Whether you have diabetes or a healthy blood glucose level, it’s important to balance your blood sugar and prevent blood glucose spikes after meals. Problems with blood sugar control are common. In fact, about one in three people in the United States is prediabetic with fasting blood sugars outside of the normal range and their risk of developing type 2 diabetes is higher. Plus, around 12% of the population has diabetes. But there are other reasons to avoid blood sugar spikes with meals. When your blood sugar is balanced with rapid spikes and drops, it’s easier to avoid hunger and sugar cravings.
Many people get into a cycle of eating foods that spike their blood sugar. After the spike, their blood sugar falls fast, and they feel tired. It’s best to avoid marked ups and downs in blood sugar so you’ll have a more stable energy level and more stamina. The good news is what you eat has a significant impact on your blood sugar and whether it stays in a healthy range or whether it fluctuates widely after a meal. How should you eat to keep your blood glucose level balanced?
Foods that contain protein reduce hunger and help to stabilize blood glucose. However, in people with diabetes, protein has varying effects on blood sugar and the response depends on the type of protein. In people with type 2 diabetes, plant-based protein is a healthier choice because protein-rich plants, like whole grains and legumes, also contain fiber, another dietary component that helps stabilize blood sugar. Plus, some studies correlate a diet high in animal protein with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that subjects who ate a diet rich in vegetable protein had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes while consuming more animal-based protein sources seemed to elevate the risk. Although this was a correlational study, it suggests that choosing more plant-based protein sources may be beneficial.
Proponents of a low-carbohydrate diet will tell you that all carbs are bad, but it’s the quality of the carbohydrates you choose that matters. It’s true that ultra-processed carbs from packaged breakfast cereals, sugary desserts, and foods made from white flour spike blood sugar, but non-starchy vegetables have the opposite effect. They help stabilize blood glucose.
What about fruit? Some sources recommend limiting fruit if you’re diabetic or prediabetic since some fruits are naturally high in sugar. However, research suggests that whole fruit doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes because it contains soluble and insoluble fiber that helps moderate the blood sugar response. In contrast, fruit juice lacks fiber. Yet recent research questions whether fruit juice has a negative \impact on blood sugar.
To support this, a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science found that fruit juice had no significant impact on fasting blood glucose, fasting blood insulin or hemoglobin A1C, a measure of glucose control over the prior 3 months. In contrast, research shows that sugar-sweetened beverages cause blood glucose spikes.
Why is fruit juice with its natural sugar different? Researchers hypothesize that the polyphenols, natural compounds with anti-inflammatory benefits, in fruit juice prevents blood glucose spikes. Still, it’s better to eat whole fruit and get the added benefits of the fiber rather than guzzle a glass of fruit juice. The fiber-rich whole fruit helps tame hunger.
Fats cause less of a rise in blood glucose than carbohydrates, particularly ultra-processed carbs. Therefore, substituting fat for carbs helps stabilize blood glucose. Yet, according to one study, some fats are easier on your blood sugar than others. In the study, replacing some carbohydrates in a meal with fat improved blood sugar control, but the type mattered. Saturated fat, the fat abundant in meat and dairy, caused minimal improvements in blood glucose levels. In contrast, replacing some carbs with monounsaturated fat led to a substantial reduction in hemoglobin A1C values, a long-term measure of blood sugar control. When subjects substituted polyunsaturated fats, blood sugar control also improved. So, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the best choice for taming your blood sugar.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are abundant in plant-based foods. For example, olive oil, avocados, macadamia nuts, and sesame oil are excellent sources of monounsaturated fats. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and other seeds, such as chia, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds. In fact, polyunsaturated fats were the most effective at controlling blood sugar in the study. So, don’t be fat phobic, but choose your fat sources wisely.
When you eat a meal, what you put on your plate most often contains a mix of the three macronutrients–protein, carbohydrates, and fat. That’s a good thing! Research shows that combining carbohydrates with fat slows the absorption of the carbohydrates and reduces the blood glucose response to that meal or snack. Therefore, you’re less likely to get a glucose spike when you add fat to a meal higher in carbohydrates. Adding protein to a meal also helps stabilize blood sugar and prevent blood glucose spikes. So, don’t eat carbohydrates alone but with a source of fat or protein.
Avoid These Foods
Some of the worst foods for your blood sugar are refined carbohydrates and foods high in sugar. These include sugar-sweetened beverages, white bread, foods made from white flour, packaged breakfast cereals, and the myriad of junk food you find at supermarkets. Stick to whole foods and include a source of protein and healthy fat with each meal. Keep moving too! Even a 10-minute walk after a meal helps with blood sugar control after a meal. Take advantage of it!
· Medical News Today. “Which foods help stabilize insulin and blood sugar?”
· Diabetes Spectrum. Volume 13 Number 3, 2000, Page 132.
· Malik VS, Li Y, Tobias DK, Pan A, Hu FB. Dietary Protein Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women. Am J Epidemiol. 2016;183(8):715–728. doi:10.1093/aje/kwv268.
· Endocrinology Network. “100 Percent Fruit Juice Does Not Affect Blood Sugar Levels”
· American Diabetes Association. “Fats”
· DiabetesSelfManagement.com. “Dietary Fat and Blood Glucose”
· HealthDay.com. “Healthy Fats Can Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes: Study”