Preventing a sugar crash in the first place is clearly a much saner approach. Fortunately, if you take greater care with your carb intake and change a few other habits, it's not hard to even the seesaw.
1. Start with breakfast. If you frequently find yourself in a midmorning slump or agitated state, steer clear of the fast-burning simple-carb breakfast that may cause your blood sugar to surge and then nose-dive an hour or two later, pushing your body's alarm buttons. Instead, begin the day with a meal that includes protein and a little fat, both of which delay the absorption of sugar into the blood and take longer to digest. Try pairing your juice with an egg white omelet or a slower-burning complex carbohydrate (think carb with fiber, like a dense bread with lots of whole grains and nuts) and peanut butter. Take the same mix-and-match approach to lunch, dinner, and snacks. "You want a meal to have a combination of foods so there's a slow, steady release of sugar into the bloodstream," says dietitian Tammy Baker, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "This will signal a slow, steady release of insulin and keep you on an even keel."
2. Don't let yourself get too hungry. Going hours without food sets you up for a sugar-heavy snackfest (anyone have chocolate?). And if you resist, you're more likely to overeat at your next meal because your brain takes about 20 minutes to get the message that you've had enough—and that could be 20 minutes of continuous stuffing. To process all that food, your body shunts blood to the digestive tract, slowing down functions that are unrelated to the business at hand. Blood pressure drops. Your heart rate slows. So does your mental activity. Result: postmeal stupor.
You may feel much better with smaller meals and bigger snacks. Registered dietitian Roxanne Moore suggests that if you're having a sandwich for lunch, eat half of it as a midmorning snack and the rest at 1 P.M. with a small salad or some yogurt. Parcel out your day's food so that you never go longer than three or four hours without a mini meal that includes a mix of nutrients.
3. Fuel your workouts. Exercise is great for both health and mood, but it can drag your blood sugar down if you don't compensate for some of the calories your body is using up. To keep your energy high, you may want to eat something like a banana before you start, take swigs of a sports drink during the workout, or schedule a snack just after the sweat dries.
4. Find out if caffeine is a culprit. There is some evidence that caffeine can increase sensitivity to low blood sugar, at least in diabetics—although other studies suggest that it can raise blood sugar. Either way, caffeine consumption is known to exacerbate jitters, irritability, and anxiety, so you might try cutting back to see if it's making matters worse.
5. Pay attention. As you experiment with changes in diet and exercise, keeping a diary may help make clear what works and what doesn't. In particular, note how long after eating you feel crummy. One or two hours? Look at what you ate. Simple carbs are probably the culprit.
Finally, don't forget your doctor. If you have repeated bouts of what feels like low blood sugar—especially if your symptoms are coming more frequently and getting worse—it's worth investigating. You may be pregnant or suffering from unusual anxiety. Or you may have one of the potentially serious diseases that announce themselves with hypoglycemia: insulin-secreting tumors, for instance, or adrenal cancer.
These diseases, however, are rare. Most likely you're perfectly healthy and the best medicine you can take to relieve your symptoms is a dose of awareness. Once you fine-tune how you're fueling your body, it should run smoother. And then you can pay attention to more important things.
Lisa Davis is a writer in Oakland whose work has appeared in Health and Vogue.
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