4 Surprising Hacks To Balance Blood Sugar That Don't Involve Changing Your Diet
Sticking to blood-sugar-balancing foods is way easier than it sounds. As informed as you can be about the imminent glucose spike from your favorite decadent dessert, it's difficult not to indulge from time to time. And why should you? A significant chunk of well-being involves truly savoring the foods you eat (celebrating them, even!), which, for many, does include a rich slice of chocolate cake every once in a while.
Well, you'll be pleased to know there are other ways to help flatten your glucose curve, ones that don't involve changing your diet at all. Take it from biochemist Jessie Inchauspe, author of Glucose Revolution: The Life-Changing Power of Balancing Your Blood Sugar: "You can implement daily habits that help you curb blood sugar spikes without doing something too intense," she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. See below for her go-to tweaks:
Eat your meal in order.
"Science shows that if you eat the constituents of a meal in a specific order, you can reduce the glucose spike of the meal by 75%1," says Inchauspe. "So you're eating the exact same food, but there are much fewer consequences on your body." The ideal order is as follows: Vegetables first, protein and fats second, starches and sugars last.
So what does this look like in practice? Well, let's say you're sitting down for a home-cooked meal, and you have a healthy serving of salmon, spinach, and brown rice, with a slice of cake for dessert (perhaps this olive oil walnut spice cake?). According to Inchauspe's theory, you'll want to gobble up the spinach first, then the salmon, then the rice and dessert.
And if you're at a restaurant with bread on the table, Inchauspe recommends waiting until you've had your main course to reach inside the basket. "People [who] eat the bread on an empty stomach create a big glucose spike," she explains. "And so by the time they've finished their main course, they're smack in the middle of a massive glucose crash, and they feel really hungry, and they have cravings." That's not to say you must skip the bread altogether—if you wait to have it alongside your protein, fats, and vegetables, you'll have a much steadier glucose response.
Put clothing on your carbs.
"Put clothing on your carbs," says Inchauspe, which is really just a cute way of saying: Buffer your carb load with some protein, fiber, or fats to help balance your blood sugar. "Anytime you eat something starchy or sweet, add protein, fat, or fiber, which I call clothing," she adds. "You then reduce the glucose spike that the starchy or sweet food would create."
Again, this doesn't mean you can't have anything sweet. Let's say you're in the mood for a decadent stack of pancakes: Load that stack with nut butter, blueberries, hemp hearts, or even a dollop of plain Greek yogurt—anything that would add some protein, fiber, and healthy fats to the mix. "These are really fun hacks because you're still enjoying the [sweets] that you love, but you don't have all the short-term side effects, cravings, extra hunger, or the sleepiness," says Inchauspe. Win, win.
Beware of sneaky spikers.
Yes, some healthy foods can secretly spike your blood sugar. Specifically, Inchauspe suggests taking a closer look at sweetened yogurts ("Even if a yogurt has fruit purée or fruit concentrate, that's just sugar," she notes), snack bars with lots of dates ("As soon as you denature a piece of fruit, then use it for its sweetness, you're creating a big glucose spike in your body"), and rice cakes. "They're just pure starch," Inchauspe says. "Definitely put some clothes on them—you can add some avocado, maybe some smoked salmon, just to make sure that the starch from the rice cake doesn't create this massive spike in your bloodstream."
Move your muscles.
"One of my hacks is after every meal, use your muscles for 10 minutes," says Inchauspe. "Within an hour after the end of your meal, get up and go for a walk, maybe dance to a couple of your favorite songs, walk your dog, do the dishes, do the laundry—use your muscles in any way that you like." Research backs her up: In one study, 78 adults were randomly assigned to either become active or remain sedentary five minutes or 35 minutes after eating. Acute, casual exercise not before but after eating (like a post-dinner stroll) can help steady the blood sugar response2.
"What happens is that every time a muscle contracts, it needs energy to do so, and the easiest place that your muscles are going to find this necessary energy is in the glucose in your bloodstream," Inchauspe adds. "And we can use this to our advantage."
And there you have it: the easiest ways to balance your blood sugar without changing any of the foods in your eating plan. When it comes to minimizing glucose spikes, Inchauspe prioritizes integration over restriction, and that's a mantra we can certainly get behind.
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.