If you’re a person with diabetes, managing your blood sugar is of the upmost importance. If your blood sugar gets too low, also called hypoglycemia, it can be dangerous. Below is an explanation of what happens when your blood sugar drops and foods you can turn to in order to get your blood sugar back up again. But first, what is low blood sugar?
For someone without diabetes, your body can automatically adjust if your blood sugar drops too low. However, if you’re a person with diabetes, a drop in blood sugar can potentially be very dangerous.
Although each individual’s reaction to low blood sugar is different, common signs and symptoms that it is low include feeling shaky, having the sweats or chills, irritability, confusion, fast heartbeat, hunger, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in the tongue, lips, or cheeks, and seizures.
The only way to know if your blood sugar is low is to check your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar levels drop too low and the brain doesn’t get enough glucose (AKA sugar), it can stop functioning properly, which leads to symptoms like blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, confusion, and slurred speech. If blood sugar stays too low for too long and is starving the brain of glucose, this may lead to seizures and even coma.
According to the American Diabetes Association, “Low blood glucose is when your blood glucose levels have fallen low enough that you need to take action to bring them back to your target range.” This is usually when your blood glucose is less than 70 mg/dL. It’s recommended to always speak to your health professional to know exactly what to do for you.
The 15-15 Rule
The American Diabetes Association has the “15-15 rule,” which says to have 15 grams of carbs to raise your blood sugar and check it after 15 minutes. If your blood sugar is still below 70 mg/dL, then have another 15-gram serving. Repeat until your blood sugar is at least 70 mg/dL. Once your blood sugar is back to normal, then have a meal or snack to make sure it doesn’t fall back down.
If you do have an episode of low blood sugar, write it down and write down your symptoms. Discuss with your health care provider and they can provide suggestions on ways to avoid this happening in the future.
Best Foods for When You Feel Your Blood Sugar Crashing
If you’re a person with diabetes and your blood sugar fell below 70 mg/DL, then the American Diabetes Association recommends using the following foods when doing the “15-15 rule.” If you have an episode of your sugar plummeting and are needing to use this rule, speak to your health care provider.
Drink 1/2-cup of orange juice, apple juice, or any other juice of choice to get a hefty dose of sugar quickly.
Drink 1/2 cup of regular soda – it should not be diet soda, as you need the sugars and calories at this time.
1 tablespoon of honey has about 17 grams of sugar—which is about the amount recommended to follow the “15-15 rule.”
Keep a bottle of corn syrup in your cabinet and take 1 tablespoon when your blood sugar is below 70 mg/dL. This will provide around 16 grams of sugar.
A tablespoon of white sugar has 12.5 grams of quick absorbing carbs, which is what you want when your blood sugar has plummeted.
Another quick source of sugar is jelly beans, but the serving size can vary depending on the size of those beans. Check the label and take as many as is equivalent to 15 grams of sugar.
Jolly ranchers or other such hard candies can also help bring up blood sugar when it’s dropping too low. They should be filled with regular sugar and not the sugar-free kind. Three jolly ranchers have about 17 grams of carbs and 11 grams of sugar, which is what you would need to follow the “15-15 rule.”
These gummy-type candies are usually brightly colored, made from gelatin or pectin, and dusted with a light coating of sugar. You usually see them hitting store shelves during the holiday season. Eight standard gum drops have about 15 grams of sugar, but read the label, as it can vary between brands.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for foods to grab quickly when you feel your blood sugar dropping. You can keep some of these on hand in your home so that you always have access to a quick dose of sugar, and you can even strategically take some of these with you in your car or purse. Just make sure you choose the items that can’t melt!
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN
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