Thanksgiving to My Health, Part 3: My Reactive Hypoglycemia Diet
In this third installation of my T-Give to my restored health, I’m going to talk about my reactive hypoglycemia diet.
Not this one.
Not this one, either.
And no, not even this one.
The one that worked for me was significantly different from all of these aforelinked diets. Then again, my hypoglycemia seemed to be linked to the prescription medications I’d taken and the resultant sh**storm (quite literally) happening in — and then out — my intestines. In other words, my hypoglycemia was different. Heck, my whole body is different. Always has been.
Which brings me to an important point: Touching again on something I said in an earlier blog this month, everybody — and every body — is different. That’s why so much of what you might read on the Internet and try might not work for you — including this. While some things might be worth a shot (again, within reason, and again, I’m not a doctor), many may fail, as each of us is infinitely and indecipherably complex. I can only detail what worked for me and what didn’t.
But I can say that, in reading article after blog after book, it became clear to me that no one had, in the words of the beloved GSW rubric, synthesized the information regarding what many hypoglycemics experience. No one had put the various pieces of what I and many others have gone through together or connected the dots.
For example, there are links to discussion boards wherein people talk about upper right quadrant abdominal pain in conjunction with hypoglycemia. Well, in my case, this turned out to be an overactive gallbladder that was likely overactive to try to actually digest something I ate and kill bad intestinal infestations resulting from the antibiotics and antifungals that yes, killed a lot, but no, did not kill everything, but yes, also rendered my intestine fairly incapable of absorbing nutrients. (I lost 15 pounds in 6 months by virtue of doing absolutely nothing besides not digesting food — no exercise, nothing — and that’s a lot of weight for someone who’s never broken a buck thirty in her life.) And as my intestinal issues cleared up on another diet (see Part 2 of this series), so did the gallbladder pain and the severity of my hypoglycemia, which I don’t think is a coincidence.
So now, without further ado, here’s what worked for me:
1) Intestinal repopulation. I never knew how true it was until it was all messed up inside me, but the gut is the linchpin to your being. It handles digestion. It handles immune function. These two things alone are perhaps the most critical functions to actually functioning as a human. And both are pretty much handled by creepy-looking little microorganisms hanging out in there.
This brings me to probiotics. Let’s talk about these.
These little creatures appear in yogurt and other fermented foods (like genuine sauerkraut and real pickles, not the vinegared kinds you buy from Vlasic or Claussen), but they are also crammed into pills you can get over the counter, and they are your friend. The refrigerated kind keep the bacteria alive so some percentage will still be functional once they get into your colon, and ones with enteric coatings protect the bacteria from being destroyed by your stomach acid on the way down the hatch.
This article by the New York Times details how, just as there are different blood types, there are different intestinal types. And though I can’t find an online link beyond this one, I read in a diabetes magazine that one study found that diabetics are usually missing L. reuteri from their intestinal flora. Because hypoglycemia and diabetes have so much in common, I make sure the probiotics I take contain L. reuteri.
I take my probiotics first thing in the morning with nothing but water. I don’t eat for at least a half hour after that.
2) Multivitamins. Vitamins play such a critical role in how your body does what it does. If you’re deficient in certain vitamins, your body likes to stop doing important stuff that you’d prefer it would do — like grow hair and heal wounds. You can get vitamins from the foods you eat — presuming you actually eat anything nutritious — but you likely won’t get everything you need strictly from food.
Even if you did, though, if your intestines are all jacked up, you’re not going to absorb everything you could from your food. That’s why vitamin supplementation is particularly important for hypoglycemics like me.
When my intestine was really upset, I would take my yeast-free vitamin with nothing but water a half hour or hour after my morning probiotics. This seems counterintuitive, given all the labeling on vitamin bottles and many people’s experience with stomach upset from taking vitamins. However, my allergist told me this stomach upset is actually the result of the vitamins taking their time going through the intestinal tract when they’re slowed down by the food you’ve eaten and are trying to digest at the same time — hence, his recommendation to take them with nothing but water to flush them through an irritated system as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, this worked for me.
