Perhaps I'd be better off making meringue...
March 17, 2010 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Why does my blood sugar bottom out after I eat an egg-white omelette?

For lunch I will frequently fix myself an egg-white omelette-- I'm lucky enough to get farm-fresh eggs every week. Sometimes I prepare it with vegetables, sometimes just with salt/pepper/chives and a small sprinkling of good parmesan. Almost immediately afterwards I feel hot, shaky, irritable, and anxious, which usually means my blood sugar has crashed. I then go for the quick fix (whatever sweet is around) to make the feeling go away-- and thus negate the good I've done with the omelette in the first place.

I'm not diabetic and I've never been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, though I've experienced these crashes often enough (not just with the eggs) that I do carry glucose tablets around just in case I start to feel sick while I'm away from home-- usually from not eating frequently enough that day. While they've really saved me a number of times, I generally forget that they're in my purse until I need them.

What's going on? Egg whites are low-GI and I haven't found any indication from searching that a protein-rich meal would cause this kind of crash. They're an awesome solution for lunch and I'd like to find a way to prevent the crash that doesn't involve consuming sugary things before or after. Any ideas as to why this happens and how I can avoid it?

As for the rest of my diet, I eat this oatmeal every morning, with (most days) a pumpkin muffin mid-morning, then an egg white omelette or a half a large yam or quinoa and vegetables for lunch, either carrots or yogurt late afternoon, and a wide variety of dinners (pasta, meat, potatoes, rice, etc.)-- I eat well in the daytime so that I can eat (a smaller portion of) the same meal with my boyfriend at dinnertime. Don't eat dessert too often, but sometimes during the day I'll have a small amount of dark chocolate if I'm having hormonal cravings. I'm comfortably in the middle of the BMI for my age/height.
posted by mireille to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That does sound odd. Your breakfast & mid morning snack don't look too glycemic friendly. I'd look to those as culprits & then the blood rushing to your stomach to digest the egg as a possible culprit for the crash you're experiencing... but I'm no expert.
posted by MesoFilter at 10:54 AM on March 17, 2010

You didn't mention it coffee, but caffeine can cause you to bottom out.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:55 AM on March 17, 2010

Maybe it's not related to the egg-white omelette at all but a crash due to your mid-morning snack or breakfast?
posted by peacheater at 11:01 AM on March 17, 2010

It's possible it's genuinely not enough calories for your body to operate on.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:01 AM on March 17, 2010

Are you eating any carbs with the omelet? That could account for it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:05 AM on March 17, 2010

Possibilities that come to mind:

1. You're not eating any protein with your breakfast. You might be misattributing the blood sugar crash to the eggs, when it's really due to carb loading early in the day. Keep the oatmeal but have some protein with it (a good amount, like a fist-size portion). Then you probably won't need the muffin mid-morning, so have that with your eggs. That will help stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day.

2. You might have an egg allergy/intolerance that could be fucking with your blood sugar.

I'm hypoglycemic and have to have protein & complex carbs at every meal - especially breakfast - or I'm a complete wreck.
posted by granted at 11:08 AM on March 17, 2010

When your blood sugar crashes, your body is telling you that it needs some quick energy. Your current diet plan might not be suited to your activity levels. Try having a portion of that muffin with your midmorning snack and the rest with lunch.

Also, not related to the question, where is the fat? You are only getting a tiny portion with your muffin until dinner. Your big human brain needs fat. Try supplementing your mid-morning muffin with a handful of raw almonds.

Have you used a program like FitDay to analyze your nutritional intake? Your macro nutrients might be out of whack.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:11 AM on March 17, 2010

MesoFilter and peacheater: I hadn't considered that, mostly because I occasionally skip the muffin and kind of assumed that if the oatmeal was the problem, I would crash shortly before lunch. That oatmeal is the only tried and true thing I've found that stands between myself and crippling chronic IBS, so it's gotta stay, but I will try something low-GI for a while for mid-morning.

MexicanYenta: Interesting-- I do drink a huge amount of coffee. I could try to cut down... that might get complicated.

