Anatomy of a Sugar Crash

You hear the term “sugar crash” all the time, but do you really understand what’s going on in your body when you experience this disruptive phenomenon?

A sugar crash occurs when your blood glucose level drops below normal. It seems simple: our bodies expect a consistent level of blood sugar, and when we eat too much of certain foods, we suffer the consequences. But in a world of mall food courts and fast food drive-thru’s, we’re all at risk of throwing our delicate body chemistry off balance and experiencing symptoms like weight loss, fatigue, depression, and more.

A quick 101 primer on sugar crashes will help you understand which foods to cut back on, how to recognize the symptoms, what your body is doing, and how to prevent lasting consequences on your health. Here’s your crash course on the sugar crash.


Foods That Cause a Sugar Crash

It all starts with foods containing highly refined sugars (think candy, baked goods, and processed foods), white carbs, and drinking too much alcohol. Simply put, carbohydrates containing simple sugars are processed in the body more quickly and cause that spike in blood sugar.

While certain items from the grocery store may seem healthy (aren’t all gluten-free foods healthy?!), there are often hidden sugars and carbs packed into seemingly healthy foods. Canned fruits and vegetables, pasta sauces, packaged GF dinners, and even flavored coffee drinks can prompt the dreaded sugar crash.


How Your Body Reacts to a Sugar Crash

Any time you eat carbs, your body converts those carbs into glucose. Ultimately, that glucose ends up in your bloodstream and determines your blood sugar. So, Mom was right – you are what you eat. When you eat carbs that are more quickly absorbed and low in fiber, you’re more prone to a sugar crash.  You’ll feel that spike in energy (Wow! Pizza feels good!), but soon enough you’ll crash. What can temper the crash is a good amount of protein, healthy fats and other vital nutrients. The carbs act quickly, the protein and fat keep you going without the crash.

Carbs can spike blood sugar quickly, but protein and healthy fats can sustain energy

Long-term, these habits put you at risk for developing chronic diseases. That’s because your body is always working hard to maintain a certain level of blood sugar – so when you’re regularly flushing glucose into your body, your pancreas works overtime to release insulin into the body to stabilize blood sugar. Then, we’re likely to reach for carbs and refined sugars again to get that temporary relief and short-term energy. The cycle continues.


How You Behave During a Sugar Crash

In the body, glucose (blood sugar) directly affects the function of your brain, your muscles, and your emotions. When you eat healthy, balanced meals throughout the day, most experience high energy, a good mood, and a good night’s sleep. The symptoms of a sugar crash are varied: you may feel weak, irritable, depressed, shaky, tired, and experience headaches.

When you get into a cycle of eating and drinking things that cause a sugar crash, you may experience long-term symptoms like anxiety, memory loss, difficulty sleeping, excessive hunger, and fatigue in the afternoons. Sounds like a drag, right?


How to Fix a Sugar Crash

First, think twice before consuming fast food, junk foods, and sugary beverages that cause your blood sugar to spike and triggers a sugar crash. An easy fix is to opt for whole grains instead of refined carbs in order to slow the release of glucose into your body. Foods like eggs, avocado, turkey, lean proteins, fresh fruit, and gluten-free, whole grain toast are all great options to maintain a healthy diet throughout the day.

It’s not only what you eat, but when you eat. Many nutritionists say that eating smaller, healthier meals and snacks throughout the day is better for you. This slows the release of glucose into your body and ensures insulin is released gradually instead of all at once.


How do you prevent a sugar crash? Share your meal plans and healthy tips in the comments below!


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