3) CoQ10. This is another supplement my allergist recommended. This enzyme — an energy generator — is often deficient in diabetics as well, and again, because hypoglycemia and diabetes are both metabolic disorders sharing many of the same dysfunctions, this can be helpful to both. I’d take this once a day with a meal — typically breakfast.
4) Evening primrose oil. This omega 6 is actually great not only for reducing inflammation, but for addressing female hormonal issues as well. Now, I know there’s a lot of controversy over omega balances (“We get too much omega 6, not enough omega 3, yadda-yadda), but I took this omega without any others under my allergist’s recommendation, as it’s helpful for many gastrointestinal disorders, including ulcerative colitis and IBS. I’d take one 500 mg capsule twice a day with food.
5) And now, the food. And your new best friend, the glycemic index.
The glycemic index tells you from a glucose-and-insulin perspective how a food is going to affect the average human being. The lower the number, the less impact the food will have on blood sugar. Note that white flour spaghetti has a lower number than whole grain brown rice, which in turn has a lower number than a banana. (This will be important for what I discuss later on.)
In my worst phase of intestinal distress, I’d begun to develop food intolerances, which in my case were not true food allergies, but instead allergic-type reactions due to the fact that I simply wasn’t digesting food properly. I became temporarily (but thankfully only mildly) intolerant of chicken, for example, while hypoglycemic.
And in the worst phase of my hypoglycemia, I was eating every two to three hours just to avoid the ensuing panic (a mental feeling actually induced by blood sugar levels), head pounding, and general sense that I was going to pass out that occurred for me when my blood sugar started dropping too low. It was a pain in the butt and annoying as hell, preparing that much food and having to interrupt my life just to feed, but it did get better over time, and I’m grateful every day that I held pretty strictly to the diet so I could speed the process, even though it did feel like it took forever. I can eat at more regular intervals like the rest of humanity now, and it’s the frickin’ best thing ever.
The typical reactive hypoglycemia diets out there got it wrong in a couple different areas for me — and again, this is likely because I was dealing with hypoglycemia somehow related to improper digestion.
A) Whole grains were not my friend. Actually, any kind of insoluble fiber was not my friend. This fiber is indigestible to humans, and while it can help with constipation, it can also give someone with the opposite problem one heck of a time. Whole grains will likely make most hypoglycemics’ plight worse in the latter case, because the more irritated one’s colon is, the less it digests and absorbs, and the more out of control insulin and blood sugar levels become. Whole grains — like brown rice and quinoa, for example — were particularly gruesome for me, because not only are they insoluble fibers, but they’re carbs to boot. Keeping a food journal and documenting especially awful blood sugar swings associated with larger (though not large by any means) amounts of brown rice I consumed in a single sitting helped me figure this one out.
B) Conversely — and counterintuively — refined grain products (e.g., white flour pasta and white rice) in moderation helped me. I’m not saying go out and eat some donuts and cake. I’m saying the carbohydrates from sugar-free or low-sugar (low being 5 g of sugar per serving or less) refined grain products helped me. My body needed some kind of carbohydrates to keep going, but table sugar and fruit sugar were too much for me to handle.
I can hear all the gluten-free hoi palloi whining now: “I can’t eat gluten! I’ll die!” Look, unless you have celiac disease — the legitimate gluten allergy for which you can be tested but likely would’ve had severe, life-threatening symptoms of your whole life — you’re probably just brainwashed by all of today’s gluten-free propaganda. Or perhaps you developed an intolerance (which will likely be temporary) because you’ve got something funky going on with your intestines. But just in case you’re still not convinced, did you know that white flour pasta is actually about 9o% gluten-free because the flour it’s made from is so heavily refined? (I didn’t, either, until my allergist told me.)
Now, I’m not touting the benefits of food engineering, and if you truly believe you feel better not eating gluten, fine, but I will tell you that white pasta helped this hypoglycemic manage blood sugar and actually calm — not irritate — her colon. And the gluten-free brown rice pasta I’d been eating to try to be “healthier” as a vegetarian? Higher on the glycemic index than white pasta, brown rice, and a banana, folks.
