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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

December 28, 2020
Written by
Team NutriSense
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a bowl of rolled oats and berries on a cutting board

A lot can happen to your body when your glucose levels are unbalanced. One of the conditions you can develop when they're too low is hypoglycemia.

Although this is usually associated with having type 1 or type 2 diabetes, there is also another type—non-diabetic hypoglycemia. If you have symptoms of this condition (more on that below!), it's a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or track your blood sugar levels.

However, it can be tricky if you don't want to do an invasive finger prick test every time you eat a meal or in the middle of the night. Luckily, you can also monitor your blood glucose levels using a tool like a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

If you're wondering about the different types of hypoglycemia, how you can change your diet to manage symptoms, and where glucose monitoring fits into all this, read on.

Can a Non-Diabetic Have Low Blood Sugar?

The simple answer to this question is yes. Low blood glucose (or blood sugar) can affect people who don't have diabetes as well.

Before we go into the hows and whys of it all, remember that there are two types of non-diabetic hypoglycemia:

  1. Reactive Hypoglycemia (postprandial hypoglycemia): Blood sugar levels can sometimes drop after eating a meal. This is known as reactive hypoglycemia. It usually occurs within the first few hours following a meal. In some instances, reactive hypoglycemia can be an early sign of diabetes.
  2. Fasting Hypoglycemia (non-reactive hypoglycemia): This is not related to meals and occurs during a fast or while you're sleeping. Some potential causes of fasting hypoglycemia include specific medications (think: insulin, Beta-blockers, ACE/Inhibitors), excess alcohol, hypercortisolism, hypothyroidism, pregnancy, menopause, and health conditions like pancreatic tumors, or anorexia.

How Do You Define Hypoglycemia?

The glucose level that defines hypoglycemia is variable. Among diabetic people, glucose levels below 70 are considered low.

However, among those without diabetes, hypoglycemia is more often described as blood sugar drops <55 mg/dL. Someone affected by a blood sugar drop will experience the symptoms we've mentioned below.

Some people who do not have diabetes and have glucose readings of less than 70 mg/dL will feel fine. Active people who manage their blood sugar, eat low carbohydrate diets, or fast regularly can see low blood sugar readings without clinical symptoms.

In this case, where no symptoms are present, the values are likely fine for the individual, and no action is necessary.

If you have any of the symptoms below, it's usually your brain signaling that your glucose is too low. When this happens, your body isn't getting the energy it needs. If you have hypoglycemia, you may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Hunger
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Shakiness
  • Excess sweating
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Headaches
  • Inability to concentrate

If you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, it is vital to discuss them with your doctor. They will be able to help you find the underlying cause and discuss treatment options.

Who Is at Risk of Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia?

Non-diabetic hypoglycemia can affect people for several reasons. However, you are more at risk if you:

  • Have a genetic/family history of diabetes.
  • Have pre-diabetes.
  • Are obese.
  • Have other health problems (particularly issues with anorexia, your kidneys, adrenal glands or pituitary glands, or pancreas).
  • Have had a specific type of stomach surgery, including some weight loss or bariatric surgeries like gastric bypass surgery.
  • Take medication for kidney disease.
  • Drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

What Is the Treatment for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia?

The treatment for non-diabetic hypoglycemia will depend on various factors, including your diet, previous and current health conditions, and your specific symptoms and body type.

When diagnosing non-diabetic hypoglycemia, a doctor will look through your medical history and conduct several blood tests. If they suspect reactive hypoglycemia, they may recommend a mixed-meal tolerance test or MMTT.

During an MMTT, you will have to consume a drink that contains protein, fats, and sugar. You'll also undergo blood glucose level checks several times over the following two to five hours.

If your doctor suspects non-reactive hypoglycemia due to a medical condition or medication, they'll address this root cause. For example, if it is medication-related, your doctor might make changes to your prescription.

