How to prevent hypoglycemia at a desk job
March 16, 2011 12:56 PM   Subscribe

If you're hypoglycemic (or if you know one well), what/how do you eat during the normal work day?

I've always been a touch hypoglycemic -- runs in the family -- and lately I've been having a daily 3:30 crash. I know now to expect it, so I try to have a snack around 2:30 or 3:00. However, this usually means finishing the rest of my lunch, and my lunches (starch heavy -- I like pasta!) aren't really the best for stabilizing blood sugar.

I know that you're supposed to eat several small meals throughout the day. Most sources say six. But they don't say what to eat. When should it be protein, or carbs, or fruit? And what should those proteins or carbs be?

Next week I'm going to eat like a practicing hypoglycemic for five days, to see if it makes a difference. I guess what I need is help with menu planning. Have you found something that works for you?

Basic info before anyone chastises me for a poor diet: I don't drink sodas or eat candy, except for the occasional piece of dark chocolate; I eat mostly vegetarian; I eat hardly any packaged/processed junk. I do eat way too much pasta, because it's easy to make it healthy (except for all that white flour), but am going to start looking for some palatable whole-grain alternatives.
posted by mudpuppie to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this is an option for you, but stepping up my meat intake made a huge difference for me when I worked a desk job. An Italian sub at 1 pm was enough to get me through the afternoon whereas when I ate salads, soup, or pasta I'd be lightheaded and disoriented by 3. Also, cutting out candy and soda entirely, but you're all set there.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:23 PM on March 16, 2011

You want some carbs, some protein, and if possible, some fiber. Some good choices include:
- 1/2 c plain yogurt (soy or milk) with frozen fruit (I pack it in a tupperware, it stays cold)
- 1 Banana with 1 tbsp peanut/sunflower/almond (whichever) butter
- 1 Hard boiled egg and raw veggies.
- 1 apple and 1-2 oz cheese.
- Veggies and hummus.
- Almonds (5-10) and a piece of fruit.
posted by ldthomps at 1:24 PM on March 16, 2011

The only times I feel like my hypoglycemia is in check, I eat:

-lots of meat
-lots of cheese on everything
-almost no sugar (when I can get it down to zero the difference is huge)
-absolutely not one morsel of fruit
-some whole grains (just a bit)

For me, nothing works like a high protein, low sugar/fruit diet (fruit has tons of sugar, and if you are fairly hypoglycemic, it could totally throw off all your hard work by accident. However, maybe you are lucky and can eat fruit with impunity...I can't sadly.) Good luck!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 1:30 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've gone to a much lower-carb, higher protein- and fat-diet and my bonks have vanished.

Lighter on the carbs, heavier on the protein/fat/fiber. Cheese sticks, almonds, hard-boiled eggs, big salad with lean protein in it. I often do a big, basic stirfry with a ton of broccoli, garlic/ginger/onion, some lean meat (steak, pork, chicken) and just eat that for lunches. Quiche (without a crust, even!) can be loaded with cheese and veggies and makes good leftovers. A big tupperware full of ripped-up lettuce, some sliced cooked chicken/steak/canned tuna, some veggies travels well and can be dressed at work so it doesn't get soggy. Full-fat yogurt (Fage is delicious) with some flaxseed tossed in is delicious and, because of its higher fat content, will make you feel fuller in smaller quantities. We use the plain kind.
posted by rtha at 1:33 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you know what a "touch hypoglycemic" translates to in terms of blood glucose values (e.g., mg/dL)?
posted by chinston at 1:36 PM on March 16, 2011

Protein. Fat. Skip the pasta. (I actually keep dark chocolate in my office drawer to get me through lows, though; it's not very much sugar, comparatively, and it's tasty. Plus I can only eat so much since it's intense). I'm moody when I get a low blood sugar but not officially hypoglycemic or anything. But my moods improved drastically when I started getting more fat+protein in the morning and at lunch. For snacks I keep the aforementioned chocolate, and nuts.

My housemate is, however, and likes to eat small meals throughout the day; she'll make a chicken stew and then eat small portions throughout the day. Anything that can be split into several containers works; often she'll take a normal recipe and just skip the rice or pasta that most people would put it on (as mentioned above). Then you can split it into small bits and just eat them throughout the day when you get hungry.

Don't shy away from fat, either, it's superuseful. Seconding the fullfat yogurt. And careful with yogurt, lots of the varieties have stupid added sugar, which you don't want. You can always get plain and add flavoring yourself.
posted by nat at 1:36 PM on March 16, 2011

Yes to all of the above.

You may be able to tolerate fruit ... it only works for me as part of a heavier, protein-rich meal. String cheese, almonds, no-sugar-added yogurt are all good.
posted by cyndigo at 1:46 PM on March 16, 2011

Chiming in here to say more protein. Whole wheat pasta may help you in the "speed" department, but there have also been upteen thousand threads on the Green about cooking with a crock pot for the whole week or whatever and that may serve you better than making pasta.

