Eating starchy, high carbohydrate foods can cause our blood sugar to spike then crash, which can lead to problems with focus and energy. But simply combining carbs with foods high in protein and fats can minimize this, experts told Insider.
When we eat carbs, our bodies break them down into glucose. This is our main energy source and fuels the brain, heart, liver, and muscles, Nestoras Mathioudakis, MD, a
expert at Johns Hopkins Medicine, previously told Insider.
Blood sugar is a term used to describe the amount of glucose in the blood, and keeping the level stable is important to prevent spikes and dips, which can help you stay focused, eat healthy, or lose weight. When blood sugar crashes, some people find themselves reaching for less nutrient-dense snacks such as cookies that may not keep them so full. Managing blood sugar levels is particularly important for those with diabetes.
“If you eat something high in sugar or carbs, it causes blood sugar to come up and go down like a roller coaster,” registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix previously told Insider’s Gabby Landsverk.
But we can minimize these dips and spikes by eating balanced meals.
All foods contain a mixture of carbohydrate, fat, and protein (except for pure sugar), Professor Mike Lean, chair of human nutrition at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Royal Infirmary, UK, told Insider. But pairing high-carb foods with ingredients high in fat or protein reduces blood sugar spikes by slowing the digestion process, as reflected in this 2006 study.
Try to eat high-carb foods with fats and protein
Experts told Insider to avoid eating starchy foods — such as bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes — or sugary foods — such as fruit, dessert, pastry, or anything sweet — on their own. Instead, combine them with a fat, protein, or fiber source.
Examples include: avocado on toast, spinach in pasta, or cream cheese on a bagel.
Dr Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, UK, used the example of a cheese sandwich.
“If you just had bread on its own, and you ate the bread, your body would get a sugar spike,” Spector, the author of the best-selling book “Spoon-Fed: Why Almost Everything We’ve Been Told About Food is Wrong,” told Insider.
Combining bread with cheese, however, has a different effect on the body as the cheese “dampens down” the sugar response, he said.
This slows down the breakdown of starches and sugars into glucose in your digestive system, meaning your blood sugar levels stay more stable.
“Combining fats and protein with carbohydrates also helps to slow down the absorption of the glucose into the bloodstream, so balanced meals are key,” Dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine previously told Insider.