Hypoglycemia is a condition that happens when your blood glucose levels are too low. Although usually associated with having diabetes, non-diabetic hypoglycemia can also occur. If you have symptoms of hypoglycemia, it is useful to monitor your blood glucose levels, especially around mealtimes and while you are sleeping. However, this 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 when you should be sleeping.
Continuous glucose monitoring offers a less invasive solution that is quick and accurate. You can wear the discreet sensor from a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) on the back of your arm. The sensor is easily scanned with your phone to quickly and effectively read and store glucose results. You can use these results to alter your diet and lifestyle to lower your glucose levels.
Do you want to know more about the right types of things to eat for hypoglycemia? This article will explore different types of hypoglycemia, how you can change your diet to manage the symptoms, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.
The simple answer to this question is yes. Low blood glucose (sugar) can occur in people without diabetes too. There are two types of non-diabetic hypoglycemia:
Hypoglycemia can also occur in non-diabetics if you have had specific types of bariatric surgery. In this case, the body releases too much insulin after eating carbohydrate-rich meals. This can result in hypoglycemia and is known as 'dumping syndrome.'
The glucose level that defines hypoglycemia is variable. In those with diabetes, glucose levels below 70 are considered low. However, in those without diabetes, hypoglycemia is more often defined as blood sugar drops <55 mg/dL and a person has symptoms (e.g. tiredness, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, confusion, blurred vision, hunger, shakiness, elevated heart rate, anxiety, and sweating).
There are people who do not have diabetes and have glucose readings of less than 70 mg/dL and will feel fine. People who are very active, who have great blood sugar management, eat very low carbohydrate diets, or are adapted to regular fasting can have very low blood sugar readings without any clinical symptoms. In this case, where no symptoms are present, it is likely the values are fine for the individual, and no action is needed.
However, if you do have hypoglycemia symptoms then this is usually a signal from your brain that your glucose is too low and your body isn't getting the energy it needs. If you have hypoglycemia, you may experience any of the following symptoms:
If you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, it is vital to discuss it with your doctor so that they can help you find the underlying cause and discuss your treatment options.
Non-diabetic hypoglycemia can affect people for several reasons. However, you are more at risk if you:
When diagnosing non-diabetic hypoglycemia, a doctor will take a full medical history and conduct several blood tests. If reactive hypoglycemia is suspected, then your doctor might recommend a mixed-meal tolerance test (MMTT). During a MMTT, you will be asked to consume a drink that contains protein, fats, and sugar. Your blood glucose levels are then checked several times over the following 2-5 hours.
If your doctor suspects non-reactive hypoglycemia due to a medical condition, medication, or other problem, then they will aim to address the problem causing the hypoglycemia. For example, if it is medication-related, your doctor might make changes to your medication.
For reactive hypoglycemia, medical treatment is not usually required, and dietary or lifestyle changes are recommended to lessen the symptoms.
If you have severe hypoglycemia or hypoglycemia related to diabetes, you may be prescribed medication to manage your blood glucose levels. Your doctor might also advise that you carry glucose tablets or injectable glucose (glucagon) if you have very severe symptoms.
A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is sometimes recommended to manage hypoglycemia. However, this type of diet has not been proven to help hypoglycemia. Overall, the following dietary changes are advised to help manage hypoglycemia:
If you have a hypoglycemic event, and you monitor your blood glucose levels, then follow the 15:15 rule by doing the following:
If you do not measure your blood glucose levels but suffer from symptoms of hypoglycemia, you will still need 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 having a hypoglycemic event, it is 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. The 15:15 rule is a band-aid fix for hypoglycemia in the moment, the aim of using a CGM is to address the root cause and prevent further hypoglycemia attacks.
If you suffer from frequent hypoglycemia, it's best to try and avoid low blood sugar by always carrying a snack with you. Ensure you do not go long periods without eating, and eat regular meals or snacks to help prevent hypoglycemia. Snacks such as granola bars with protein or nuts, trail mix, and dried fruits are good portable snacks to carry with you.
Choose low glycemic index foods to help you control your blood glucose levels. Meat and fish do not have a glycemic index because they do not contain carbohydrates. The table below displays foods containing carbohydrates in low, moderate, and high glycemic index categories to give you an idea of the best types of foods to choose.
Low GI: Spelt bread, sourdough bread, whole grain tortilla, heavy-mix grain breads
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
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
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
Low GI: Peas, popcorn, sweet potato, winter squash
Moderate GI: Beets, corn, parsnip, potato, rye crisp crackers
High GI: Carrots, instant mash potato, pretzels, rice cakes, soda crackers
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, 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 choose:
Regular exercise is always a positive aspect of maintaining good health. However, if you frequently experience hypoglycemia then 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 both carbs 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:
Blood glucose levels can be affected by diet, exercise, lifestyle choices, medication, and medical conditions. If you have problems with hypoglycemia, then having a CGM is an efficient and effective way to monitor and control your blood glucose levels. CGMs are beneficial for both people with or without diabetes. Wearing a CGM has been shown to reduce the risk of hypoglycemia as it tracks your glucose levels in real-time, measuring, and continuously storing glucose data.
If you are thinking about taking the next step to monitor your blood glucose levels, and take charge of your health, then join the NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitoring Health Program. NutriSense combines leading technology with access to the expertise of a registered dietitian. If you are interested in learning more about using a CGM to control your blood glucose levels and help take control of hypoglycemia, then contact NutriSense.