The sugar high is all fun and games until the resulting sugar crash affects the quality of your day. The term refers to the sudden drop in energy levels after consuming a large amount of carbohydrates. This can include pastas and pizza but is usually more common after eating simple carbohydrates, also known as simple sugars, such as desserts.
A sugar crash often causes many undesired symptoms that can disrupt productivity and energy levels throughout the day.
Kelsey Herrick, senior dietician at Sanford Health, suggests balance, moderation and consistency are the most effective ways to avoid these crashes. Herrick shares her knowledge on sugar crashes, how to avoid them and what to do if you get one.
What does a sugar crash feel like?
You may experience a crash after indulging in high amounts of carbohydrates, especially artificial sugars such as cake and ice cream. Although the human body needs sugar, it also needs the amount of sugar to remain at a consistent level.
When the body has more sugar than it’s used to, it rapidly produces insulin in attempt to keep the levels consistent. This causes blood glucose to decrease, which results in a sudden drop in energy levels, also known as hypoglycemia, or a sugar crash.
When the body experiences this drastic drop in energy, it can experience undesired symptoms such as:
- difficulty concentrating
- excess sweat
Sugar crashes generally cause us to be incredibly distracted throughout the day, which leads to a lack of productivity and concentration. Confusion, abnormal behavior, the inability to complete routine tasks and blurred vision are also common symptoms, especially for those who have diabetes. People with diabetes may experience more severe symptoms such as loss of consciousness, seizures or coma, if the crash is harsh enough, because of their increased sensitivity to inconsistent sugar levels.
How to avoid
Herrick stresses the most effective way to avoid sugar crashes is to incorporate balance. The main key is keeping blood glucose levels consistent, which can be done by balancing meals with the appropriate amounts of protein sources, fiber and fats:
- Eat a variety of foods. To keep blood glucose levels consistent, keep a balance of all major food groups and nutrients. All meals and snacks eaten throughout the day should include a mix of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and fat. If a high-carb meal or snack is consumed without any sources of protein, fiber, or fat, blood glucose levels drop. This drop causes a sugar crash.
- If you’re going to eat simple sugars, eat them with or after other meals. Simple sugars are foods that contain refined sugars and very few essential vitamins and minerals. Examples of foods that contain simple sugars include fruit juice, milk, desserts and candy. Avoid a sugar crash by making sure to eat them with foods containing fat, fiber and protein.
- Eat less but more often. Eat smaller portions every two to three hours throughout the day. Continue to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, but eat smaller portions at those meals and incorporate two to three snacks a day in between those staple meals.
- Don’t restrict any foods. Avoid overindulging but enjoy it all. Consume all foods, drinks and desserts in moderation, especially simple carbohydrates/sugars. Just be sure to eat your simple sugars with other nutrient-dense meals to avoid a sugar crash.
- Plan your meals. To ensure each meal/snack includes appropriate balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat, plan meals ahead of time. It typically works best to plan each meal at least one day prior to consumption. By sitting down and planning meals, you can make sure you have a proper balance for the next day. Your doctor can refer a registered dietician to help with personalized meal planning advice if needed.
Fixing a crash
Overall, it’s important to have a variety of foods throughout the day to avoid a sugar crash, but it’s also important to know which foods “fix” a sugar crash.
While it’s common for people to think they can beat a sugar crash by eating more carbohydrates for energy, it will only temporarily boost energy. The underlying problem is protein malnutrition, which won’t be resolved by eating a candy bar. During a sugar crash, the body is looking for protein sources to balance out blood glucose levels. So make sure to eat some protein. Otherwise the sugar crashes will continue.
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