I blog extensively on the ins-and-outs of navigating life as a parent of a Type 1 Diabetic kid. But one of the big questions that I see almost every newly diagnosed family struggle with is WHICH TYPE of sugar is needed to correct a low blood sugar. Low blood sugars are the BIG scary monster under the bed for Type 1 Diabetics. And for parents of little's who have to 'be the pancreas' from the outside, the lows are downright terrifying. I know, I'm right there with em! You want to DESPERATELY protect their growing brains from the very real dangers of blood glucose dropping too low, but we can't put the genie of insulin back in the bottle, and we often risk rising them too high. It creates a slingshot effect that can sometimes yo-yo a blood sugar for HOURS before stabilizing. So in the spirit of sharing all I can, all the time, for all the T1D families out there, I give you my handy GLUCOSE COMPARISON post!
NOW, before I jump into my list too quickly there are a few things that are important to know!
First - if you are trolling my site with plans to launch into a diatribe on how Glucose and Simple Sugars are bad for you and I shouldn't give them to my kids - get the hell outta my sandbox! (she said with respect and love).
Let me hit you ANTI SUGAR soapboxers with some science. Glucose is produced by your body as it breaks down carbohydrates, both simple and complex. It is used as a primary source of fuel for your body and is either consumed as energy immediately or stored in your liver and muscles for the future. Glucose is, in and of itself, a simple sugar found NATURALLY in some foods, including honey, blueberries, and peaches. AS IT IS NATURAL, it is also commonly found in the human body as the result of the digestion of carbs. Because glucose is absorbed directly by your body, it rapidly increases your blood sugar levels, giving it a high glycemic index. THAT is why it's so crucial to have on hand and administer FREELY to a Diabetic at risk of going into low blood sugar crisis. So take your hippy, tree-hugging, sugar is poison crap to someone else's blog. Better yet....keep it to yourself cause your a douche.
I'm going to focus on just the BIG THREE types of sugars that EVERY diabetic needs to keep on hand at ALL times. How fast they hit (a little of the why), and WHEN to use them! I'm going to keep this really simple so as to avoid geeking out on the science of it all. It's hard, I love the science, but try to stay with me. PEARLS HERE people, I'm giving you pearls!
ALSO -- and this is crucial folks -- there are SO MANY OTHER OPTIONS out there and finding what what works for you and your lifestyle and you (or your kids) metabolism really is a crucial part of learning how to live with Type 1 Diabetes. This is not the end-all be-all of glucose options so please always proceed wisely with your doctor's advice as well as your own brain between your ears folks. NOW to the good stuff.....
In super simple terms, carbohydrates fall into two basic categories. Simple and Complex. Before you can understand why you need certain sugars you must understand why the other type isn't a great fit for correcting a low blood sugar. So let's look at the one we avoid in treating lows.
Complex carbohydrates are made up of chains of --> wait for it --> GLUCOSE! Even though fruits are high in simple carbohydrates -- or natural sugars -- they are also rich in dietary fiber, which puts them in the complex carbohydrate category. Complex carbohydrates are, overall, better for your health because they take longer to break down which leads to great satiety and slower metabolizing and less spikes and falls in BG's etc. All good things. But did you catch that key phrase that makes them a NON STARTER for treating low blood sugars?
Complex carbs take longer to breakdown.
Complex carbs take longer.
Complex carbs must be BROKEN DOWN -- into glucose -- before your body can use said glucose for energy.
GREAT for overall digestive and body health -- completely the opposite of what you need when a low blood sugar has you at risk. When blood sugars drop too low - your brain LITERALLY is at risk of shutting down since glucose IS the primary fuel for the brain. It's also why when the average joe is hungry, his ability to focus and maintain an even attitude goes out the window. HANGRY IS A THING YALL! It's legit and real and in a Type 1 Diabetic, it can also be a signal that too much insulin is on board, driving that blood sugar even LOWER and the lower it goes the more legitimate risk is involved. Complex Carbs and Sugars have their place, but this is not it. So let's flip the script and talk about the Simple side.
Both sugar and glucose come under nutrient category called simple carbohydrates. As the name implies, this type of sugar is literally a molecule mixed with a variant of water and is the simplest and most easily absorbed of all sugars. Since there is no fiber included in simple sugars, they hit the blood stream faster, as such they rise the blood sugar faster. THIS IS WHAT WE NEED folks. We need fast sugars - fast acting - on hand at ALL TIMES! But within the realm of quick simple glucose there are differing delivery mediums. AND HERE is where my fav top 3 come in (with Amazon links because if I can't buy it on AMAZON it simply doesn't exist. ha!
