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How does eating affect my blood sugars?

By Michelle May, M.D.
By Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed., R.D., CDE, and Michelle May, M.D.

In our post, Understanding Your Blood Sugars: A Case for Curiosity, we talked about how blood sugar testing before and two hours after eating can help you learn more about your diabetes. Let’s move on to explore the relationship between those blood sugar results and what you’ve eaten.

In short, if your blood sugars are only elevated two hours after eating, it is likely that your diet is contributing in some way. Before you think “Oh no, I blew it!” remember eating is supposed to cause your blood sugar to rise. We are going to focus on the blood sugars that are above 160mg/dl since that is higher than it should be and therefore, presents you with an opportunity to make a beneficial change.

It is important to see your glucose test results as clues that help you solve the mystery of how eating affects your diabetes. Resist blame, guilt, and restriction. Instead, explore possible connections between what you ate and what happens to your blood sugar. There are four components of your diet that can effect your blood sugar. These macronutrients are covered in detail in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, so review the chapters referenced in parentheses below. They are:

This chart is an overview about how carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fat affect your blood sugar:

 

Raises blood sugar

Stabilizes blood sugars

Blunts blood sugar rise

Increases insulin resistance

 Carbohydrates

Yes

Yes

No

No

     Fiber

No

Yes

Yes

No

 Protein

Somewhat

Yes

Yes

No

 Fat

No

No

Somewhat

Yes

The following series of posts will look at how each of these macronutrients affect your blood sugar and ideas about changes you can experiment with in your diet.

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

2 Comments

  1. Pubsgal says:

    Hi! I’ve been very interested in the topics of mindful eating and intuitive eating lately, and I found your blog through a link on Evelyn Tribole’s site.
    My question is this: do all dietary fats increase insulin resistance, or just saturated fats? I found an abstract on the NIH site that suggested that saturated fat does, but that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats do not. (Here’s the link http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15297079) I would think that’s an important distinction to make, given that healthy fats are the food least likely to affect blood sugar levels. My personal experience is that I have slightly higher fasting blood sugar levels when I eat a dinner higher in saturated fats vs. one lower.
    Thanks!

  2. megrette fletcher says:

    Thank you for your questions.
    What I am hearing you say is in ‘your experience’ eating saturated fat seems to have a greater effect on blood sugar than eating a diet with more mono or polyunsaturated fats. Your level of awareness is wonderful. This awareness is at the heart of mindful eating.
    Trying to understand why this happens is a bit more difficult. I wanted to take a moment and explore the possible reason for why saturated fat raises your blood sugar more than poly or monounsaturated fats. The scientific reasons is still unclear, however I have the following suspicions:
    Saturated fats are found primarily in two places: high fat meats and baked goods. Examples of these include: bacon, processed meats, cheese, butter, cream cheese, fried foods, ice cream, crackers, chips, dips, desserts, cookies, candy, cakes as well as stuffed or cheese bread, donuts, bagels and other bakery items. These calorie-rich high fat foods are easy to over eat, which, not only causes your blood sugar to rise, they also can trigger insulin resistance, the primary deficit in Type 2 diabetes.
    Insulin resistance can be understood the following way. In Type 2 diabetes, the body is making insulin – actually it is making lots and lots of insulin – unfortunately the insulin that is being made doesn’t work. When this happens, the body is ‘resisting’ the insulin being produced. Diet, activity levels, and where weight is gained (people who gain weight in the abdomen experience more insulin resistance than people who gain weight all over) contributes to the level of insulin resistance a person may experience.
    Mono and polyunsaturated fats are primarily found in plants. These foods are delicious but are often easier to limit than the calorie rich saturated fat items, like ice cream. There are of course exceptions. Sure people over eat nuts but most people have a harder time staying out of the cookie jar, ice cream container or eating just 3-4 ounces of Prime Rib then limiting how much avocado, tofu, or olives they eat?
    A healthy diet for most American is a diet that has 45-60 grams of total fat a day. Limiting the amount of saturated fats to 1/3 of this total, would mean eating only 15-20 grams of saturated fat a day. It is easy to get this amount of saturated fats when you eat a healthy, balance diet that includes 2 or less servings of the richer saturated fat foods listed above.
    Keeping track of your blood sugar gives you a lot of information that can guide your food choices and stabilize your daily blood sugar levels. As you noted, when you eat a healthful diet, you often see the positive effect of this choice in your overall blood sugar levels. Congratulations!
    Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDE

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