- A sugar crash happens when blood sugar levels dip below normal after you eat lots of carbs or sugar.
- You can avoid it by breaking up your usual portions into smaller, more frequent meals.
- It also helps if you eat less sugar and eat more protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
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Ever felt shaky, weak, and nauseous after eating a lot of carbs or sugar?
If yes, you've likely experienced what's called reactive hypoglycaemia, or more commonly known as a sugar crash.
Reactive hypoglycaemia is when sugar levels in the blood, aka glucose levels, dip below normal two to four hours after eating.
People with diabetes are prone to these types of blood sugar crashes — especially if they're not getting the right medication dose. However, anyone can experience the uncomfortable side effects of reactive hypoglycaemia.
It's unclear what causes sugar crashes after a carb-heavy meal, but there are proven ways to help avoid it.
Overall, it's best to change your eating habits in order to promote slower digestion. When the stomach empties at a slower, steadier rate, your body converts the food into glucose more gradually, preventing a more dramatic blood sugar spike, says Samantha Cochrane, LD, registered dietitian nutritionist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Here are six dietitian-approved ways to avoid a sugar crash.
1. Eat small, frequent meals
To avoid blood sugar crashes, consider breaking up your typical large meals into smaller meals or snacks that you eat every few hours.
Smaller meals deliver a smaller dose of carbs, which can help stabilise blood sugar and reduce the risk of sugar spikes and subsequent crashes, says Courtney Cary, MS, RD, senior registered dietitian in the Department of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
2. Increase your protein intake
Eat protein with your meals since it helps slow digestion, which may prevent blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes, says Cochrane.
The following are examples of healthy protein sources:
- Lean meats
3. Eat complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates
If your carb intake mainly consists of foods like white rice, white bread, and pasta, you're consuming carbs that don't have fibre or protein to assist with blood sugar control, says Cary. These are known as simple carbohydrates.
Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates which are much better for stabilising blood sugar since they contain protein and fibre that take longer to digest.
They also typically have a low glycemic index, meaning they cause a more gradual rise and fall in blood sugar levels, Cary says.
Cary says some examples of complex carbohydrate foods are:
- Brown rice
- Whole grain bread
- Wheat or bean-based pastas
4. Incorporate healthy fats into your diet
Similar to protein, healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial for blood sugar since they take longer to digest than simple carbs, Cochrane says.
You can find these healthy fats in foods such as:
- Oils like olive, canola, safflower, and sunflower
5. Decrease or eliminate high sugar foods and drinks
High-sugar foods and drinks are typically made up of simple sugars that your body breaks down quickly causing a rapid increase and subsequent drop in blood sugar, says Cary.
High-sugar foods and drinks to avoid include just about anything loaded with calories, carbs, and little else (like fibre and protein):
- Sweet cocktails and mocktails
6. Pay attention to "added sugar" on food labels
Added sugar refers to sugars added to foods that are not naturally occurring, says Cary.
"For example, lactose is the naturally-occurring sugar in dairy products. A serving of strawberry yogurt may have 15 grams of sugar [from lactose], but also contain 18 grams of added sugar for flavouring," says Cary.
A 2017 study found that only 44% of American adults stick to the dietary guidelines of keeping their added sugar intake below 10% of their daily calories — so for a 2,000 calorie diet, that equates to no more than 20 grams of added sugar a day.
By following these tips, such as eating smaller, more frequent meals, opting for complex carbohydrates, and decreasing overall simple sugar intake, you can successfully avoid sugar crashes.
If you follow these tips and still experience sugar crashes, consider getting checked out by your doctor to see if there may be any underlying cause such as pre-diabetes or a metabolic disorder.
"Sometimes these crashes are predictive of future blood sugar problems, like diabetes. Many times, changes in how one eats and what is eaten can make a significant difference in preventing these blood sugar crashes," says Cochrane.