Low blood sugar isn’t just an issue for diabetics. Hypoglycemia is a common side effect of certain medication as well as a symptom associated with eating disorders, pregnancy and any disorder affecting the liver, heart or kidneys. If you don’t physically need an insulin pump or shots, the best way to keep your blood sugar in check is through your diet.
When your blood sugar dips, you feel weak and nauseated. You may even become dizzy or irrationally angry. Snacking on something sugary, however, is just as scary, a different culprit wielding the same symptoms. Most of the food available out in the open is too simple. The solution, then, is to always have snacks on hand.
Depending on what you eat, your pancreas releases various amounts of insulin. The best foods to combat a blood sugar dip (while preventing a spike) are complex carbohydrates, produce and protein. Additionally, make sure you’re drinking water with your snack—it’s an easy way to stabilize your sugar levels, especially if you’re eating something sweeter like a fruit.
Nuts are easy to carry and an excellent source of protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, so unless you’re allergic, they’re one of the best things you can put in your body. If you’re prediabetic, eating certain nuts, like almonds, cashews or a handful of pistachios, daily can lower your risk of developing type 2.
Cheese may be fatty (remember, not all fat is bad), but it has relatively low sugar levels. A serving of cheese (one string cheese, or a scoop of cottage cheese) contains enough protein and fat to combat weakness and keep you going.
Not all fruits are created equally, and some of them, such as grapes and bananas, are more sugar than substance. Fruits like apples, pears and mangoes are rich in fiber and keep you full longer. If a fruit is more difficult to chew, that’s a good indicator of fiber. If your blood sugar is low, stay away from juice, because drinking it will make you feel like your muscles are melting and that you might die. It’s also a good idea to drink a glass of water with your fruit to balance the natural sugars.
Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, but flavored yogurt is full of sugar. With the natural stuff, you can fill up without worrying about your glucose going overboard and aid your digestive process. Additionally, plain yogurt fosters healthy gut bacteria, which can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and a slew of other issues. Use the yogurt as a vehicle for fruit and nuts for a reliable snack or breakfast.
Whole-grain bread is just complex enough to make the cut. Although simple carbs, like white bread and crackers, seem neutral, they release a higher amount of insulin. Spread peanut butter or cheese on top (or make a sandwich) for protein.
Carrots (not cooked carrots, not carrot juice, but raw carrots) are one of the few vegetables that are universally liked raw and have relatively low glucose levels. As starchy vegetables, they count as complex carbs (the good kind). They’re also easy to carry around and loaded with fiber. Combine them with protein (peanut butter, or cheese, if you’re into that) for a reliable combo.
What’s the best way to combat weakness? Protein. Jerky, provided you seek out something that’s slightly less packed with sodium and flavoring (sugar), is a reliable vehicle for a quick energy boost. Plus you don’t have to worry about it going bad. If refrigeration is in your near future, pepperoni and cold cuts work too.
Sarra Sedghi is the assistant editor of the Paste Food and Paste Science sections. She has carried all the above foods in her purse at some point.