“How do I know if a meal or snack is going to spike up my glucose levels?”
“Why does it seem like every time I eat a carbohydrate, my glucose levels skyrocket?”
“Why is it that some foods make my glucose levels high and other foods don't?”
These are just a few examples of questions that many patients ask themselves daily, and it can be extremely frustrating when there appears to be a lack of consistency in terms of what impacts glucose levels in your diet.
When we think about how to better understand a food's impact on glucose levels, it's best to start from the beginning. Let's talk about macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and dietary fat. All foods breakdown into one or a combination of these three components. It's important to understand how each impacts glucose levels in order to make smart and educated decisions when it comes to putting meals and snacks together.
First off, carbohydrates supply the body's primary fuel - glucose. Glucose is like the gas we put in our cars - it's what our bodies prefer to run on! Carbs break down quickly inside the body so that the glucose can be sent to the brain immediately. Most carbs take anywhere from 1-2 hours to break down by themselves. Some carbs breakdown is quicker than others. Carbs with more fiber break down much slower than carbs with do not contain adequate fiber. Look for carb-containing products such as bread, crackers, etc. with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
Second, protein supplies the body with something called amino acids. Proteins do not inherently break down into glucose, so they have very little impact on your blood glucose levels. Protein foods such as chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, nut butter, pumpkin seeds, etc. take anywhere from 3-4 hours to break down inside the body - much slower than carbs.
Lastly, dietary fat supplies the body with something called fatty acids. Similar to protein, since dietary fat does not break down into glucose, it usually does not have much impact on your blood glucose levels. Food high in dietary fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds like flaxseed or chia seed, olive oil, etc. are all heart-healthy and take a long time to break down - approximately 6-10 hours!
So why am I outlining all of this? Because the combination of higher fiber carbs + protein + heart-healthy fats can promote more stable glucose levels. Fiber, protein, and fats help to slow down the breakdown of carbs and delay their absorption into the blood! This helps to prevent spikes in glucose levels after eating. Eating balanced meals and snacks can also help to give us a steady supply of glucose, our fuel source, throughout the day helping us feel more energized and satiated! The term we use to describe how quickly a carb breaks down and gets into the blood is "glycemic response". A high glycemic response means that the glucose entered the bloodstream rapidly. Low glycemic response means that the glucose entered the bloodstream slowly and steadily.
What does this look like exactly?
The following are a few examples of low glycemic meals and snacks:
-1 slice of sprouted grain toast with 1/3 avocado mashed and 1 fried egg on top
-1 cup blueberries with 6oz low-fat greek yogurt and 1-2 handfuls of nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc)
-4-6oz lean protein (chicken, fish, etc) with 1 cup cooked barley, farro grain, quinoa, or beans and a side of non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, salad with cucumber and tomato, etc.
Try incorporating more high fiber carbs paired with protein sources and heart-healthy fats to see how your glucose levels respond!
Although this content is reviewed by Joslin Diabetes Center healthcare professionals, it is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.