Biochemist and author of Glycemic revolution Jessie Inchauspé says tweaking your diet can change your life.
By eating salads first, before protein, and finishing the meal with starches, she says blood sugar spikes will be flattened, which is better for you.
Scientifically speaking, does this make sense? It turns out, yes, partially.
What is a glucose spike?
A spike in glucose occurs in your bloodstream about 30 to 60 minutes after eating carbohydrates. Many things determine the height and duration of the peak. These include what you ate with or before carbs, the amount of fiber in the carbs, and your body’s ability to secrete and use the hormone insulin.
For people with certain medical conditions, any tactic to flatten the glucose spike is extremely important. These conditions include:
reactive hypoglycemia (a particular type of recurrent sugar drop)
postprandial hypotension (low blood pressure after eating) or
if you have had bariatric surgery.
Indeed, high and prolonged glucose spikes have long-lasting and damaging effects on many hormones and proteins, including those that trigger inflammation. Inflammation is linked to a range of conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
Different foods, different peaks
Does Eating Different Types of Foods Before Carbs Affect Glucose Spikes? It turns out yes. This is not new evidence either.
Scientists have long known that high-fiber foods, like salads, slow gastric emptying (the rate at which food leaves the stomach). So high fiber foods slow delivery of glucose and other nutrients in the small intestine to be absorbed into the blood.
Proteins and fats so slow gastric emptying. Protein has the added benefit of stimulating a hormone called glucagon-like-peptide 1 (or GLP1).
When protein from your diet reaches the cells of your intestines, this hormone is secreted, which further slows gastric emptying. The hormone also affects the pancreas where it helps in the secretion of the hormone insulin which mop up the glucose in your blood.
In fact, drugs that mimic the functioning of GLP1 (called GLP1 receptor agonists) are a new class of drugs that are very effective for people with type 2 diabetes. They make a real difference in improving their blood sugar control.
What about eating foods in order?
Most scientific research into whether eating foods in a particular order makes a difference to glucose spikes involves giving a “preload” of fiber, fat, or protein before the meal. Typically, the preload is a liquid and is given about 30 minutes before the carbs.
In a study, drinking a whey protein shake 30 minutes before (rather than with) a meal of mashed potatoes slowed gastric emptying better. Either option was more effective at lowering the glucose spike than drinking water before a meal.
While this evidence shows that eating protein before carbs helps reduce glucose spikes, the evidence for consuming other food groups separately and in sequence during an average meal is not so strong.
Unshod said fibre, fat and protein don’t mix in the stomach – they do. But the nutrients don’t leave the stomach until they’ve been broken down into fine particles.
Steak takes longer than mash to be processed into a fine particle. Given the additional fact that liquids drain faster than solids, and people tend to finish their entire dinner in about 15 minutes, is there any real evidence that eating a meal in a particular sequence will be more beneficial than eating the food, the way you want it, and all mixed up on the plate?
Yes, but it’s not very strong.
A small study tested five different meal sequences in 16 people without diabetes. Participants had to eat their meal within 15 minutes.
There was no overall difference in peak glucose between the groups that ate their vegetables before meat and rice compared to the other sequences.
What is the take home message?
It’s especially important to monitor these glucose spikes if you have diabetes or a handful of other medical conditions. If this is the case, your GP or dietitian will advise you on how to modify your meals or food intake to avoid glucose spikes. Ordering food can be part of this advice.
For the rest of us, don’t get attached to trying to eat your meals in any particular order. But consider cutting out sugary drinks and adding fiber, protein, or fat to carbs to slow gastric emptying and flatten glucose spikes.