Improve Blood Sugar: save the carbs for last.

book-748904_1920We know that what you eat changes blood sugar response:

  • blood sugars spike and fall more quickly with refined carbohydrates and large portions of food
  • foods with fiber, fat, and protein slow down absorption, resulting in a slower release of nutrients into the bloodstream and gradual rise of blood sugars that peak lower and come down more slowly.

A new study out of Cornell Medical School indicates that the order food is eaten changes blood sugar response as well. While the full study has not yet been published, the researchers describe their findings which are relatively dramatic. Subjects consumed the same meals but with three different orders:

  1. Vegetables and protein first, followed by carbohydrates ten minutes later
  2. Carbohydrates first followed by vegetables and protein ten minutes later
  3. Vegetables first followed by carbohydrates and protein ten minutes later

Here’s how blood sugar response changed with the different sequence of macronutrient foods 30 and 60 minutes after eating:

∗Eating vegetables and protein first = 115mg/dL

∗Eating carbohydrates first = 198mg/dL

Normal blood sugar response one hour after a meal should be under 140mg/dL. So just by changing the order of food, blood sugars went from abnormal to within a healthy range.

The Take-Away

This was a small study (15 people), over a short three-day span, and the authors did not describe the quality or quantities of food consumed. Which, as we know is a key component of blood sugar response. A “carbohydrate” food could be primarily complex and contain fiber which would slow down digestion or be refined (like white bread) and quickly absorbed. The participants were obese and all had pre-diabetes (a condition where blood sugars control is impaired and increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke) so the results may not apply to people without excess body fat or impaired blood sugar control. Pre-diabetes is a regrettably common condition, affecting over 1 in 3 US adults – 84 million people. The treatment for pre-diabetes is weight loss if overweight, exercise, and adopting a healthy diet.

This study points to the power of simple behavior changes. The idea is that changing how you eat may be just as important as what you eat in improving your health. I’ve written before about the benefits of creating a healthy relationship to food as well as how the timing and quantity of meals can improve health; we can add the order of eating to the toolbox of techniques available to managing blood sugars.

Happy eating,


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