Everyone who lives with diabetes has been there: you wake up low in the middle of the night, make your way (wobbly) to the kitchen, and completely overeat with sugary snacks, quickly sending your blood sugar onto an endless roller coaster ride of highs and lows. It feels terrible to then wake up the next morning with high blood sugar, and seemingly sends your day into diabetes chaos. So, how can you prevent that? Here are the healthiest and most efficient ways to treat a low blood sugar, without all the negative repercussions.
Time Is Your Friend
It’s generally recommended to treat a low blood sugar with 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates to start, and then to wait 15 minutes, retest your blood sugar, and treat again, if you’re still low. This, of course, depends on your individual circumstances (body weight, hormones, activity level, stress, etc.), so follow your doctor’s recommendations, but that’s the general rule of thumb.
What most people do, though, is to treat with 15 grams, and then keep on eating, because they still feel bad. But just like insulin, carbohydrates take some time to hit your bloodstream, so even if you’re still feeling low, you need to trust the process and wait until the sugar starts to work.
Don’t Overtreat with Sugar
The line between being low and being hungry is sometimes thin, and often one will conflate the other. If you’re low but also feeling the need to snack, try and pair your low treat with something higher in fat and protein: an apple (to treat the low) paired with peanut butter (to fix your hunger pangs) works nicely, and won’t send you into a rebound high. Cereal and milk is another nice pairing, or even cheese and a pear. Make sure to eat the fast-acting carbohydrate first, though, to adequately treat the low blood sugar, before enjoying a higher fat or protein snack thereafter.
Additionally, you may need to actually bolus to cover a snack after you’ve treated your low. Don’t forget to do this, as it’s crucial to preventing a rebound high!
Don’t Treat Lows with Foods You Love
Stopping the treatment of a low blood sugar at 15 grams of carbohydrates is a lot harder when it’s mint chocolate chip ice cream or a brownie sundae. If you’re having trouble with the overtreatment of lows, try to treat it as purely medical: eating only glucose tablets or some other form of fast-acting carbohydrate that you save solely for the treatment of hypoglycemia (and that you won’t be tempted to overtreat with!).
For me, coconut water and glucose gels are perfect for this. It’s measurable and not all that enjoyable to eat, and stopping at 15 grams of carbohydrates is very easy.
Eat Fresh and Use a Food Scale
If you’re trying to have a healthier low snack, try avoiding pre-packaged foods: crackers, granola bars and fruit snacks are all processed, and usually contain lots of preservatives, emulsifiers and fillers. Opting for something that doesn’t come prepackaged will be healthier in the long run: apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas are all great low snacks.
This can become tricky when tracking carbohydrates, though, so using a food scale to count the exact amount of carbohydrates you’re getting will be key to not overtreating. Apples, for example, can range anywhere from 15-50 grams of carbohydrate, so make sure you’re weighing your fresh produce! You can even do this ahead of time, and pack baggies of pre-cut and weighed fruit for a quick grab and go options for when you drop low.
Give Yourself Some Grace
At the end of the day, you are a human being trying to function as a vital organ 24 hours a day. It’s hard. You will have high and low blood sugars, and your treatment of them won’t always be perfect. You are allowed to make mistakes and missteps and second guess yourself while figuring your way out of a 50 mg/dL. And if that means eating a little too much of something not entirely healthy one time (or more often than not), it’s okay. Allow yourself some grace to figure out what management style will work best for you. You will make mistakes, so try and learn the best you can, and forgive yourself often.
What’s your favorite and most convenient low snack? What low treatment works best for you? Do you struggle with the “roller-coaster” after treating a low? Share this post and comment below; we love hearing from our readers!
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Read more about Apple, insulin, Intensive management, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).