This is basically a pouch of sugary sweet goo. Literal - Goo. Disgusting in texture but EFFECTIVE when needed. Each pouch is perfectly measured to hold 15gs of super simple, super fast acting, glucose GEL. Just rip open and pop into your kids mouth and within SECONDS that gel begins absorbing right thru the gumline into the blood stream. I'll confess, I'm NEVER without these. Sometimes the lows hit my kiddo fast. so fast he can be disoriented and difficult to work with. He's 7 now, and he communicates and cooperates great, but in truth even full grown adults get disoriented and even combative if the blood sugars dropp too low. And that's PRECISELY when the glucose needs to get on board FASTEST. These handy individually served packages are amazing. This gel allows for QUICK sugar, IN THE MOUTH, and with less choking hazard over a super runny juice or a super chalky tablet that must be chewed. So we don't use them often, but when we do, they are actual life savers. Typically these are the "last step before the Glucagon Needle" for us. If my kid is dropping too fast, or too low, and is CONSCIOUS but not cooperative - it's this and 'get the big red box ready'. Scary - but necessary. OWN IT PARENT'S.....OWN IT! The gel works fast, and it's sticky and messy and will make your kiddo super thirtsty afterwards....that's okay. Deal with the sticky, deal with the thirsty, deal with the tummy ache too.....but get-the-sugar-in-them.
Now when the blood sugar is dropping a little too fast for comfort, but not quite in the danger zone yet, I love these glucose tablets. Each one is exactly 4g of Carbs. NOT the 15 typically required to rescue a low, but just enough to take the edge off a fast drop or do a SMALL rise if you KNOW the food and complex carbs are "on board and just not broken down yet". They are chalky and, according to all my boys, taste like candy. The kids hardly ever complain at having to eat them when they need it and, again, since the glucose is already in it's SIMPLEST FORM, that absorption to the blood stream begins happening immediately, within the gums, and the rise happens. FAST, but small with just the 4 grams. These are NOT ideal for times your kid is already too low, or uncooperative or - gad - ASLEEP. They require chewing, swallowing, and consciousness folks! But they are a solid go-to and with these handy tubes that come stocked with 10 tablets, they fit in purses, cars, backpacks, pockets, lockers, and just about every else you can stash them. Plus, they come in a WIDE variety of truly disgusting flavors my son adores like yummy orange, and *barf* rootbeer float. Cause, sure, if you have to eat chalky glucose, let's make it rootbeer float flavored.
Kids are gross.
Now you may wonder why I'm plugging a particular BRAND of Juice box....but there's a method to my madness folks so STAY WITH ME.
In all of Diabetic-dom, the rule of 15 generally applies. "if you are low, apply 15 carbs and wait 15 minutes before re-checking blood sugars." Pardon me while I roll my eyes so hard they nearly fall out of my head. It's solid advice, WISE even, but it's seriously so hard.
For your kid, a low blood sugar LITERALLY triggers an adrenaline response in the brain to CONSUME MASS QUANTITIES so stopping to count "15 gs of simple carbs spread out over...blah blah blah I WANNA CHEESEBURGER!"
You get the idea. And as a parent, waiting 15 minutes to hope and pray your sugar hits bottom before you must "big red needle" your kid is just torture. The longest 15 minutes of my life ever in all of EVER! So having all these forms of easy simple carbs around are handy to avoid overthinking and precious time lost in getting the sugar on board. BUT - packaging COUNTS!
Notice I chose glucose gels (above) that are individual serving sizes of 24 carbs. And the tablets I suggest came in tubes that can contain AT MOST 10 tablets. There is wisdom here people. If you are out of range and your kid needs to self treat, they are far less likely to consume TOO MUCH if it's packaged in an easy pre-measured way. And the juice is no different. Now there are TONS of juice boxes on the market as evidence by the ENTIRE aisle of the grocery store that offers them.. But THIS juicy juice brand is a SMALL box (easier to pack around) and is EXACTLY 15 carbs. If your kid is dropping, but in a safe range, and lunch is on it's way but the restaurant service is taking a bit long etc....this is an EASY quick save. It's not going to hit the system as fast as the tablets or Gel, but being a SIMPLE sugar still, it will break down in the stomach within 10 minutes or less in most cases. It'll satiate that brain saying EAT ALL THE FOOD but also LIMIT the box to just 15 carbs. Other boxes are 25 carbs or more, and those pouches are sometimes a NIGHTMARE to get open if your hands are shaking from a low....these boxes get my vote. Way to go Juicy Juice!
That's all I got here, hope you found it helpful. Feel free to check out some of my other posts on Type 1 Diabetes. As a mom of a Type 1 Diabetic kiddo, 5 years going strong as of the date of this article, I am often referred by friends to NEW parents entering the game with their kiddos. I love to be a source of support for them and I LOVE getting to wrap my arms around those emotional early days and walk along side them answering their questions. The hospitals and doctors and nurses and staff have a BIG job at the onset of diagnosis. They have to safely stabilize the kiddo, often in the throws of DKA crisis, and deal with emotional overwrought parents. Oh yea, and cram YEARS of medical knowledge into their brains in just a few days before sending them home. Medical staff do their best but it's a lot to take in and sometimes just having that go-to friend who is a little further ahead of you on the path is crucial. I had those friends for me, and I LOVE getting to BE that friend now in return! Check out a few of my other posts....