication-induced hypoglycemia is less common among those without diabetes, it's still a risk if you're taking certain medicines. Here's a list of drugs that are known to cause drug-induced hypoglycemia:

  • Diabetic medications and insulin (if the dosage is too high or not appropriate for meals/activity)
  • Antibiotics (like quinine, Bactrim, gatifloxacin, pentamidine, fluoroquinolones)
  • Indomethacin
  • Beta-blockers
  • Cibenzoline
  • Quinidine
  • Bile Acid Sequestrants (like Welchol)
  • ACE/Inhibitors
  • Salicylates

If you have questions about any of the drugs you’re taking and whether they put you at risk of hypoglycemia, it’s best to discuss them with your medical provider.

Liquor Consumption

If you've been fasting when you consume alcohol, or you have a history of alcohol abuse, liquor will increase your risk of developing hypoglycemia. As with most other factors, it's more of a risk for those with diabetes, but those who don't have diabetes are not in the clear here. 

So, why does alcohol affect this condition so much, and how? The primary cause of alcohol-induced hypoglycemia is the inhibition of gluconeogenesis, or the creation of glucose from non-carbohydrate substrates. Alcohol may potentially increase endogenous insulin secretion, contributing to the risk of hypoglycemic events in some individuals.

Disorders of the Organs That Control Glucose Regulation (Kidney, Liver, Heart)

Several key organs play a role in glucose regulation. If you have a history of kidney, liver, or heart issues, this may disrupt glucose regulation and increase your risk of experiencing hypoglycemia. Let's break this down a little more:

Kidneys: Your kidneys play a vital role in glucose homeostasis. They're responsible for a hose of processes including gluconeogenesis, glucose filtration, glucose reabsorption, and glucose uptake. Some studies have found that the kidneys are responsible for about 20% of glucose production via gluconeogenesis.

Liver: Your liver plays a vital role in multiple glucose homeostasis pathways, including glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, glycogenesis, and glycogenolysis.

Heart: We don't always think of the heart as a glucose regulator, but the circulatory system plays a significant role in blood glucose regulation. Hormones such as glucagon are carried via blood, which then signals other organs to regulate blood glucose. If there is any damage to the circulatory system, it can negatively impact your health.

Eating Disorders and Diet

There's no doubt diet plays a distinct role when it comes to hypoglycemia. Unbalanced diets that are higher in refined carbs (candy, crackers, sugar-sweetened beverages) and low in protein and fat are often associated with hypoglycemic events and 'energy crashes.'

On another note, if someone is fasting or skipping meals, the body may not be able to handle long periods without incoming carbohydrates. People who don't have diabetes but struggle with frequent hypoglycemic events may want to focus on increasing their metabolic flexibility as a long-term preventive plan.

Pregnancy

Hypoglycemia during pregnancy is more common than you'd think. It often occurs during the first trimester, when nausea and vomiting are most prevalent. However, it can also occur at any time during a pregnancy. During this time, a growing baby requires constant glucose and will siphon as much as they need from the mother. For this reason, eating frequent meals, maintaining a balanced diet, and replenishing those glucose stores are essential to help you prevent the condition. 

The Biggest Risk Factors in Determining Who Experiences Hypoglycemia

By now, we know what hypoglycemia is, what the symptoms are, and the causes to watch out for. And we also know that it's not a condition that only those with diabetes experience. But are there any other risk factors? Are some people more at risk than others? Here's what you need to know: 

Obesity

Obesity is a complex health condition that's linked to insulin resistance. People with insulin resistance may have imbalanced hormones, making it difficult for their bodies to maintain normal glucose levels endogenously. High insulin levels, which often occur among insulin-resistant people, may lead to low glucose drops during fasting times.

Family History of Diabetes

Yes, a family history of diabetes does put you at a higher risk of developing pre-diabetes and experiencing hypoglycemia. Learning more about your family's health history (specifically related to diabetes) can provide great insights into whether you should get a diabetes screening. Taking preventive measures to ensure that your glucose values are in an optimal range will also help reduce your risk of diabetes.

Stomach Surgery

People who have undergone bariatric surgery often have a higher risk of hypoglycemia, reactive hypoglycemia, and hyperglycemia. This is because of dumping syndrome and reduced stomach size. Dumping syndrome, or the rapid emptying of the contents of your stomach, can lead to excessively high and low glucose values. Reactive hypoglycemia is also very common and is thought to be caused by hyperinsulinemia and an altered GLP-1 response.

