Fluctuating blood sugar is not just an issue for people with diabetes or hypoglycemia. Blood sugar is one of the biggest influences on how your body feels and operates throughout the day, and it is especially likely to fluctuate after a meal. Extremes in blood sugar levels can leave you feeling a mix of physical effects. Skipping a meal, for instance, can bring on low blood sugar and a weak body, while indulging in office sweets can spike blood sugar, leaving you with a nasty “sugar hangover” later.
So, how can you control the highs and lows of blood sugar after a meal? The most obvious answer is to eat healthy foods. This is a great start, but for people that are especially prone to swings in blood sugar, it is just a start. The next step is to look for foods with a low glycemic index (GI).
To briefly explain, every carbohydrate has a GI score, and this is determined by how quickly and dramatically it raises the body’s blood sugar. The scale spans 1 to 100, with 1 being the lowest GI score and 100 being the highest. Pure white sugar, for instance, has a GI of 100.
If you’re new to this nutrition scale, you don’t have to embark upon the foggy, confusing path of the great GI guessing game. Here are some general rules of thumb to keep in mind when trying to select a low GI food.
Foods With High GIs
Foods with high GIs are usually simple carbs, meaning they are refined. This food group includes (among others):
- White bread, including white pita bread, pastas, and white pizza dough.
- Potatoes (including mashed potatoes) lack beneficial characteristics. However, not all potatoes are created equal! Sweet potatoes have some redeeming nutritional qualities, like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and protein.
- Many snack items, such as pretzels, cookies, crackers, and even popcorn.
Foods With Low GIs
Foods that have low GI scores (i.e. under 50, the half way point on the GI 1-100 scale) tend to include these groups:
- Beans like chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, soy beans, and so on. The more beans, the merrier GI!
- Whole grains (simple carbs) like barley, bulgur, and quinoa. To be fair, quinoa hovers right on the fence of the 50 score, but it makes the list because it’s a complete protein and has a host of other beneficial nutrients.
- Fruit, though it can be tricky to choose fruit because it’s obviously high in natural sugar. Most tropical fruits, like papayas, score higher on the GI scale than berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries). You don’t have to avoid fruit altogether when following a low GI lifestyle, but knowing that certain fruits may make your blood sugar soar on the great wings of glucose can help you choose the best options.
Finding delicious foods that have moderate effects on blood sugar can help stabilize your body’s physical reaction after eating. Most people don’t eat a meal in preparation to go lay down for a few hours; you want to feel fulfilled and energized after your meal, not exhausted. The following low glycemic swaps are great choices for avoiding a mid-morning or mid-afternoon crash.
Protein at breakfast is important, and eggs are an excellent source of protein. With no GI score (as eggs don’t have carbs), eggs are a great way to fuel your body. Fruit is a great addition to any morning meal, but choose grapefruit or berries over kiwi, watermelon or apricots. Add some healthy fats, such as chopped up almonds or walnuts.
Corn tortillas can be a good substitute for white breads, as they have a much lower GI. Add some hummus (hooray for chickpeas and their lovable low GI!) or avocado instead of cheese. When choosing veggies to munch on, go for cauliflower or broccoli over carrots, or pair celery with almond butter.
Enjoy a hearty protein, like tuna, salmon, or chicken, with a side of some low GI gems, like kidney beans, black eyed peas, green beans, or collards.