A Terrible Llama: That's possible-- when I eat the other things for lunch (quinoa, yam) they come in at 300-350 calories, whereas the omelette is more like 75.

granted and Brandon Blatcher: I wonder if upping the protein powder that I add to the oatmeal would help? Having half the muffin with the omelette to add carbs to that meal is a good plan too.

munchingzombie: I tend to get a lot of fat in my evening meals because my boyfriend requires a ton of calories ever day, but as a result I have to be careful. I'm not really consciously avoiding fat per se-- I have just been trying to keep the calories down during the daytime so that I don't feel deprived at night. I do a lot of checking on NutritionData to get a sense of what I'm putting in my body, and I was tracking everything on my own spreadsheet for a while, but I haven't tried a type of daily journal to analyze the macro nutrients. I'll definitely check that out.

Thanks to everyone for the advice! I'm 2.5 years clean and sober and the whole eating thing is still kind of new.
posted by mireille at 11:25 AM on March 17, 2010

My friggin' bad, I just read that you put protein powder in your oatmeal. 1-2 scoops divided over four servings does not sound like very much, though - try supplementing it with something else.
posted by granted at 11:25 AM on March 17, 2010

Try Steel Cut Oatmeal, it's supposed to have a lower GI impact than Rolled Oatmeal.

That's also a lot of apples/apple juice to have at once. Equivalent to about 1 apple a day? If the steel cut oats don't help, try a different recipe with less apple.

I'd skip the muffin too. Try a 2nd serving of oatmeal for a mid morning snack and see if that changes anything.

You're eating a ton of carbs every morning, and a lot of them from sugar. (apples, sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin)

The fact that the muffin is 71 grams, 29 carbs, 1 fiber and 12 sugar tells me you're getting a lot of carbs, and that "whole wheat" flour isn't doing much better than plain white wheat flour. One teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams, you're getting 3 teaspoons of sugar with your muffin each morning. Put that in a muffin and it's enough to cause me to crash.
posted by MesoFilter at 11:37 AM on March 17, 2010

MexicanYenta: Interesting-- I do drink a huge amount of coffee.

From what I've read, caffeine causes your pancreas to secrete extra insulin. So mixing that with your carb-heavy breakfast is probably causing it.

I know that if I have any kind of caffeine with some kind of carb, without also loading up on protein or fat , then I crash later. Always. (Protein or fat will slow down the absorbtion of sugars, which lessens the amount of insulin your pancreas is pumping out at any given time, which then lessens the chance of a crash.)

IANAD, but I would definitely cut out, or even totally eliminate, caffeine. If you wear out your pancreas, it can't be fixed.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:41 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

75 calories for lunch sounds like a problem to me - that's barely a snack, much less lunch. Perhaps your blood sugar is crashing because your body needs more fuel.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:34 PM on March 17, 2010

Also, as I understand it, fat helps the body process sugar better for us hypoglycemic folks. By cutting out the yolks, you are still consuming all that sugar, but without providing the fat to ease things. At least that is how I see things play out for me on a daily basis.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 2:21 PM on March 17, 2010

One question. How do you know your blood glucose levels are bottoming out? Are you testing, or just guessing? I'd make sure that's what's actually's happening before I started to subscribe to the whole "you need more protein" stuff that people always like to get in to.
posted by luckypozzo at 2:28 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Okay, so it's clearly time for me to start looking at the makeup of the foods I'm eating. I started with the premise that if I ate things that were "good" for me (broad definition here, based only on my vague understanding of good vs. bad), and kept the calories down, then I'd be doing well. Baby steps, I guess. I mostly didn't eat for over a decade-- and in sobriety, my previous attempt to drop the treatment weight was to consume only energy drinks and small pieces of cheese (for longer than I'm willing to admit), so I really am making progress. I'm now at a healthy (if not entirely comfortable-- but then my standards are way skewed) weight, and I'm increasing my exercise, so I can afford to make a lot of the changes you've suggested. I'll work on having protein, complex carbs, and a little bit of fat with every meal, and try to watch the sugars and caffeine more closely, and we'll see how things go! I ask a simple question about eggs and I get an overhaul of my food conceptions-- I really appreciate it, everyone!
posted by mireille at 2:47 PM on March 17, 2010