Pre-diabetes

Pre-diabetes means that your blood glucose is above the normal range, but below the diabetic range. When your glucose values see an elevation over a long period, your pancreas will secrete insulin to help lower these values. Circulating insulin allows glucose to enter the cells, which will help blood glucose values decrease. When your glucose values drop, your pancreas slows down the production of insulin. For those who have pre-diabetes, this process does not work as well as it should. Eventually, this leads to an overproduction of insulin and poor glucose regulation.

Ways to Diagnose Hypoglycemia

Diagnosing and treating hypoglycemia typically involves three steps that your doctor will likely need to help you out with. These include measuring low blood glucose, pinpointing the symptoms of hypoglycemia, and finally, finding relief from the symptoms by treating the hypoglycemia. There are two primary tests that your doctor can do to diagnose hypoglycemia.

Fasting Tests

You may need to undergo a fasting test since hypoglycemia can occur in a fasted state (long periods without eating). During this test, you would fast overnight or up to 72 hours. Your blood will be drawn at different times during this period to measure your blood glucose levels. If you see blood glucose values of <55 mg/dL with symptoms, you likely have hypoglycemia.

Talk to your medical provider about the testing before you decide. Ideally, you should undergo the tests when you experience the symptoms, but this isn't always possible. In some situations, you can also receive these tests during a prolonged fasting state under the supervision of a health professional. 

Mixed-Meal Tolerance Test

Another test to diagnose hypoglycemia is a mixed-meal tolerance test. This is a good option for people who experience reactive hypoglycemia, or hypoglycemia symptoms, after a meal. It's important to note that this test is not well standardized. 

Typically, the test is performed after an overnight fast. In the morning, you're given a meal that's similar to one that triggers hypoglycemic symptoms. A medical professional will observe you for several hours while labs are drawn every 30-60 minutes for a total period of five hours. Similar to fasting tests, your physician orders all labs.

Helpful Strategies for Preventing Hypoglycemia

Understanding the root cause of your hypoglycemia will help you prevent these events from occurring. So, when you're creating a preventive plan with a healthcare professional, address every factor, including medication, diet, exercise, your health history, and your family's health history. Here are some other changes you can incorporate into your routine to prevent the condition:

Eat Balanced Meals Consistently

One of the leading causes of hypoglycemia among people who don't have diabetes is going without food for extended periods. To help prevent hypoglycemic episodes, eating smaller, more frequent meals will help. In addition to meal timing, meal content also plays a significant role. Make sure you include protein, natural fat, and non-starchy carbohydrates in every meal you eat. Here are some examples to help you start planning your meals:

Breakfast: A spinach-and-egg omelet cooked in grass-fed butter, with a handful of berries on the side.

Lunch: Wild tuna with olive oil, sesame seeds, almond crackers, chopped raw veggies, and a handful of raspberries. 

Snack: An apple with almond butter.

Dinner: Grilled chicken with sweet potatoes along with an arugula and cherry tomato salad drizzled over with olive oil.

Alleviate Symptoms With the Correct Foods

It's also a good idea to know what to do to correct things as soon as you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia. An easy fix is to immediately consume 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates. These can include:

  • 4 ounces of fruit juice
  • 1 small piece of fruit
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey
  • 3-4 glucose tablets
  • 3 peppermint candies (not sugar-free)

Have Healthy Snacks on Hand

While these foods are a helpful way to correct hypoglycemic symptoms, you shouldn't make them a regular part of your diet. For good long-term health, it's best to focus on prevention and avoid consuming too much of these high-sugar foods. Remember that even if you have a set diet plan for every meal of the day, you should keep healthy snacks on hand. This way, you're not reaching for anything too unhealthy when you feel hungry in between meals. This will help avoid hypoglycemic episodes and keep you healthier. Here's a good starter list of healthy snacks: 

  • Edamame + blueberries
  • Cheese + an apple
  • Nuts + berries
  • Nut butter + fruit
  • Plain Greek yogurt + nuts
  • Hummus + vegetables (cucumbers, celery, cherry tomatoes)
  • Avocado + almond crackers

Monitor Your Body's Glucose Levels with NutriSense

If you're experiencing hypoglycemic events, it's important to understand the root cause and create a prevention plan. Monitoring your glucose values with a CGM will help provide insights about your glucose trends that no lab test will be able to provide. 

Understanding how diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors impact your glucose values will help you create a personalized prevention plan. With the NutriSense program, there's no more second-guessing. You get a CGM, an innovative app to track your glucose trends, and access to a dietitian to help figure out how to read the data and optimize your health.  