Greek Yogurt (Fage, Chobani, whatever) is much higher in protein than your typical yogurt and is super tasty. Highly recommend. Also, almonds and string cheese.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:48 PM on March 16, 2011

-absolutely not one morsel of fruit

An exception: dried cherries have just about the lowest glycemic indexes of all. In a travel bag: a bag of dried cheeries, tuna fish in pop-top cans, and those little wax-covered baby cheeses.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:49 PM on March 16, 2011

Another slightly hypoglycemic vote for just stop with the carb-heavy lunches. Focus on protein + fiber. My solution to this has been stir-fries and curries sans rice, salads with a piece of fruit or cut vegetables, and stews with a piece of cheese or two. Just adding protein and fat to my carb-heavy diet didn't work for me--I really had to cut sugars out in a pretty serious way to feel better.
posted by mchorn at 1:59 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been following the eating plan in The Instinct Diet on and off for a while. The focus is on keeping your blood sugar level steady throughout the day, to keep you from getting ravenously hungry and binging.

It has detailed eating plans covering 3 meals + 2 snacks per day. Meals are low carb, high-fiber, and always have protein and some fat. Some example of snacks are string cheese, yogurt, fruit or vegetables with nuts. What I found interesting is that fruit is not eaten on its own, but is always eaten with a small amount of nuts.
posted by needled at 2:19 PM on March 16, 2011

The trick for me is to go for a 20 minute walk around the time I eat. If I do that, blood sugar crashes are very rare.
posted by Estragon at 2:25 PM on March 16, 2011

1. Protein. Lots and lots of protein. I like to eat hard boiled eggs and string cheese for breakfast. Sometimes I'll do plain Greek yogurt instead. Lunch will be lean meat or fish or occasionally beans. Eat nuts as a snack.

2. Non-starchy veggies are great for filling up without a huge caloric impact. mmmm, kale and asparagus and broccoli and etc.

3. Fat. I probably eat more than I should but I make sure it's worthwhile fat like avocado or salmon or sardines. Hint: avocado + sardines = delicious, nutritious and filling lunch! Mix it up with some salad greens and parmesan or something for a fancy meal.

4. Avoid carbs, sugars or sugar-like things as much as possible. No pasta, potatoes, candy, soda (not even diet!), bread, or grains. Nope, not even brown rice for me. It's too carby for my body despite the fiber. I let myself have one piece of fruit per day, usually a really tart orange because the flavor lasts in my mouth for a long time and distracts me from wanting more sweet stuff.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:26 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm diabetic. If I miscalculate on the insulin, or I react to it more strongly than usual (it happens) I get dangerously hypoglycemic. I've found that the quickest way to bring my blood sugar up is a package of M&Ms. For some reason it works quicker than a candy bar or the glucose lozenges from drug stores.

posted by KRS at 3:33 PM on March 16, 2011

wow, this thread is describing me and the way I feel, good and bad, when I eat the foods described above.

Carb-wise, I feel better since I started eating strictly whole grains - brown rice, whole wheat pasta, real whole wheat bread (Publix 2 pound loaf, astonishingly hard to find sometimes) and a crapload more protein and fat.

Good snack is peanut butter (just you and a spoon). Better snack is peanut butter and bacon.

General cooking notes - I strain and save bacon fat so I have a tub of creamy white cooking fat in the fridge. A small amount in the pan - 1t to 1T - adds flavor and fat and makes everything taste better and last longer (burn-wise).
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:38 PM on March 16, 2011

I'm pretty severely hypoglycemic, but I manage it without really changing much of what I eat, just making my lunch smaller so that I can have a couple snacks without actually overeating. I have found that having some yogurt for a snack works quite well for satisfying my afternoon sweet desire. But I get up and have juice and then later when I get a chance I eat cereal or a poptart for breakfast (shh, don't tell, but I've had chocolate chip cookies for breakfast for the past couple days because they were the only thing on hand) and then fruit or some chips or something in the morning if I can't eat lunch till noon or later (otherwise I just eat lunch around 11ish), which is either leftovers or a sandwich, and then I have something like fruit or yogurt for a snack, and have dinner around 630pm. It seems to work for me to just eat more often, but not change what I eat.
posted by katers890 at 5:23 PM on March 16, 2011

It took some getting used to, but I replaced all my pasta with quinoa for exactly that reason.

