Research shows that extreme fluctuations in blood glucose levels are even more damaging than a steady high level. So how do we flatten the curve? The order in which you consume food can help dramatically
If you're reading this, you are probably familiar with the importance of avoiding the feared glucose spike, but here's a short refresher. Most consumed carbohydrates are converted into glucose and other simple sugars which quickly move from the digestive system into our bloodstream.
Blood plasma glucose level regulation is extremely important for our health. Heightened blood glucose levels are not only dangerous for people with diabetes; glucose is a reactive compound which causes inflammation-like states, oxidative stress, and protein glycation (sugars binding to proteins), causing cellular damage and promoting various chronic diseases and aging.
Insulin is the hormone responsible for instructing cells to take up the glucose, lowering our plasma glucose levels. However, frequent spikes in plasma glucose levels or constantly elevated plasma glucose levels cause repeated insulin secretion which can cause our cells to stop responding to insulin's instructions as effectively (we become insulin resistant), inhibiting our bodies' ability to regulate our glucose levels. Research shows that extreme fluctuations in blood glucose levels are more damaging than a steady high level. So how do we flatten the curve?
Vegetables or meat before pasta
One of the surprising ways in which extreme glucose spikes can be avoided, even while eating carbohydrate-rich food, is by carefully considering the order in which we eat different foodstuffs.
Traditionally, a complete meal in the western world includes vegetables (a salad or vegetable side dish; main source of fiber), meat or fish (main source of protein), and carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, other starchy vegetables, dessert). It has been shown that consuming fiber or protein before carbohydrate-rich food can significantly slow down and reduce the following rise in plasma glucose levels. The exact cause of this effect is not completely understood, but the theory is that when we eat carbohydrates on an empty stomach, they are very quickly broken down to simple sugars and absorbed into our bloodstream, causing a rapid spike in our plasma glucose levels. Protein and fibre can both provide a physical barrier slowing down glucose absorption and delay the movement of stomach contents from the stomach into the intestine by activating the secretion of certain hormones, leading to slower glucose absorption into the bloodstream and a flatter glucose spike following meal consumption. As Jessie Inchauspé, author of Glucose revolution, would put it – you should always try to „put clothes on“ carbs!
Drinking fermented microdrinks
Another occasional habit we could easily get into is drinking fermented microdrinks before consuming carbohydrate-rich foods. Studies have shown that drinking fermented drinks before eating carbohydrate-rich food can improve our bodies' plasma glucose response after the meal. Be careful though, as the studies show this effect only applies to foods rich with complex carbohydrates (such as the starch in rice or potatoes), not to foods with simple carbohydrates (such as table sugar)! This means no amount of fermented food is going to prevent a sharp glucose spike after consuming an entire tub of ice cream or five glasses of soda.
The methods and mechanisms of plasma glucose regulation are varied, complex, and fascinating, but the bottom line is this: you need to deeply think about the food and drinks you are consuming.
You are literally built from the food you eat, it is not just sustenance, it has a profound impact on your physiology, physical and mental health, longevity and healthspan. If you don't monitor your plasma glucose levels, take note of how you feel in your body and mind after trying to dress up your carbs!