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Hypoglycemia Without Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention
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​​Springtime Sniffles: Causes and Prevention Tips for Your Seasonal Allergies
​​Springtime Sniffles: Causes and Prevention Tips for Your Seasonal Allergies

If you're one of the millions of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, you know how important it is to find ways to make yourself feel more comfortable during this time of year. Read more about springtime allergies and what you can do to manage them.

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6
min
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Preparing for a Healthy Ramadan
Preparing for a Healthy Ramadan

From April 2 to May 2, people worldwide observe Ramadan, a time of fasting and spiritual reflection. Learn more about the traditions, and how to healthily break a fast during this holy month with tips from one of our dietitians.

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6
min
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Obesogens: What Are They and Do They Affect Blood Glucose and Weight Gain?
Obesogens: What Are They and Do They Affect Blood Glucose and Weight Gain?

Obesogens are in everything, from the products we use and the food we eat, to the air we breathe! Learn more about what these endocrine-disrupting chemicals are and how you can avoid exposure to them.

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11
min
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Pairing Your Food: Are there Good and Bad Combinations?
Pairing Your Food: Are there Good and Bad Combinations?

Are eggs and beans bad for you? Should you forgo the fruit juice with your cereal at breakfast? The NutriSense Nutrition Team tells you more about how healthy some common food pairings are for you.

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8
min
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Eating for Endurance
Eating for Endurance

Learn everything you need to know about eating if you are an endurance athlete.

Story
12
min
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A Closer Look at Heart Rate Variability
A Closer Look at Heart Rate Variability

Heart rate variability is the variation in time between your heartbeats. Learn more about it, why tracking your trends matters and how it can give you insights into your fitness, stress, diet, and overall health.

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8
min
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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Multiple Sclerosis
Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Multiple Sclerosis

Living with an autoimmune condition can be challenging. Continuing our series on these conditions, learn more about detecting, treating, and managing Multiple Sclerosis.

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6
min
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Reading Nutrition Facts Labels Like a Pro: Dietitian Tips and Tricks
Reading Nutrition Facts Labels Like a Pro: Dietitian Tips and Tricks

When you're looking to buy a specific food product, the nutrition facts label can help you make informed choices about the foods you eat. Our dietitians put some tips together on what to look for on nutrition labels to make the best choices for your health.

Podcast
46
min
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FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition with Molly Kimball
FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition with Molly Kimball

Molly Downey, RDN, LDN, nutrition manager at NutriSense, delves into all things glucose and wellness, and how devices like these can inform us about our health, on this episode of FUELED with Molly Kimball.

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8
min
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Are Sardines Good for Your Health?
Are Sardines Good for Your Health?

Sardines are small, but they pack a big nutritional punch! Learn more about the health benefits associated with eating them and check out some fun facts about this flavorful, nutrient-dense food.

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9
min
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9 Essential Ways to Track Your Fitness (That Don’t Involve a Scale)
9 Essential Ways to Track Your Fitness (That Don’t Involve a Scale)

Most fitness tracking metrics involve stepping on the scale, but they don't always have to! Here are nine other ways to track your fitness.

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14
min
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Foods You Should Avoid Eating If You Have Prediabetes
Foods You Should Avoid Eating If You Have Prediabetes

There are many food items that can worsen the effects of prediabetes. Here are some foods you should avoid or limit your intake of throughout your day.

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11
min
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How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?
How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?

What's the perfect time to eat, and how many meals should you eat in a day? Explore how eating at different times and frequencies each day impacts your body and blood glucose.

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6
min
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks

Looking for a way to add apple cider vinegar into your diet? Start with some of these delicious glucose-friendly ACV drinks, recommended by our Nutrition Team.

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8
min
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Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 
Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 

Find out how taking a walk after your next meal can benefit various aspects of your health, including your blood glucose levels.

Podcast
55
min
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I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology
I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology

Molly explains how using a continuous glucose monitor is what personalized health care means. If you want to fine-tune your health, tune in to this special episode of I Think, I Can.

Podcast
10
min
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My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles
My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles

My Day | My Life explores the lives of people who have, in one way or another, mastered the art of aging. In this episode, meet Carlee Hayes, dietitian and Nutrition Manager at NutriSense.

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9
min
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Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Worried about getting injured during your next workout? Learn about the most common workout injuries, how they can affect blood glucose levels, and some tips to help you prevent them.

Story
6
min
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Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day
Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day

Would eating the same meal, at the same time, have the same blood glucose response for three different people? See what our team found out after sampling a delicious corned beef and cabbage dish in preparation for St. Patrick's Day!

