When you have problems handling blood sugar the area of focus always lands on diet and exercise. With good reason, you have the direct ability to be able to change these areas. Increasing your exercise and limiting carbohydrates are a place to start. Many people assume that by decreasing carbs in general it will help to manage all of blood sugar. Decreasing carbohydrates can make an impact if you are eating a very high carb diet. Yet investigating what foods influence blood sugar is best, especially if you are already following a low carb diet.
What changes how food affects blood sugar?
Not all carbohydrates are the same, thus they will not affect blood sugar all the same. In addition, what raises one person’s blood sugar will not always affect the next person similarly. Here is a list of many factors of how carbohydrates in food affect blood sugar.
- portion size – obviously the bigger the portion the more of an affect the food will have
- fiber – the higher the fiber content of a food, the less impact it will have on blood sugar
- pairing – a carb by itself will have a bigger affect on blood sugar than a carb that is eaten with protein and/or a healthy fat
- ripeness – generally speaking the more ripe a carbohydrate is, the sugars will “mature” causing a higher rise in blood sugar
- storage – some foods are better stored at room temperature, while others are better stored in the refrigerator ultimately affecting the ripeness
- processing – foods in their whole form tend to have less of an affect on glucose; for instance fruit juice has a bigger impact than whole fruit
- cooking method – the way a food is cooked affect how it affects glycemic control
All of these factors make a big impact on the glycemic load and ultimately how food influences your blood sugar.
So how do you know how food affects your blood sugar?
Aside from a continuous glucose monitor, your home glucometer is the best tool available to monitor glucose. While you may be told to monitor glucose fasting – before anything to eat or drink in the morning – it doesn’t reflect the impact of food. Fasting blood sugar is an indicator of measuring baseline blood sugar, the role of the liver in glucose managment, and how some medications are working.
If you want to know how food is affecting blood sugar you should monitor your blood sugar around your meals. This means monitor immediately before you eat and 2 hours after you eat your meal. The difference between the two numbers should be no more than 30 mg/dL (since most people tend to forget about the after meal check, it may be wise to set a timer somewhere – perhaps the stove or your phone).This gives you direct information about how that particular meal is affecting you.
If before you eat your blood sugar is 150 mg/dL and 2 hours afterwards it’s 160mg/dL the meal you ate did not have a big impact on your blood sugar (160-150mg/dL = 10mg/dL). This means you started off with a high blood sugar that was not necessarily food related.
If your blood sugar before was 100mg/dL and it’s 160mg/dL afterwards, then the meal did have a big impact (160-100mg/dL = 60mg/dL). In this case it would be appropriate to evaluate the meal and ask questions.
- Did the meal have too many carbs?
- Was there any fiber?
- Was there a protein and/or a healthy source of fat?
- Were the carbs processed (applesauce vs raw apple)?
This can be really helpful for the meals you eat frequently – such as your breakfast smoothie or that convenient lunch. It even works great for foods that are higher in carbs but may have a nutritional value such as lentil soup.
This simple technique is very powerful tool to help you understand how to plan meals and pair foods. It makes it easier to determine if your baseline blood sugar needs to be addressed or if you have the control with each bite.
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