How To Avoid The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster Without Giving Up Carbs
You might be familiar with the unforgiving blood sugar roller coaster: You have your fill of sugary, starchy sweets; you feel happy as can be for about 90 minutes; then you experience the quintessential blood sugar crash, leaving you exhausted, irritable, and hangry—so you reach for another sweet treat, and thus the cycle continues.
Carbs get a bad rap for sparking this blood sugar roller coaster, but that doesn't mean you should avoid them completely. According to holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque, it is possible to enjoy carbs and keep your blood sugar stable and happy. "If you're eating foods wrapped in fiber like vegetables instead of carbohydrates that are flour-based like toast, you can elongate that meal and lower the blood sugar curve," she tells me on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
That's not to say you should avoid breads entirely and stick to munching on fibrous veggies. Rather, LeVeque offers a simple way to enjoy those carbs without making your blood sugar go haywire. Here's exactly how to keep the curve at smooth sailing:
The key to stabilizing blood sugar? Stick to "cellular" carbs.
Essentially, "cellular" just means whole: According to LeVeque, whole carbs have sugar and starch wrapped around their fiber cells (hence the term cellular carbs). Meaning, the carb isn't broken down into a refined product (that makes it "acellular").
"Whole brown rice is a cellular carb," she explains. "Rice flour is an acellular carb because it's been pulverized out of its fiber cell." The kicker here is to balance them out and perhaps eat more cellular carbs than acellular carbs. Meaning, instead of reaching for cauliflower crackers, opt for the raw cauliflower head instead—you'll get your fill of satisfying carbs without embarking on the blood sugar roller coaster ride. Rather than reaching for lentil pasta, whip up a pot of whole lentils. Instead of chickpea flour, open up a can of chickpeas—you get the idea.
And before you mention how cauliflower doesn't give you the same satisfaction as the cracker, think again: When you eat cellular carbs, "you have to digest through that fiber cell to release that sugar and starch," LeVeque notes. "You're slowing the digestion of that food and supporting a natural blood sugar curve without that major spike of insulin." Essentially, that snack will satisfy you for way longer than, say, cauliflower crackers would, as you digest it more slowly (rather than still feeling peckish after finishing the entire bag of crackers).
How to mindfully eat refined carbs.
OK, we know it's a bit unrealistic to stick to whole carbs all the time—sometimes a lentil pasta primavera is just calling your name. LeVeque gets it, too, and even she indulges in an alternative pasta from time to time. "Chickpea pasta is still my choice of pasta; just don't think it's like eating vegetables," she explains. "You can have insulin in your body if you're mowing down bags of cauliflower chips at a time."
The solution? Indulge in acellular carbs mindfully, understanding that they have a different effect on your body's glycemic response. For LeVeque, she likes to go through a checklist of sorts:
"First, you want limited ingredients," she says. "Look at the ingredients and make sure there are no emulsifiers, gums, or added oils." Then look at the balance between the protein, fat, and net carb content on the label. "That's how you determine what this is mostly, so you can have an understanding of what's going to happen to your blood sugar," she notes.
Of course, she recommends lowering the amount of acellular carbs in your diet in general if you want to stay off the blood sugar roller coaster, but the few times you do enjoy that cauliflower pizza crust, make sure it checks the criteria. The key here is balance—you want just as much (if not more) whole, cellular carbs than refined acellular carbs in your diet. That way, "you can get away with a bite of birthday cake, and your body is able to suck it up." No brain fog or insatiable cravings to follow.
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.