I also get lots of mileage out of warmed up kasha-

One cup of any combination of the following WHOLE unprocessed grains:
-oat groats, spelt, rye, un-pearled barley, or winter wheat

Three cups water

1.Combine grain and water in a saucepan with a pinch of salt. Bring to boil and reduce to low
2. Cook for 40 minutes-55
3. Eat then, or refrigerate and warm up. Top with yogurt or mush up a bunch of avocado in in.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:40 PM on March 16, 2011

If you eat your pasta in the traditional way with spaghetti sauce, I've found that you can ditch the pasta if you substitute a big pile of sauteed bell peppers, onions, mushrooms. Mix in some cheese (ricotta or cottage cheese) along with mozzarella and parmesan either mixed in or on top - bake to brown the top if you like. I'm not vegetarian, so I also use cooked sausage, chicken or ground beef in there, but you could substitute tofu or the fake veggie protein substitutes.

It still makes a big dish, but the volume is vegetables instead of pasta.
posted by CathyG at 9:05 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Grains screw me up bad, I only eat rice occasionally and avoid almost all other grains due to their other negative health effects. I'll eat potatoes only with a source of protein or fat that has at least as many calories as the potato. Basically, if you have carbs, pair them with an equal-or-greater source of protein or healthy fat (not polyunsaturated). This helps me greatly. Going all-out low-carb helps as well, but the adjustment period can make you feel off for a couple weeks.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:30 AM on March 17, 2011

I'm in the same boat, still trying to figure out my diet. . . some thing I've discovered recently are using quinoa and amaranth flour to make muffins. I fill them with pumpkin seeds and oats and well basically random things I happen to have on hand, last time it was carrots, bananas and yogurt.

It's a great breakfast, but also something I can bake weekly and have on hand as a snack anytime. I find I enjoy them more than a handful of nuts, although those are good snacks as well, (my favorite is raw almonds).
posted by abirdinthehand at 4:56 PM on March 17, 2011

I have a hard time keeping my blood sugar stable, too, and lately I've been having one of these as a snack mid-morning and sometimes another one late in the afternoon if I get hungry. They're not going to work for everybody, since they are carb-heavy, but I find that there's enough protein, fat, and fiber in there to keep my blood sugar up for a while without spiking it. If you want to keep eating pasta and other carbs, you definitely should try the whole-grain versions, and eat them with some protein and fat. For example, make some whole-grain muffins with nuts in them (and maybe some soy protein powder as well); in the morning, you can split one, put some butter, margarine, or peanut butter in the middle, then put it back together and wrap it up with plastic wrap. I've come across several online recipes for homemade PowerBars, and they tend to have a fair amount of protein in them, so you could try those; unfortunately, I found them all to be really nasty-tasting, and that's why I started to make the Fruit and Nut Bars.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:53 PM on March 17, 2011

. But I get up and have juice and then later when I get a chance I eat cereal or a poptart for breakfast (shh, don't tell, but I've had chocolate chip cookies for breakfast for the past couple days because they were the only thing on hand) and then fruit or some chips

are you dead sure you're hypoglycemic? I got a headache and the shakes just reading about your diet. Everything on your list - fruit, poptart, juice, chocolate chip cookies and chips are all really high glycemic index foods.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:35 AM on March 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips, everybody. I haven't eaten anything carb-heavy since posting this a couple days ago, and for the first time in quite a while, I avoided yesterday's 3:30 crash.

I had cottage cheese for breakfast, followed by some carrots, hummus, and a couple handfuls of nuts. It was a bean/mushroom stew for lunch (it was actually some leftover enchilada filling, but I ate it without the tortillas), some cheese for a snack, a boiled egg, more nuts, some turkey jerky.

I felt like I ate all damn day, but I didn't crash, and I felt more energetic this morning than I have in a awhile.

I'm still trying to figure out how to plan meals and avoid carby things, which turn out to be my favorite things. :( But, feeling better is a pretty good motivation, so I'm going to give it a go.

I also found out that my health insurance company has a dietitian who does phone consults, so I'm going to talk to her and find out what kind of grains I can get away with eating during the day. I'm going to continue to eat normally at night -- allowing myself pasta and potatoes occasionally -- to see if that's okay.

Again, your tips have been really helpful. Consider all answers marked 'best'!
posted by mudpuppie at 11:14 AM on March 18, 2011

I am dead sure I'm hypoglycemic (talked to doctors and the whole like), and I realize my diet isn't the best. Days I have a better breakfast than that, I do feel a bit better/have less of a need for a snack, but I can keep it going fine with sugary foods in smaller quantities if I have snacks around. My food/eating is more focused on getting my son to eat (he loves fruit and yogurt) and having something I can eat in a hurry because I have to get my son around places and to work, and when I was pregnant I had to be much better about my food. Plus I have problems around eating breakfast where there is a fight between revulsion at the thought of eating in the morning before getting going, and the desperate need to have some food/sugar in my system before I die. My lunches and dinners do tend to be better often. However, my point is that when circumstances dictate it, you can get buy just by decreasing the size of meals and having the more often without having to change your whole food approach if you need to.
posted by katers890 at 10:24 AM on March 21, 2011

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