Medical treatment is not usually required for reactive hypoglycemia, and dietary or lifestyle changes are recommended to lessen the symptoms. If you have severe hypoglycemia or hypoglycemia related to diabetes, you may need medication to manage your blood glucose.

And if you have severe symptoms, your doctor may also advise you to carry glucose tablets or injectable glucose (glucagon).

What Is the Hypoglycemic Diet?

There’s no one best diet for hypoglycemia, but there are some tips and tricks that can help you tailor yours to help.

While you may sometimes get recommendations for a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, this type of diet has not been proven to help hypoglycemia. While there's no one size fits all when it comes to diets, some of these dietary changes may be able to help:

Eat Small Meals and Snacks Through the Day

Do you eat large meals three times a day? Maybe it’s time to try switching it up! Consider spacing these out to a meal or snack approximately every three hours. This can help to regulate the amount of glucose in your bloodstream.

Remember that this may not suit everyone. It's worth trying it to see how it affects you. For some people, limiting carbohydrates is a more successful method, allowing you to go longer between eating without having symptoms of hypoglycemia.

Make Sure Your Diet Consists of Various Foods

This should include protein (meat and non-meat), dairy, and high fiber but low carbohydrate foods, like non-starchy vegetables. Whole grain and high-fiber foods take longer to break down, keeping your blood glucose levels more consistent.

Limit High-Sugar Foods

Sugar usually doesn't do anyone too many favors. To avoid blood sugar spikes, limit the amount you consume. You don't have to cut it out altogether, but remember that if you have something sweet, it's a good idea to eat it with a meal.

Limit or Avoid Alcohol

Excess drinking can cause hypoglycemic symptoms. When you drink alcohol, avoid mixing it with sugary drinks, and remember to drink it with food since that will help your stomach absorb it slowly.

Limit Caffeine Intake

Caffeine can cause an increase in adrenaline, which can mimic the symptoms of hypoglycemia. It's a good idea to wean yourself off the dependency so you can enjoy a little caffeine once in a while without too many glucose spikes.

Choose the Right Carbohydrates

This is essential to managing your blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates can have a low or high glycemic index. If you don't already know, the glycemic index measures how much the carbohydrate raises your blood glucose levels and how quickly it does this.

Eating foods with a low glycemic index may help control blood sugar levels. So, when you're picking the carbohydrates you want to eat, choose low glycemic index options. Aim for two to four servings at each meal (30-60 grams) and one to two servings (15-30 grams) as a snack.

Of course, none of this is written in stone. Everyone has a unique response to carbohydrates, but you can find out what yours is with the help of a CGM.

Include Protein, Fat, and Fiber

Protein, fat, and fiber all reduce the possibility of steep spikes in blood glucose after a meal.

What to Eat When You Have a Hypoglycemic Event

If you have a hypoglycemic event and can monitor blood glucose levels, you can follow something known as the 15:15 rule. Here's how to do it in four easy steps:

  1. Consume 15 grams of glucose/carbohydrates. This can be in the form of a glucose tablet, glucose gel tube, 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey, or a few hard candies‍.
  2. Wait for 15 minutes.
  3. Measure your blood glucose levels.
  4. Repeat this treatment until your blood glucose levels reach at least 70 mg/dL.

If you're experiencing symptoms and can't measure blood glucose, it's a good idea to consume fast-acting carbohydrates. These are simple sugars with little to no fiber, like the suggestions above. Other options include fruits like bananas, grapes, apple sauce, dates, or raisins.

When experiencing a hypoglycemic event, it's best to avoid high-fat foods like chocolate or cookies. They don't raise blood sugar quickly enough, as the fat can delay how quickly your body absorbs the required sugar.

Remember, these are just band-aids and provide a short-term fix for hypoglycemia. If you're looking for a way to address the root cause, and prevent further attacks, consider using a CGM.

What Is the Best Food to Eat When Your Blood Sugar Is Low?

If you suffer from frequent hypoglycemia, it's best to try and avoid low blood sugar by carrying a snack with you at all times. Make sure you don't go long periods without eating. Snacks such as granola bars with protein or nuts, trail mix, and dried fruits are good portable snacks to carry with you.

