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Meal Sequencing: Food Order And Blood Sugar Control

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Have you ever heard the saying, “eat your salad first?” The strategy of meal sequencing, or eating specific foods in a particular order, has been around for years. This tool is prevalent in the diabetic world. However, if you do not have diabetes, does it matter what order you consume food? It may surprise you, but the answer is yes! 

Meal sequencing has many benefits. The most beneficial reasons to start meal sequencing include fat loss, reducing glucose responses, and managing energy intake. Here’s what you need to know about meal sequencing and why it could be the strategy you’re missing in your diet.

Food Order Influences Your Body’s Glucose Response

Meal sequencing isn’t a novel diet strategy but works well with human physiology. The body breaks down carbohydrates into usable energy (glucose) reasonably quickly, and Carbs are a fast-acting energy source. However, eating alone can lead to higher glucose spikes, energy crashes, and feeling hungry again.

A September 2020 study found that meal sequencing, specifically consuming protein and fat before carbohydrates, also promotes the secretion of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). This hormone reduces insulin and glucagon, and GLP-1 suppresses appetite, keeping you feeling fuller longer. Meal sequencing may improve glucose swings and manage values. 

The Potential Benefits of Meal Sequencing

Fat Loss

When it comes to fat loss, satiety is always a significant factor. The goal in any weight loss journey is to feel satiated while also being able to lose weight. Meal sequencing helps prevent large glucose swings, which is not only beneficial for glucose control but also helpful for satiety.

In an April 2021 study looking at CGM data, researchers found glucose dips after a meal to be predictive of how soon an individual ate again. The study found that dips in glucose were a better predictor of subsequent hunger and energy intake. 

The critical thing to remember is that glucose dips after a meal typically occur when there is a large influx of carbs. Consequently, glucose levels spike and crash due to increased insulin production. From this, we can infer that steady glucose helps maintain hunger while reducing energy intake.

Filling up on fiber before carbohydrates often leads to reduced energy intake. High-fibrous foods are nutrient-dense, require more chewing time, and can slow digestion. It means these foods are filling, have lots of nutrients, and tend to be lower in calories. Natural protein and fat sources are nutrient-dense and provide long-lasting energy.

Avoiding Blood Sugar Spikes That Damage Blood Vessels

When carbohydrates such as plain oatmeal, fruit, or bread circulate, the body quickly absorbs glucose. It means that your body will absorb glucose into the bloodstream faster, which often leads to a quick rise in glucose and a quick drop afterward. The rate glucose absorbs into the body can change when other nutrients, such as fiber, protein, and fats, are added.

Adding fiber, protein, or fat to the meal helps slow down glucose digestion. The body has to work harder to utilize glucose for energy, so it takes longer to absorb it into the bloodstream, and it often blunts the rise of glucose and smoothes out a spike. When carbs come after protein, fiber, or fat, the digestion of carbs and the increase in glucose is more gentle, making energy longer lasting. 

When glucose is absorbed rapidly by the body, we are at risk for glucose spikes. High glucose spikes could cause microvascular and endothelial damage and oxidative stress. 

Atherosclerosis occurs by damage to the blood vessels, which leads to an inflammatory process. Repeated exposure to high glucose values leads to cardiovascular disease. For this reason, eating foods in a particular order can prevent damage to the arteries.

Allow For More Flexible Dieting

Eating in a specific pattern may also provide more flexibility in your diet. A pilot study published in July 2015 found that eating protein and fiber before carbs resulted in significantly lower postprandial glucose and insulin levels compared to the same meal when you ate the carbs first. 

The decreased insulin secretion found in this study from meal sequencing suggests that meal patterns have the potential to improve insulin sensitivity. These findings show that food order impacts the glycemic effect of food, providing a new perspective on restrictive diets.

While traditional diets focus on “how much” and “what should or should not be eaten,” adding this additional tool shows that you can improve glycemic responses with meal sequencing. It means that finding optimal timing for carb ingestion during a meal is as important as the content of the meal itself.

Food Sequencing Practical Tips and Tricks

Meal sequencing is a simple method that can positively impact postprandial glucose, energy consumption, and weight loss. If you are interested in trying meal sequencing, here are some tips to try:

#1: Eat Your Protein First

You tolerate carbs much better when they don’t come on an empty stomach. Eating your protein before your carbs can help — for example, eating eggs before your pancakes, and other tips would be to eat several pieces of chicken before eating rice.

Try these snack protein/fat combinations:

           • Boiled egg

           • Edamame

           • Nut butter

           • Cheese (aged cheddar, provolone, swiss)

           • Avocado

           • Tofu

#2: Start Your Meals With a Salad

Eating fiber is a great way to help slow down the digestion of your carbs, and this will help prevent glucose from rising and falling quickly. Eating a high-fiber diet may benefit digestion and aid in weight loss. Ideally, men consume at least 38 g/day, and women consume at least 25 g/day. 

Try including these tips in your daily routine:

           • Start your meal off with a salad

           • Focus on including non-starchy vegetables with your meals (Cauliflower, greens, asparagus, eggplant, mushrooms, cabbage, radishes)

           • Include a natural source of fiber in every meal. Try these high-fiber foods – raspberries, apples, strawberries, quinoa, lentils, and black beans.

#3: Consume a Handful of Nuts Before Your Meals

 Eating foods that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats is the best way to fuel your body with long-lasting energy, and it helps maintain satiety and energy levels.

Include these foods that contain fiber, protein, and fat:

           • Handful of nuts (pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts)

           • Olives

           • Cold cuts and peppers

           • Plain full-fat Greek yogurt

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an essential factor in supporting overall well-being.

With BIOS, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists will be available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals. Ready to take the first step?

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