No worries mireille - for whatever reason we never learn this stuff in school. Best way I've been able to grasp it is to think of the different food types like starting a fire:

* Simple Carbs are like a lighter, gas, and twigs. It'll light immediately and you'll get 20-30 minutes from them, tops.
* Complex Carbs are like using a magnesium fire starter on twigs and dry, small branches. Takes a bit of work to get it going (10-20 minutes) and is good for 1-3 hours.
* Proteins are more like rubbing sticks together to set the complex carbs on fire with a log or two for staying power. Once going it's heaven, but it takes 3 hours to get that fire going and you'll get 3 more hours of use from it.
* Fats are like waiting around for someone else to come along and light the wonderful fire bundle you built... takes 6 hours and you'll get up to 6 after that of fire. Sadly it doesn't burn well and tends to leave a lot of soot behind. They're absolutely needed, but some work is needed to keep the fireplace clean.

The trick is you always want a fire going, and you're not allowed to use one fire to light other ones. You have to start fresh every time. Plan as needed.
posted by jwells at 6:08 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am wondering why you don't eat the yolks as well. There is a lot of conflicting information regarding cholesterol and egg yolks in particular, but barring some specific (preferably doctor-instructed) reason, I would try including some egg yolks in your omelets.

My favorite healthy eating tip is to try to make sure you get as many colors in as possible. Different colors in fruits and vegetables tend to be associated with different vitamins and minerals, so by having a colorful diet you are maximizing the variety that you get. Fruits come in all colors and they're delicious!
posted by that girl at 6:30 PM on March 17, 2010

When you eat, your body secretes insulin in anticipation of having food ready to digest and convert to energy and/or store for later. The egg white omlette has no carbs for the insulin to work on. Remaining sugar in the system gets taken up before the system can reregulate.

(lots of science omitted)

Also, if you compare the amount of cholesterol in the egg to the amount of cholesterol made by your liver all day long, it is trivial. I can't prove it, but I thought I read somewhere that dietary cholesterol is beneficial in moderation.
posted by gjc at 7:13 PM on March 17, 2010

You need fat. You can eat carbs if you want, but what you need is fat. Eat the yolks. Cook that sucker in some butter or olive oil. Fat does not make you fat, and unlike carbs it is incredibly essential to get enough. And it does not burn "dirty" all on its own, if that is your best grasp of nutrition you should do a lot more reading on the topic.
I take a pure (no carbs or fat) protein shake at lunch every day after working out, sometimes without having much or any breakfast. I will quickly start to feel sick from that shake if I don't chase it with something with more substance, but it only ever has to be fat to prevent the nausea from worsening. Pure protein can be nauseating to some of us, but you don't absolutely need to eat carbs to counteract that nausea.

Finally, please do not think of exercise as "earning' you a healthy diet. You need a healthy diet no matter what, and you deserve one even if you don't exercise as much as you would like.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:11 PM on March 18, 2010

Okay, quick update. Here's what I've changed so far:

-- Oatmeal: I've upped the steel cut oats to stretch the recipe to make 7 portions (which decreases the amount of sugar from the apples per portion). Added another portion of protein powder as well.

-- Omelette: I'm now making them with the yolks. For a 3-egg omelette I use all but one yolk, which seems like a good arrangement. Of course, they taste better now too. I am working on finding something with complex carbs to add to this meal-- haven't decided yet, but it may be that 1/2 muffin suggested above. I might also try adding some cooked quinoa (which I love, but I'm not sure how it would work in an omelette).

-- Muffins: I haven't done this yet, but for my next batch I will try to replace some of the sugar with stevia (which I already use in my coffee). If anyone knows of an alternative to unsweetened applesauce (which still contains sugars) to replace the bulk in the recipe, I'd love to hear it. The applesauce which is already part of the recipe is meant to be a substitute for oil, but I think I'll try it with some form of fat (replacing some of the applesauce) to round the whole thing out.

I've also started adding olive oil margarine to the yam that I occasionally have for lunch.

So far, I've found that I'm somewhat less hungry over the course of the day, and in general I feel more energy and haven't had a "crash" since I've made the changes. This kind of balance makes a lot of sense.

Thanks again, everyone!
posted by mireille at 9:00 AM on March 25, 2010

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