If you’ve ever gone too long between meals to eat and suddenly felt shaky, lightheaded, anxious, and cranky, you’ve had hypoglycemia. These unpleasant symptoms are your body’s way of warning you that your blood sugar (glucose) levels have fallen too low. (That’s what “hypoglycemia” means.)
Glucose is the body’s main source of energy. In most people, blood sugar levels should be within a range of 70 to 99 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Most healthy people only need a quick high-carb snack, such as an apple or banana, to help get their blood sugar back up to normal.
But hypoglycemia often happens in people with diabetes, and if a diabetic person’s blood sugar levels dip too far below a healthy range, it can be dangerous. Even in people without diabetes, hypoglycemia can cause serious medical issues, including blurred vision, confusion, or loss of consciousness. So you want to get your blood sugar back on track, ASAP.
When you need to get your blood sugar back up quickly, try one of these items:
- A small apple, banana, or orange
- 15 grapes
- A few prunes
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- half a bagel
- half a cup of granola
Each of these foods has about 15 grams of carbohydrates -- the ideal amount to rebalance blood sugar levels.
If You Have Diabetes
If you get hypoglycemia, use the 15-15 rule: Eat or drink 15 grams of carbohydrates, wait 15 minutes, and then check your blood glucose levels. If it’s still below 70 mg/dL, have another 15-gram serving. Your goal: Raise your blood glucose to at least 70 mg/dL.
Ideas for a fast 15 grams of carbohydrates include:
- 1/2 cup of juice or regular (not diet) soda
- 1 tablespoon of honey or sugar
- Hard candy, jellybeans, or gummy candy. Check the food label for how many to eat.
- Glucose tablets or gel. Follow the package instructions.
Don’t overeat to try to feel better. It can make your blood sugar levels rise too quickly.
If You Don’t Have Diabetes
Your blood sugar can fall if you wait too long to eat, such as if you’re fasting. It can also happen about 4 hours after a meal. This is reactive hypoglycemia. Or you might have symptoms similar to hypoglycemia if you have postprandial syndrome. This syndrome happens if you eat a lot of simple carbs (like pasta, bread, or cereal) and your body releases too much insulin to deal with it.
Use these tips to avoid having your blood sugar drop too low from either cause:
Eat small meals and snacks spread throughout the day. Aim for every 3-4 hours.
Stick with healthy eating habits. This should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and sources of lean protein. The fiber in plant foods, along with lean protein, will give you lasting energy and won’t crash your blood sugar. If you plan to eat or drink something sweet, do so as part of a balanced meal.
Limit caffeine. Its effects can mimic hypoglycemia symptoms.
Limit or avoid alcohol. Alcohol can cause hypoglycemia, especially if you have a drink without eating something. If you drink, keep it moderate: no more than one serving a day for women or two for men. A serving is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. And don’t drink on an empty stomach.