There are so many ways to approach nutrition: fad diets, get fit quick tricks, don’t eat carbs, eat only fruit, eat this one food, don’t eat this other food… It’s confusing, and quick tips like these are almost always false promises.
While there are no miracle cures in life – especially with nutrition, there is one change that I encourage you to try. You'll feel satiated for longer, increase nutrient intake, boost your energy levels, mitigate mood swings, have better balance with hormones, improve sleep quality, and help prevent the onset of chronic diseases later in life like cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer, and more.
What one thing could possibly do all of that? It’s all about blood sugar stability, baby!
Blood sugar, AKA blood glucose, refers to the amount of sugar in your bloodstream at any given time. To sustain long-term health and feel your best, your body needs to keep its blood sugar levels within a very specific range.
Blood glucose levels change for a number of reasons including activity level, sleep quality, amount of stress, and more. For today, we’ll focus on how food choices affect it.
When you’re hungry, that can mean your blood sugar is low, and your body tries to increase it by releasing stored sugars from the liver and muscles. Although this response from your body is beneficial short-term, if eating is avoided, eventually your body will run out of glucose stores and begin to break down things like muscle to convert into the sugar it needs. You avoid running out of internal glucose stores or needing to break down muscle by eating. When you eat, the sugar (glucose) from food causes an increase in the sugar concentration in your bloodstream.
The frequency at which you eat and the composition of the nutrients in your food will dramatically affect how much your blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the glycemic index and/or the glycemic load of foods. These two tools provide us with information about how much a particular food will increase blood sugar when it’s eaten. Besides the actual sugar content of food, the other nutrients they contain have a big impact on how much of a spike in blood sugar they can cause.
Let’s compare white rice vs. brown rice as a classic example. White rice lacks fiber and is rated higher on the glycemic index/load, but brown rice is rich in fiber and rated lower on the glycemic index/load. When consumed alone, white rice causes dramatic increases in blood sugar that don’t last very long. The sugars in it get absorbed all at once leading to a sugar high followed promptly by a sharp drop off in blood glucose levels. The fiber in brown rice, however, causes the sugars from it to be absorbed into the bloodstream at a slower pace, manifesting as a gradual increase in blood sugar that gets sustained for a longer period of time.
This sustained blood sugar increase is favored by the body and is associated with better health outcomes. In fact, less erratic blood sugar, or blood sugar that stays more stable throughout the day, consistently day-to-day, is strongly linked with a lower incidence of disease.1,2
Fiber plays a large role in affecting blood sugar response from food, and so do many other nutrients. We’ll focus today on macronutrients, types of carbohydrates, fat, and protein, and how they influence blood glucose response.
Which leads me to my number one tip!
Each time you go to eat, make sure that meal or snack contains fat, fiber, and protein.
Why is eating this combination of nutrients beneficial to blood sugar? Mainly because it slows the rate of nutrient absorption from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream, keeping your blood sugar stable over time3.
Keep in mind, that this tip doesn’t mean to eat foods that only contain fat, fiber, and protein (FFP). You can, and should, still eat other carbohydrates! Just ensure that they’re paired with FFP.
Fat has a similar effect as low glycemic carbohydrates like brown rice in terms of slowing down the time it takes nutrients to get into the bloodstream. It also increases your sense of feeling full and satisfied after a meal.4
Another benefit you get from eating this way is that it’ll likely increase your overall intake of fiber. Your microbiome, which is all of the microbes that live symbiotically in and on your body, mostly in your gut, needs fiber to thrive. Maintaining a healthy microbiome is another key ingredient in keeping blood sugar stable and sustaining long-term health.5,6
Including protein in your meals and snacks is crucial because it strongly increases the signals in our body that tell your brains you’re satiated.7 Feeling full is important to prevent over-eating, which can also cause blood sugar to rise too high too quickly. Eating higher protein has also been associated with a faster metabolism, which likely contributes to the benefits of following this one tip.7
Picture a “power bowl.” These are usually made of whole grains and/or fresh greens, vegetables, a protein source, and maybe a sauce.
This food choice is a prime example of crafting this magic combination. Let’s account for why: the base of greens and/or whole grains provides a rich source of fiber and other complex carbohydrates. Veggies also deliver a hefty dose of fiber, and the addition of beans, tofu, or meat provides a rich source of protein. Depending on your protein choice and how it’s prepared, it’s likely a source of fat. Sauces also tend to be rich in oils like olive oil. Fat could also be included in the bowl by cooking veggies in oil.
How much of each FFP component do you need in a power bowl? Though that varies greatly based on body composition and activity level, most people need about a handful of grains or 2 handfuls of greens (1-2 cups), 1-2 handfuls of veggies (1-2 cups), a piece of protein that’s roughly palm-sized (½ cup), and ~2-4 tablespoons of sauce.
Let’s identify a few more examples of each type of macronutrient we’re aiming for:
Cooking oils, nuts, seeds, beans, coconut, fish, beef, lamb, pork, and dairy products.
Whole grains, vegetables (especially higher fiber ones like broccoli, cauliflower, peas, Brussels sprouts, and artichokes), fruits (don’t forget avocados, they’re super high fiber!), nuts, and seeds.
Meat, fish, beans, lentils, eggs, tofu, tempeh, almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, dairy products, quinoa, and broccoli.
If you’re wondering what a FFP snack looks like, here are some examples. Carrots and hummus, apple and almond butter, tuna in olive oil on toast or rice cakes, nuts with dried fruit, or yogurt (preferably unsweetened) with granola all make for delicious options.
If you’re in need of more shelf-stable choices, your local wellness market, WILLOWTREE, has some of my favorite offerings. Go-to FFP snacks include Papa Steve’s No Junk Raw Protein Bars, Hummingbird’s Awakened (Sprouted) Almonds, and Ellas’s Flats with Toby’s Tofu Dip.
In sum, stable blood sugar can be accomplished by eating FFP each time you eat. This is advice I give to just about every person I see in my holistic nutrition practice! It’ll keep your blood sugar stable and improve your quality of life on a daily basis and for the long term. Enjoy avoiding hanger, and living life to its fullest, friends.
Although just applying this simple piece of advice will take you far along your journey to health, there’s more nuance to be explored. If you’re interested in honing your food choices to keep your individual blood sugar stable throughout the day, reach out to me, Sophie, for a free 20-minute consult today by emailing email@example.com.
6. Zadeh-Tahmasebi M, Duca FA, Rasmussen BA, et al. Activation of Short and Long Chain Fatty Acid Sensing Machinery in the Ileum Lowers Glucose Production in Vivo. J Biol Chem. 2016;291(16):8816-8824.