Rescue carbs, snack: what are we eating?


If you live with diabetes, you’ve probably had to answer this question. Yes, your body needs sugar, even if you live with Type 1 diabetes. Especially when you’re experiencing hypoglycemia, or just to satisfy a small hunger! How much sugar should you eat and in what form in case of hypoglycemia or a small snack? 

Rescue carbs: what to eat in case of hypoglycemia? 

A person is considered to be in hypoglycemia when their blood sugar level is below 0.70 g/l. Carbohydrates must then be ingested quickly for the blood sugar level to get back in range (between 0.80 and 1.80 g/l for people living with Type 1 diabetes). Some people know when they are in hypoglycemia because they feel a loss of concentration, vision problems, trembling, sweating, tingling on the tongue and lips… Some people, however, do not feel the signs of hypoglycemia, so it is necessary to measure blood glucose levels regularly to anticipate hypoglycemic episodes as much as possible.

To treat hypos, it is preferable to eat fast acting sugar first. Generally, for hypoglycemia to pass, it is recommended to ingest about 15 grams of carbohydrates. 

Another technique: consume 5 grams of carbs per 20 kg of body weight. For example: a 60 kg person needs 15 grams of carbs to get enough sugar to overcome hypoglycemia; an 80 kg person will need 20 grams.

These are estimated amounts, based on averages. They may vary depending on individual needs. 

What does 15 grams of carbs correspond to? 

  • 3 lumps of white sugar or cane sugar,
  • About 15 cl of fruit juice or soda,
  • 1 tablespoon of jam or honey, 
  • 5 to 6 candies. 

As a general rule, hypoglycemia passes after 10 to 20 min. 

NB: for those who wear an insulin pump, it is strongly advised to reduce the basal rate or even stop the insulin flow during a hypoglycemia. 

In addition to fast sugars, some people sometimes need slow sugars depending on the time of the hypoglycemia, their activity at the time of the hypo or simply their metabolism. If it is your case, you can eat a slice of bread, dry cakes, cookies and such.

When you need both fast and slow sugars, cereal bars are perfect to provide the necessary dose of carbs in a few bites!

Tip: it is best to avoid foods that are high in fat (such as milk chocolate or chocolate bars) or high in fiber (certain fruits) even if they are very sweet, because fat and fiber slow down the metabolism of blood sugar. The hypo will then pass more slowly. 

Some people prefer fruit as rescue carbs. Although it is a healthy food, it is more complicated to evaluate the amount of carbs ingested (depending on the level of maturity in particular) and not all are recommended because of their fiber content (like with apples). 

In all cases, you don’t have to eat something you don’t like just because you are in hypoglycemia! Test the different possibilities and choose what suits your taste buds best. Hypoglycemia will be less hard to bear ? !

What about snacks? 

For those who practice functional insulin therapy, you can eat whatever you want for a snack, as long as you adapt your insulin dose. In reasonable quantities of course ☺. 

If you like fruit, here is a memo:

Sweet fruits Amount of carbs per 100 g
Fresh dates Approximately 27 g 
Grapes, cherries and bananas Between 15 and 20 g 
Plums and pears Between 10 and 15 g 
Apples Approximately 12 g
Citrus and red fruits Between 7 and 10 g
Dried fruits Approximately 58 g

If you feel like baking cookies or cakes yourself, you can use stevia, muscovado or rapadura, for different and more natural flavors than refined white sugar! 

If you drink soda, don’t hesitate to choose the “zero” version with stevia. They will have less impact on your blood sugar and/or insulin bolus.

Don’t forget about salty snacks! A piece of cheese or a slice of ham will have a minimal impact on your blood glucose levels. On the other hand, beware of salty aperitive snacks that contain gluten, remember to adapt your insulin!

In short, hypo or small hunger, the alternatives are numerous to manage your diabetes with serenity and pleasure! 

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