What to Eat When You Have Low Blood Sugar

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saltine-crackers

When your blood sugar dips, it can leave you feeling hungry, shaky, and lightheaded. This can happen to anyone who hasn’t eaten in several hours. When blood sugar drops below normal levels, it’s called hypoglycemia. In people with diabetes, hypoglycemia can be a life-threatening complication of diabetes medication, other health problems like infection, or inadequate caloric intake.

You can lower your chances of low blood sugar—and treat it when it occurs—with some simple steps.

Know the Symptoms

Sugar, or glucose, is a key source of energy for the body. When blood sugar drops, you may get these symptoms:

What You Can Do

Most of the sugar or glucose in your blood comes from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches in grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, milk and milk products, honey, and sugar. If you don’t have diabetes and you’re feeling the unpleasant effects of a drop in blood sugar, eat or drink something with carbohydrates. Good choices are a piece of fruit, a few whole wheat crackers, a glass of milk, or a carton of yogurt.

In people with diabetes, hypoglycemia can come on suddenly and needs to be treated right away so it doesn’t get worse. Eat or drink a quickly digested carbohydrate food, such as:

  •  ½ cup fruit juice

  •  ½ cup of a regular soft drink (not a diet soda)

  •  1 cup of milk

  •  5 or 6 hard candies

  •  4 or 5 saltine crackers

  •  2 tablespoons of raisins

  •  3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar or honey

  •  3 or 4 glucose tablets or a serving of glucose gel

Each of these choices provides about 15 grams of carbohydrate. Wait for 15 or 20 minutes, then check your blood sugar with a blood glucose meter. If your blood sugar is still low, have another portion of carbohydrates.

Preventing Low Blood Sugar

Eating regular meals and snacks is the best way to keep blood sugar on an even keel. Here are some guidelines for those who have had recurring bouts of hypoglycemia:

  • Try not to skip or delay meals. Don’t go more than three hours without eating something. 

  • Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Alcohol can cause blood sugar to drop.

  • Have a light snack before exercising. Good choices are crackers and peanut butter, yogurt and fruit, half a turkey sandwich, or a bowl of whole grain cereal with milk. A snack at bedtime can help keep blood sugar levels normal during the night.

  • If you have diabetes, you need to match your carbohydrate intake to your diabetes medications to avoid low blood sugar. A dietitian or diabetes educator can help you put together an eating plan. If you take mealtime insulin like insulin aspart (NovoLog), insulin lispro (Humalog), or insulin glulisine (Apidra), make sure you eat the right amount of carbohydrates at your meal to match your insulin dosage. Skipping meals or not eating enough carbohydrates can cause your blood sugar level to dip significantly.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 14

  1. Hypoglycemia. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/hypoglycemia/index.aspx

  2. Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/diabetesatwork/pdfs/knowyourbloodsugarnumbers.pdf

  3. Snacks. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/food-tips/snacks.html

  4. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose). American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-l...

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