Hypoglycemia Treatment and the Role of Diet

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One of the more universal features that I see with my clients, and especially corporates, is their lack of good blood sugar control. Waking up hungry, stimulant reliance, sugar cravings, lapses in concentration, mood swings and that four o clock energy slump are all-too-common symptoms of poor control. Diagnoses of hypoglycemia, the clinical term for low blood sugar, are on the rise. While hypoglycemia can cause many relatively benign albeit unwanted symptoms, it can be a precursor for full-blown diabetes later in life is left unmanaged. Hypoglycemia treatment is about learning to control the peaks and troughs to create a flatter blood sugar curve involves dietary and lifestyle adjustments.

The hormone that controls our blood sugar levels is the key to understanding blood sugar control and hypoglycemia treatment. All food that we ingest eventually gets converted into a usable form of energy for the body- glucose. Protein and fats take a longer time to get there and carbohydrates are our main or immediate source of glucose energy. Once carbohydrates have been digested, they enter the bloodstream in the form of glucose, and this impacts on what we call our blood sugar. Insulin is the hormone responsible for getting the glucose shuttled out of our blood and into our cells for use as energy. It is like the “key that unlocks” the door

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to our cells allowing energy to enter. When the body gets a load of glucose, a subsequent rise in insulin levels follows; glucose gets taken into the cells and blood sugar drops.


Most of us can maintain a fairly even keel when it comes to blood sugar, however there are many factors that contribute to poor control. For better blood sugar control, the following changes need to be implemented:

Eat smaller, more regular meals

If we go for extended periods, and especially if we start the day off on a bad footing by skipping breakfast, blood sugar levels will naturally fall. To avoid this, try following the 3-hour rule, which means to eat within 3 hours of waking up and eat a meal or snack every 3 hours. The biggest problem I find is lack of planning, so make an effort to plan your meals and snacks so that you are not left with nothing to eat during busy or challenging times.

Eating the right types of carbohydrates

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates based on their immediate effect on blood glucose levels. It compares foods gram for gram of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates that breakdown quickly during digestion have the highest GI’s and are referred to as high GI. Carbohydrates that breakdown slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, have low GI’s. Glycemic index scores are calculated relative to the GI of glucose, which is 100. High GI foods have a GI of greater than 55, and low GI foods are below 55 GI points. When we eat high GI foods, like white bread or cornflakes, our blood glucose levels rise higher and faster than they would with low GI foods, like wholegrain seed breads or wholewheat pasta. This means more insulin is secreted in response and blood sugar levels fall faster than they would with low GI foods. Although blood sugar may not drop below what is considered normal, the speed of the drop causes symptoms similar to that of hypoglycemia. Eating low GI foods on the other hand will help prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking and result in a more sustained release of glucose energy. The GI can only be applied to foods that contain carbohydrate, which includes fruit, vegetables, sugars, starches, milk and yogurt. Meats and oils have no glycemic index value.

Basic Glycemic Index Guide


Higher GI Food Examples

Lower GI Food Examples

White, brown and wholewheat breads

Low GI seed breads and sourdough rye breads

Most breakfast cereals, regular and quick cook oats, and regular mueslis

Bran flakes, rolled oats, and Low GI cereals and mueslis that are labeled as such

Pasta: lasagna, penne, fussilli

Pasta: spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair, any wholewheat pasta

Refined mielie meal

Cold or reheated mielie meal, samp and beans

Baked and mashed potatoes

Boiled potatoes in the jacket

Wild rice, brown rice, Tastic Rice, Basmati rice

Short grain sticky rice

Tropical fruits (e.g. papaya, banana)

Deciduous fruits (e.g. Apples, pears, plums), citrus fruits, berries

Most vegetables including greens

Butternut, pumpkin

Fructose, xylitol

Sucrose, glucose

All legumes and dry beans


Eat protein at every meal

The presence of protein in a meal lowers the GI of that meal. For example a plain baked potato with a salad is a high GI meal compared to a baked potato filled with tuna salad. Eating 1 apple on its own will produce a more rapid glycemic response than combing it with some almonds, which contain protein.

Good sources of protein to include at meals and snacks include:


Lean red meats

Skinless chicken

Fresh fish

Tinned fish



Legumes and dry beans

Dairy products

Nuts and seeds


Avoid reliance on stimulants

The use of stimulants like caffeine can lead to problems with blood sugar control. Caffeine simulates the liver to release stored glucose, giving us a sense of feeling energized. However, at the same time we produce more insulin, and blood sugar levels drop again. The higher the dose of caffeine the more pronounced the drop in blood sugar becomes. Caffeine can also mask feelings of hunger, which leads to a decrease in food intake and a lowered blood sugar.

Practice effective stress management

The way in which stress effects blood sugar is closely linked to a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol forms part of our “flight or fight” response to stress by stimulating the release of glucose from the liver. The body, in turn, releases insulin in an attempt to shuttle that glucose into the cells where it is used for that extra energy we need to perform in stressful situations. Intermittent stress throughout the day will send us on somewhat of a rollercoaster as blood sugar levels rise and fall. Chronic stress can lead to more pronounced problems, as the adrenal glands (the glands that produce cortisol) become exhausted. The result is a decreased production of cortisol and a lowered blood

Avoid excessive alcohol

Alcohol directly causes hypoglycemia by blocking the release of stored glucose from the liver. Drinking on an empty stomach is particularly troublesome. Alcohol

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should always be taken with meals and in moderation, which means no more than two standard drinks per day for women and three standard drinks a day for men.


Correct nutritional deficiencies

Certain supplements can also help with hypoglycemia treatment. Chromium (a B vitamin-like substance) found in high concentrations in wholegrains and green vegetables is probably the most common nutrient deficiency linked to poor blood sugar control. The mineral magnesium (found in similar food sources to chromium) is another common deficiency that impacts on blood sugar. Modern food processing is one of the major causes of such deficiencies because these nutrients are generally found in the husk of wholegrains, which is removed during processing. Supplements containing chromium, magnesium and another mineral vanadium are commonly prescribed to help balance blood sugar levels.

Author: Ashleigh Caradas

*This article also appeared in Business Day Health News

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