By Cliff Colgan, Nutrition Therapist
No Energy? Could Be Low Blood Sugar
If your engine doesn’t get you up the hill like it used to, a big part of the problem could be low blood sugar, or put another way, low blood glucose. The medical term is hypoglycemia and depending on the causes of low blood sugar there are different types of hypoglycemia. Because of the limited space here, I will focus on reactive hypoglycemia.
Reactive hypoglycemia is the low blood sugar that results from a meal that is burned for fuel too quickly. The resulting blood sugar from that meal is consumed for energy by a big swoosh of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin allows the blood glucose to go into your cells to be used for energy.
If the glucose from your meal gets used up too quickly, low blood sugar or reactive hypoglycemia results and the anxiety, hunger, and low energy follows. The body tries to compensate by burning stored glucose in the liver and muscles, called glycogen, but the energy stored is small and used up quickly.
The biggest cause of reactive hypoglycemia is skipping meals, especially breakfast. If you think about the term breakfast, it literally means breaking your fast from sleeping. While you fast for eight hours sleeping, the stored energy in your liver has been supplying glucose so your brain and other organs can work properly. Your body needs energy when you wake up. By skipping breakfast, you deny it that energy. Reactive low blood sugar, low energy, and high anxiety result from skipping breakfast.
But skipping meals isn’t the only reason for low blood sugar. Eating unbalanced meals that are high in simple sugars, low in unprocessed complex carbohydrates, low in protein, and low in good fat sources also cause low blood sugar. Simple sugars like table sugar, fruit juice, and honey all supply quick blood sugar, but when that glucose is used up there has to be slower burning fuel like protein from meat, fish, beans, or quinoa that supply energy for the last couple of hours before the next meal. Another slow burning high supply of energy is good fats like olive oil, avocados, butter (in moderation) and coconut oil. Finally, another longer burning, source of blood glucose is unprocessed complex carbohydrates. Foods like yams, potatoes, beans, vegetables (steamed, raw, or sautéed), and fresh fruit. These foods are high in fiber which slows downs the absorption of carbohydrate (complex sugars) which means your body gets blood sugar at a slower, steadier pace, which keeps energy levels up longer.
How do you manage reactive hypoglycemia?
- Don’t skip meals. Eat breakfast within 45-50 minutes from waking.
- Eat snacks that have vegetables, fruit and a little protein like a slice of turkey or a little fish or chicken or beans. Snacks should be eaten before real hunger sets in (1 ½ to 2 hours after a meal)
- Have a snack in between every meal and a small snack of sliced turkey and a few grams of complex carbohydrate like a 1/3 of a potato or 1/3 cup of rice before going to bed. No big fatty meals just a small snack
- Exercise 30 minutes a day at least four times a week. Make it a little demanding so you know you have worked.
- No more than one serving of alcohol a day. Regular alcohol can make you hypoglycemic all by itself.
The hypoglycemia that is caused by diabetes and pre-diabetes has a different but related cause and will be discussed in a future article.