C) Speaking of bananas… fruit was the hardest thing on me when it came to managing my blood sugar. Staying away from all fruit and fruit products (even no-sugar-added juice) was one of the best things I ever did when I was really sick. And to this day, I still don’t drink fruit juice. Plenty of veggies have vitamin C and other nutrients you need — without all the simple sugars.
D) Cook all veggies, though, while your intestine is healing. Again, insoluble fiber was not my friend. Raw veggies, like whole grains, kept my colon irritated. Even at the expense of cooking away some of the nutrients, cooking vegetables makes them easier to digest. And after all, you can’t absorb any nutrients if your colon’s too irritated by fiber to digest anything. Better to give your body a shot at digesting by making it easier for it to through cooking.
E) One of my BFFs (best food friends) was meat. Deal with it, vegetarians and vegans. And pray you never become hypoglycemic, because you’ll probably have to ditch your high-fiber beans, and your fruits and grains will not save you. And, in fact, it is in part why vegetarians and vegans are more prone to yeast infections — which may explain why they’re so grouchy; candida is linked to depression and mental illness — and why it takes them much longer to heal.
F) One of my other BFFs was fat. Fat slows all sorts of carbs down, and let’s be honest: It’s delicious! Extra-virgin (huh-huh, she said “virgin”) olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, and organic butter were my top three. The only thing to be careful of here is to balance that out with some gut-stopping foods (e.g., white carbs, hard cheeses — unless casein irritates your colon — or certain meats), because fat can do the same work as fiber, though with less irritation to the intestinal lining.
G) Dairy: yes, please, and no, thanks. Hard cheese (heavy in casein protein, low in lactose) was helpful to me while I was having really bad hypoglycemic episodes. Milk, soft cheeses, and yogurt were not, because these things still have much of the lactose left in them, which upsets my stomach when I’m imbalanced (I’m fine with these products otherwise). Hard cheese constipates, milk and other liquid or soft dairy products generally don’t and can sometimes achieve the opposite of constipation.
So what did a typical day in the diet life of Rae Rae look like? Here’s just one example:
Breakfast: 2 eggs cooked in olive oil, baked sweet potato home fries.
Snack: Breakfast leftovers (because I had terrible nausea in the morning with my hypoglycemia, I generally couldn’t finish it all, even though I knew I had to eat).
Lunch: Turkey breast meat (and not that fake turkey lunch meat, either — the Thanksgiving kind), sauteed spinach and butter (sans garlic, since garlic bothered my tummy), olives.
Snack: High-quality, low-sugar beef jerky.
Dinner: Spaghetti and homemade ground beef meatballs in marinara sauce — heavy on the meatballs, easy on the spaghetti — and a little Parmesan cheese.
Now, I realize that this diet looks pretty darn sad. It was. But it worked and was necessary, as were those multivitamins, because on a regimen so strict with so many foods eliminated, you need to get the vitamins and minerals somewhere without the trouble the rest of a food containing them causes.
I’m living proof that hypoglycemia can and will get better and can be controlled entirely through diet if you are willing to be really strict with it and do what’s necessary. It’s hard, but it really is worth it. And as time goes on, foods can be incorporated back into your diet — though I’m guessing you (like me) will make significantly different choices when it comes to what you regularly eat once you’ve felt the pain of hypoglycemia. And it really is a pain — physically and mentally. Few people outside of those who’ve lived with it can truly appreciate what it’s like to look normal on the outside but be feeling like death on the inside, day in and day out, for months or even years on end.
The symptoms of low blood sugar are tough to live with, but at least there are warning signs — like those headaches or that panic out of nowhere for seemingly no reason. That’s why it’s so important to keep that food journal going and always keep snacks around. You’ll need them. For me, I find one or two raw apricots will do the trick until I can get a complete meal. This was the one way fruit was useful to me. It was a quick fix for an episode, though most people (foolishly) use candy or fruit juice, which is much harder on the hypoglycemic body.
Keep the faith, though, if you are hypoglycemic. You may be suffering now, but it can get better. Honor and obey your body, and it will serve you well once again!