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7
min
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Build Healthy Habits During Lent
Build Healthy Habits During Lent

Do you know what you're giving up for Lent this year? For those who observe it, this can be a good time to give up bad habits, and add healthy ones into your routine! Read on to find out more about how to build healthy habits this season.

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11
min
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Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?
Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?

Cereal is one of the most popular breakfast foods out there—but how healthy is it, really? Review the nutritional content of some popular breakfast cereals, and learn how to choose a healthy option for your individual needs.

Story
9
min
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Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition
Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition

Did you know that more than two in five adults have obesity? Find out more about the pressing public health issue, review some new research that is shedding light on the condition, and learn how to diagnose and treat it.

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7
min
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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

Story
9
min
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Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?
Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?

Read on to find out what impact, if any, vinegar really has on our body’s ability to balance blood sugar.

Story
8
min
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Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?
Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?

If you have insulin sensitivity, is eating two large meals a day or three to five smaller meals better? Find out more about the relationship between meal frequency and insulin sensitivity, and how many times you should be eating in a day.

Story
9
min
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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common yet often ignored condition. Learn more about the symptoms to watch out for, how you can seek treatment, and read first-hand accounts from two women who have dealt with endometriosis.

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8
min
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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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7
min
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Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?
Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?

Pizza can be challenging to enjoy eating without worrying about how it affects your health. But while it may be indulgent, it is possible to prepare or order it in a way that won’t wreak havoc on your health or blood sugar levels. Read on to find out more!

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8
min
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Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?
Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?

Review our post on the impacts artificial sweeteners have on blood glucose, insulin, and other areas of your personal health.

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8
min
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What Research Says About Sleep and Blood Sugar Levels
What Research Says About Sleep and Blood Sugar Levels

Recent research has shown that sleep and blood glucose are intricately connected. Read on to learn more about what this means for your blood sugar levels and overall health.

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8
min
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Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health
Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health

Did you know that menopause can affect your metabolic health, and vice versa? Read on to understand the relationship between metabolic health and menopause, and how to manage metabolic health during your menopausal journey. 

Podcast
57
min
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How a Continuous Blood Sugar Monitor Can Help You Find Your Perfect Diet
How a Continuous Blood Sugar Monitor Can Help You Find Your Perfect Diet

In this episode learn the truth about how we react to certain foods in regards to our blood sugar response and how you can tailor your diet according to your CGM results.

Podcast
66
min
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All About Blood Sugar With Molly Downey, RDN
All About Blood Sugar With Molly Downey, RDN

This week, dive into how to eat your carbs and manage your blood sugar, too with Molly Downey, RDN, LDN.

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8
min
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A NutriSense Dietitian's Favorite Kitchen Staples
A NutriSense Dietitian's Favorite Kitchen Staples

Food can be fun, pleasurable, and nutritious all at the same time. Read on to learn more about the two nutrient-dense kitchen staples one of our dietitians swears by to help optimize her health!

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10
min
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10 Tastiest Nutrient-Dense Foods From Around the World
10 Tastiest Nutrient-Dense Foods From Around the World

Instead of the type or amount of food you eat, you should focus on the amount of nutrients you're adding to every meal. Here are some of our favorite nutrient-dense foods from around the world to help you get started.

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7
min
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Do Pineapples Raise Blood Sugar Levels?
Do Pineapples Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

Learn everything you need to know about pineapples, your health, and your blood glucose levels, and see how our dietitians like to eat the sweet, tropical fruit. 

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14
min
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Setting Up The Right Diet Plan For Prediabetes [+Sample Diet Plan Included]
Setting Up The Right Diet Plan For Prediabetes [+Sample Diet Plan Included]

Learn more about the relationship between prediabetes and your diet, and see how to build a diet plan that works for you with some great tips, tricks and recipes from our nutrition team!

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9
min
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What You Should Know About Acupuncture
What You Should Know About Acupuncture

Learn more about the research on, as well as the benefits and risks of acupuncture, a form of alternative medicine that involves inserting needles into your body for pain and stress relief.

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6
min
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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.


Story
5
min
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A Guide to Ayurveda
A Guide to Ayurveda

From acupuncture to chiropractic treatments and homeopathy to holistic healing, complementary and alternative medicine is increasing in popularity. Read on to learn more about Ayurveda, a healing system that originated in India thousands of years ago.  

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7
min
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Sugar and Cholesterol: Does Sugar Raise Your Cholesterol Levels?
Sugar and Cholesterol: Does Sugar Raise Your Cholesterol Levels?

Learn about the impact sugar has on your cholesterol levels and ways to manage your sugar intake.