All products on this page have been selected by our editorial team, however we may make commission on some products.
First, what exactly is glucose, and why do we need it?
If we go back to basics, glucose is the body’s preferred energy source. Each cell uses glucose: our eye cells to see, our heart cells to contract, our brain cells to think. We get glucose from the food we eat (from starches and sugars, which break down into glucose) but the body can also make glucose from within, which debunks the myth that we need to eat sugar to have energy. The body thrives when the amount of glucose it receives is equal to the amount of glucose it needs for energy. More glucose isn’t better. If there is much more glucose than needed, problems start to pile up.
What exactly do we mean by a glucose spike?
If we eat a meal that releases too much glucose too quickly to our body, that’s a glucose spike. For a long time, we thought only people with diabetes should care about their glucose spikes. In 2018, that changed, as scientists discovered that 80% of people without diabetes experienced glucose spikes every day. These spikes cause inflammation, ageing, and insulin release in the body. Taken together, these create short-term symptoms (cravings, hunger, poor sleep, acne, weight gain, fatigue, mental health disturbances and worsened menopause symptoms), and contribute to chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and heart disease.
How does glucose affect appetite?
Glucose spikes have a direct impact on our hunger hormone levels. The more spikes we experience, the more swings in hunger we get – we go from eating a meal to being extremely hungry again in an hour or two, instead of being full for hours. For example, look at two breakfasts that contain the same number of calories: the one that creates a big glucose spike makes us hungry again in two hours; whereas the one that keeps our glucose levels steady keeps our hunger hormones down for up to five hours. Even though you just ate the same number of calories. It’s all about the glucose spike.
How is blood sugar regulated in the body – and do lifestyle factors affect this?
Our body has a mechanism in place to deal with glucose spikes. Every time we experience a glucose spike, a hormone called insulin is released by our pancreas. Insulin takes excess glucose and stores it in our liver, muscles and fat cells. Indeed, one of the ways our body protects us against too much harm from glucose spikes is by making us put on weight. So, we should thank our body for putting on fat – it’s a protection mechanism. That said, insulin doesn’t erase completely the damage caused by a spike. It helps, but spikes still have consequences.
Factors that impact how well we can deal with spikes include: how much muscle mass we have, how rested we are, how active we are, the health of our pancreas, our sensitivity to insulin, our genetics, and what part of our menstrual cycle we are in. However, how and what you eat remains the dominant factor.
So, where to start when it comes to controlling blood sugar?
Eating your food in the right order is a great place to start. Here’s the deal: during a meal, if we eat our food in a certain order (veggies first, then protein and fats, then starches and sugars), we reduce the glucose spike of the meal by up to 75% compared to eating the foods in no particular order. You don’t need to change what you’re eating, just how you’re eating it. You can go one step further and add a plate of vegetables to the beginning of your meals. The fibre in the vegetables will coat your intestine and prevent the body from absorbing too much of the glucose crashing down afterwards.
What are some of the best foods to control blood sugar?
A vegetable starter can have a huge impact on blood sugar. Find your favourite vegetable (for me, it’s roasted cauliflower), make a batch on the weekend, and have some before every meal during the week, even if just a few mouthfuls. Then, healthy proteins. Anytime you’re eating carbs, adding protein is a simple way to enjoy it with steadier glucose. For a steady-glucose breakfast, think of starches and sugars as optional ingredients you can add for taste and pleasure. Build your breakfast around protein – think eggs, beans and sausages – and eat the toast last. If you’re not ready to say goodbye to a sweet breakfast, first eat protein, fats and fibre – an egg, for example, or a couple of spoons of full-fat yoghurt – then have the sweet food, such as jam, granola, cereal or a sweetened coffee. Remember that when a stomach contains other things, the impact of sugar and starch will be lessened.
For lunch, start with a green salad, followed by a meat roll or sandwich and a handful of nuts for extra fibre and protein. For dinner, start with some broccoli sprinkled with sea salt, followed by some meat, pasta or potatoes, with the carbs eaten last. For dessert, try Greek yoghurt with berries or a couple of squares of dark chocolate.
What about carbs?
One of my golden rules is to never let your carbs go out naked – always put some clothes on your carbs. What does this mean? It means that when we eat carbs (starches like bread and pasta as well as sugary desserts), we should pair them with a source of protein or fat to reduce the glucose spike. For example, instead of having a couple of plain rice cakes, serve them with some nut butter; have avocado instead of jam on toast; and pair plain pasta with some form of meat, olive oil or cheese. Remember that brown rice and brown pasta are still starches. Pasta or bread that boasts ‘wholegrain’ on its packaging has still been milled – which means that some of its fibre has gone. If you want bread that contains beneficial fibre, choose a very dark bread, such as seeded bread or pumpernickel.
Is snacking good or bad for blood sugar control?
We all, from time to time, feel the urge to snack on something sweet – often when we’re feeling sleepy. However, the idea that eating something sweet will energise us is a myth. A sweet snack doesn’t give us more energy than a savoury snack, and it can actually just make us more tired shortly afterwards. If you’re looking for energy, opt for a savoury snack rather than a sweet one. Try a spoonful of nut butter; a cup of 5% fat Greek yoghurt topped with a handful of nuts; a handful of baby carrots and a spoon of hummus; apple slices with a hunk of cheese; seeded crackers with a slice of cheese; a slice of ham; or a soft-boiled egg with a dash of salt and pepper.
What about alcohol?
Alcohols that keep blood levels steady are wine (red, white, rose, sparkling) as well as spirits (gin, vodka, tequila, whisky and even rum). We can drink these on an empty stomach without causing a glucose spike. Watch out for mixers – adding fruit juice or something sweet will cause one. If you’re nibbling on snacks, go for nuts and olives. Try to stay clear of crisps if you can, as they will cause a glucose spike.
You’re a fan of having apple cider vinegar before a meal – why is this?
One tablespoon of vinegar (any vinegar, but not balsamic vinegar) diluted in a very large glass of water, drunk up to 20 minutes before a meal, reduces the glucose spike of the meal by up to 30%. This is amazing – it means you can eat what you normally eat without worrying so much about glucose spikes. This trick works as vinegar tells your muscles to soak up glucose faster as it arrives in your bloodstream, and by slowing down the breakdown of starches into glucose. If you’re just starting out, start with a smaller amount of vinegar to get used to the taste, and perhaps use a straw to protect your teeth’s enamel.
Another great hack is moving your muscles for ten minutes after lunch and dinner – walk around the block, go up and down the stairs a few times or do some laundry. Move within 90 minutes of the end of your meal to see an effect on your glucose levels. This is particularly powerful in helping with the post-meal glucose crash that causes lethargy. As your muscles contract, they soak up glucose that’s arriving in your bloodstream, reducing the spike with it. Ultimately, it’s all about really simple tips that have a huge impact on how we feel – and these can have an effect in as little as 24 hours.
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.
DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.