• Understanding Blood Sugar

    Do you experience trembling and dizziness after a missed meal or strenuous workout schedule?

    If you answered yes, then it’s possible that you are encountering an episode of low blood sugar level.

    Our body needs a constant supply of glucose (or energy) to function optimally. However, trying to maintain a steady level of glucose in our bloodstream is a complicated balancing act as both ‘too high’ and ‘too low’ levels come with their share of complications. When the blood glucose levels drop too low (i.e. below 70mg/dL), the condition is referred to as ‘hypoglycemia’ or ‘low blood sugar’ (although different people will feel the effects of low blood sugar at different levels). If not treated immediately, the effects can range from mild weakness to serious consequences such as fainting, seizures, and brain damage.

    Low blood sugar level is quite common among diabetics who take insulin or oral medications to bring down their blood sugar levels. For non-diabetics, the causes for low blood glucose include heavy consumption of alcohol without eating, long gaps between meals, vigorous exercising, eating disorders like anorexia, critical liver illness, or side effect of certain medications.

    Sugar Crash

    According to Mayo Clinic, “Most hypoglycemia occurs when you haven’t eaten or are in a fasting state, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes hypoglycemia occurs after meals because the body produces more insulin needed. This condition is called reactive or postprandial hypoglycemia,” or in layman term a ‘sugar crash.’ To understand this, we must look at the process of sugar metabolism in the body. When we eat sugar-rich foods or simple carbs with low fiber content, the blood glucose level shoots up quickly and substantially. This sudden spike in glucose levels forces the pancreas to secrete more of the blood glucose lowering hormone called insulin to facilitate a quick exit of the glucose from the blood into the body cells.

    Extra insulin released brings down the blood sugar level too drastically, and we start experiencing the symptoms of low blood sugar levels or ‘sugar crash.’  We feel hungry and crave for more sugar to counter the lowered glucose levels. And if we choose simple sugars to satiate our hunger, the cycle begins yet again. This vicious cycle of spikes and crashes is dangerous for our physical and mental wellbeing.

    Effects of low blood sugar levels

    The effect of low blood sugar levels is most profound on the nervous system. Confusion, irritability, fatigue, lack of attention, and slurred speech are few neurological effects related to low blood sugar levels. The digestive system also gets affected, resulting in nausea, diarrhea, and malaise. Taking proper precautions and seeking medical attention, if needed, is essential in extreme cases. Convulsions, coma, loss of consciousness, and even death may result if the levels drop too low.

    Foods to Avoid Crashing and Maintain Blood Sugar Levels

    The best strategy to keep the blood sugar levels in a healthy ‘normal’ range is by striking a perfect balance between what, when, and how much sugar is consumed. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, sprouts, fresh fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber and get digested slowly, so they help to maintain stable blood glucose levels. Combining carbohydrate-rich foods with healthy fats and lean proteins is also a good idea because it brings down the rate of absorption and arrests sugar crash.

    Mayo Clinic indicates eating small and frequent meals throughout the day to be a stopgap measure to maintain consistent blood sugar. If you plan to exercise longer and harder than usual, have an extra snack. Banana milkshakes, egg sandwiches, carrot sticks with hummus, raw nuts, and yogurt are excellent pick me ups when hunger strikes. Limiting intake of sugary foods and drinks on empty stomach is also suggested.

    The Bottom Line

    Be a sugar sleuth, swap simple sugars with complex ones, remain active and enjoy sugary treats only in moderation with healthy proteins. This will keep your fuel tank humming and your waistlines happy.

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