A Hypoglycemia Food List

Choosing low glycemic index foods can help you control your blood glucose levels. Something to remember when you're planning your meals: meat and fish don't have a glycemic index. This is because they do not contain carbohydrates.

Foods containing carbohydrates have low, moderate, and high glycemic index options. Here's a breakdown of a few of these, just to give you an idea of the best types of foods to choose from:

Bread

Low GI: Spelt bread, sourdough bread, whole grain tortilla, heavy-mix grain bread.

Moderate GI: Chapati, linseed bread, flaxseed bread, pita bread, pumpernickel bread, roti, rye bread, whole-grain wheat bread.

High GI: White and whole wheat bread, naan bread.

Cereals

Low GI: All-bran, oat-bran, steel-cut oats.

Moderate GI: Instant, quick, or large-flake oats.

High GI: Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Puffed Wheat, Cream of Wheat, Special K.

Grains

Low GI: Barley, bulgur, firm/al dente pasta, quinoa, pulse flours, mung bean noodles.

Moderate GI: Basmati rice, brown rice, cornmeal, couscous, rice noodles, wild rice, short/long-grain white rice.

High GI: Jasmine rice, millet, sticky rice, instant white rice.

Other Starches

Low GI: Peas, popcorn, sweet potato, winter squash.

Moderate GI: Beets, corn, parsnip, potato, rye crackers.

High GI: Carrots, instant mash potato, pretzels, rice cakes, soda crackers.

Fruits

Low GI: Apple, apricot, unripe/green banana, berries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew melon, mango, orange, peach, pear, plum, pomegranate, prunes.

Moderate GI: Ripe banana, cherries, cranberries, figs, grapes, kiwi, lychee, pineapple, and raisins.

High GI: Brown/overripe banana, watermelon.

Milk and Yogurt

Low GI: Almond milk, 1% and 2% cow's milk, frozen yogurt, Greek yogurt, soy milk, yogurt.

Moderate GI: N/A

High GI: Rice milk.

Beans, Peas, and Lentils

Low GI: Baked beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, mung beans, romano beans, soybeans/edamame, split peas

Moderate GI: Ready-made lentil or split pea soup

High GI: N/A

Alongside low glycemic index foods, you can also consider:

  • High-quality protein (meat, fish, or eggs).
  • Alternative sweeteners such as Stevia instead of sugar.
  • Fresh vegetables, especially dark leafy greens

Does Exercise Help Reactive Hypoglycemia?

Exercise is always a good thing, so a broad answer to that question is yes, it can help. However, it's important to remember that if you frequently experience hypoglycemia, you may need to adjust your diet slightly depending on your exercise regime.

For some people, strenuous or sustained physical activity can cause blood glucose levels to drop.

The best way to manage this is to eat a small snack containing carbohydrates and protein before exercising. Keep the snack small, and remember to stay hydrated with plenty of water throughout your physical activity. Examples of pre-exercises snacks include:

  • Greek yogurt and berries.
  • A small amount of mixed dried fruits and nuts.
  • An apple and some peanut butter.

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
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Useful Glycemic Index Charts For Fruits and Vegetables
Useful Glycemic Index Charts For Fruits and Vegetables

Review our glycemic index charts for the most common fruits and vegetables to better understand the impact on your glucose levels.

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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. 

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Understanding The Effects of Sugar on the Brain According to Research
Understanding The Effects of Sugar on the Brain According to Research

What really happens to your brain when you consume sugar? Review how interesting the relationship between the brain and sugar is, and why it’s important to control your blood sugar.

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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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Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences
Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences

Quickly understand the differences between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, how to recognize the signs, and key prevention tips.

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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.


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Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer
Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy in the Summer

If you're gearing up to travel or spend more time outdoors this summer, here are a few tips to help you stay safe and hydrated in the sun.

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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.

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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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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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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.