There is no doubt food plays a very significant role in blood sugar management. It starts with a standard American diet which is high in carbohydrates, especially processed carbs. This leads to chronically high blood sugar levels which is accompanied by high insulin production in
the body. This causes low grade inflammation, even when you think you have no issues with blood sugar, or the dreaded diabetes. Inflammation is at the root of all medical issues, and blood sugar balance plays a large part of it. There are 3 macronutrients that affect blood glucose management, whether you have diabetes or not. While it is important to understand what foods have carbohydrates, proteins, and fat it is also important to combine them appropriately, to aid with balancing blood sugar.
When carbohydrates are eaten, no matter the source, the normal metabolic process is to turn them into glucose (the fancy medical word for blood sugar), which is used by the cells as their energy source. The process happens quickly because carbohydrates are broken down in the body very quickly. An analogy for how fast the metabolism breaks down carbohydrates is similar to how quickly paper burns in a fire. The glucose created by the breakdown of carbs gets absorbed into the blood stream, triggering the pancreas to secrete insulin. The more carbohydrates that get consumed, the higher the glucose gets, and more insulin will be secreted.
The role of protein in blood sugar management is just as important as the role of carbohydrates. Protein is a macronutrient that is metabolized more slowly than carbohydrates. Using a similar analogy as above, the speed at which protein is metabolized in the body is like throwing a large branch into the fire. It burns but at a much slower rate. Thus, when protein is eaten with carbohydrates it will slow down how fast the body turns the carbohydrates into glucose. This will also decrease how high the blood sugar gets and the amount of insulin produced.
While there varying opinions about fat there is much evidence that healthy fats play a role in keeping us healthy. When it comes to how they affect blood sugar management, fats are the slowest burning macronutrient. In that fire that we talked about, fat would be like throwing a large log into it. It takes a long time to metabolize fats. Thus when eating carbohydrates, having a healthy source of fat will again slow the speed at which glucose gets absorbed and again decreases the amount of insulin produced.
Putting it into Practice
To prevent carbs from spiking blood sugar resulting in an insulin surge, creating balance between carbs (even if they are “smart” carbs), protein, and fat will balance blood sugar, keep you feeling better, and healthier. Carbohydrates should never be eaten alone. To make it easy, many foods are a combination of protein and fat combined. Here are a few examples:
- Pair an apple (smart carb) with almond butter (fat) or beef jerky (protein)
- Plain oatmeal for breakfast can be combined with a boiled egg (protein and fat combo), or walnuts, butter, or coconut oil (all healthy sources of fat). If you need to add a little honey (carb) to the oatmeal, you need more protein or fat to create balance.
- Spread avocado (fat) on a sprouted tortilla (carbs) with chicken (protein), spinach, tomatoes, and cucumbers (smart carbs)
- Add coconut oil (fat) into a smoothie with a banana (carb) and protein powder
- Throw some olives (fat) into your salad (carbs) or use an olive oil based salad dressing
- If you must have potatoes for supper, add a good quality butter and cheese to it (both fat) and serve it along side a piece of broiled fish (protein) and veggies (smart carb)
Creating balance does take some practice, but with a little effort and planning you can be one step closer to balancing blood sugar, insulin, and your weight.