This weekend my friend Mark and I drove about 120 miles from our homes in Boulder to Leadville in Central Colorado. Mark is a member of the diabetes support group that meets monthly at my apartment, and we are both avid hikers and nature photographers.
On Friday as we set off on the Turquoise Lake trail near Leadville, Mark checked his blood glucose. It was about 75 mg/dl so he ate a chocolate bar that he had in his pack.
“I figure that as long as I have to eat something to raise my level, I may as well eat something that tastes good,” he commented.
Maybe my body language showed my disagreement. So he asked me why I didn’t like his solution.
I spent the next two days — off and on — answering him. Eventually, he not only agreed with me, but together we came up with a dozen reasons why glucose tabs are better.
The first reason why glucose tabs are better than a chocolate bar for dealing with a hypo or preventing one is that they work faster than anything else. Glucose tabs are essentially nothing but glucose with a bit of flavoring and preservatives. The package of 10 tablets that I have on my desk before me now lists the ingredients as dextrose, (which is just another name for glucose), cellulose, citric acid, magnesium stearate, raspberry flavor, ascorbic acid, and coloring.
The sweetener in my friend’s chocolate bar, sugar, was sucrose, or table sugar. Its GI is about 65, because sucrose is only half glucose.
The other half of sucrose is fructose, which is in itself the second reason to prefer the use of glucose. The trouble with fructose is its impact on our liver.
In the article that I wrote for the American Diabetes Association’s website in 2003 I stressed a third reason. Glucose tabs are easily the most economical way to deal with a hypo. They cost a lot less than even the cheapest chocolate bar.
That article mentioned a fourth advantage of glucose tabs. While they don’t taste bad, they are medicine. You don’t want your medicine to taste so good that you will eat too much of it. You want to be sure to have some in reserve when you need it.
In fact, glucose tabs give us a controlled and measured amount of blood glucose boost, which are advantages number 5 and 6. Just remember “the rule of 15.” Take 15 grams of glucose when we go low, wait 15 minutes, and then take 15 more grams of glucose — if necessary. Depending on the brand, the tabs are four or five grams each. If we take too much, we can yo-yo to blood glucose levels that are too high.
Finally, my friend Mark and I came up with six more reasons why glucose tabs are better:
Unlike a chocolate bar, glucose tabs don’t melt (and unlike juice don’t have the potential to leak).
Glucose bars are smaller. They are lighter.
The shelf life of glucose bars is much longer.
Kids are unlikely to steal many glucose tabs. Plus you don’t have to share them.
On Saturday during the second day of our expedition to Central Colorado, Mark and I hiked to Crater Lake, which is above Aspen and below the Maroon Bells. South Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak are “fourteeners,” two of Colorado’s mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet.
Crater Lake and the Maroon Bells
Mark and I hiked from Maroon Lake up to this beautiful scene at the shore of Crater Lake. Here we rested on a log. He checked his glucose level and again found that it was lower than he liked. This time he used glucose tabs.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.