Metabolism takes care of transforming what you eat into energy and building blocks for other essential functions. Your body then uses that energy and building blocks to destroy old cells, maintain living cells and produce new cells. (Here’s some more info on how metabolism works.)
Given that food truly fuels us—you really are what you eat, to an extent—it makes sense that what we eat plays a huge role in metabolic health. But when we dig deeper into the concept of metabolic health it ultimately comes down to two things:
- How well your body can harvest energy and building blocks from food
- How well your body is able to utilize the building blocks for further use
Now, let’s keep in mind that it’s not just what you eat that affects metabolic health (though that’s a huge part of it). Other factors at play include:
- Your meal size - how much you eat at a time
- Your meal composition - what foods you combine within a single meal
- Your meal frequency - how often you eat
- Your meal timing - what times of the day you eat
Any of these factors can put stress on your metabolism—first, by affecting your blood sugar (glucose)/insulin. And continuous spikes over time or heightened blood sugar levels can lead to metabolic disease.
Let’s dig into how your diet affects blood sugar and how sugar cravings (an immediate response to blood sugar spikes & crashes) can hurt us. Plus, learn a few tips and tricks to help reduce blood sugar spikes and improve your well-being.
Blood sugar fluctuations + metabolic health
Keeping the cornerstones of a good nutritious diet in mind, reducing metabolic stress comes down to keeping your blood sugar fairly stable throughout the day.
According to research, rapid and repeated spikes and dips in blood sugar throughout the day puts our metabolism under a great amount of stress and can increase the risk of developing many metabolic problems.[1,2,3,4]
These blood sugar spikes and dips can also affect your everyday life. Large fluctuations have been linked to skin problems, tiredness, and sudden feelings of low energy coupled with loss your mental focus.[5,6,7]
To stay stable, you need to understand how your meals affect your blood sugar.
In general, the more carbohydrates you have in one sitting, the more sugar is pushed into your bloodstream. This rise in blood sugar triggers the pancreas to secrete a hormone called insulin—a hormone that helps the sugar to be cleared from the blood and be pushed into various tissues and cells.
A rise in blood sugar is not ultimately a bad thing. It is very often inevitable. What you want to try to avoid is your blood sugar rapidly skyrocketing after a meal.
First of all, this puts a lot of stress on your pancreas as it tries to secrete as much insulin as possible to bring your blood sugar down. Secondly, a fast rise is usually followed by a fast drop, which can lead to the concerns mentioned above, in addition to food cravings—especially for sweet foods. It has been suggested that repeatedly pushing the pancreas to secrete large amounts of insulin leads the pancreas to literally burn out. Repeated high levels of insulin have also been associated with cells and tissues becoming resistant to insulin.
This means that ultimately you may end up with a metabolism that can’t clear the sugar from the blood, either because of the pancreas not secreting enough insulin or because of the insulin not affecting your body in the same way anymore. In many cases, it is the combination of both. Some good news: insulin resistance can be addressed through diet and lifestyle changes.
Combining and timing your food
Carbohydrates are the main reason why your blood sugar rises after a meal. This means that if you want to eat carbs and still stay fairly stable, you need to find out how your body responds to various types of carbs.
In general, high-glycemic index (GI) carbs are more likely to spike your blood sugar, while low-GI carbs should have a more moderate or stabilizing effect on one's blood sugar.
That said, our meals rarely consist of only one single food. A meal is almost always a combination of different foods, with different amounts of different carbohydrates, combined with foods that don’t even have carbohydrates.
Combining carbohydrate-rich foods with protein has been shown to result in a more moderate rise in blood sugar. The same has been shown to be true when combining high-GI foods such as rice with legumes (beans and pulses). In general, mixing carbohydrate-rich food with other foods in a meal has a very different effect on blood sugar when compared to eating only carbs.
Food order also matters. Eating a protein-rich meal before consuming something with a higher GI can result in a slower rise in blood sugar (14). This might come in handy if you’re still looking for ways to enjoy some of your favorite sugary treats. Just remember to have them as a dessert after a protein-rich meal.
It has also been proposed that specific minerals (like magnesium, chromium, and zinc) and phytochemicals (found especially in foods like berries, nuts, soy, cinnamon, seaweed, tea, ginseng, beans, and chocolate) can even out the post-meal blood sugar rise.
These are all good starting points, but since it has been shown that different people can have very different or even opposite blood sugar responses to the same amount of the same food, it all becomes a very frustrating guessing game. And on top of that, when you eat your meal can affect your blood sugar response—having the same meal later in the day can cause a higher blood sugar response than if it was consumed earlier.
How real-time blood sugar tracking can help
Without objectively measuring the change in blood sugar, it is almost impossible to define the ideal combination of different foods that creates the perfect fuel for your highly individual body —and, on top of that, figure out how that varies from morning to evening.
You could rely on your gut feeling. Maybe keep a food diary to make the connections between those certain sensations and what you just ate. But instead of guessing, why not make it much easier by using a CGM that gives you an objective real-time window into your metabolic responses?
Veri does not only show you the changes in your blood sugar, but it also helps you understand how your meals impact you. Each meal you log in Veri has a Meal Score calculated for it based on your blood sugar response. This allows you to easily compare meals and eating patterns and see what suits you the best.
When the blood sugar spikes are under control, you should be able to more reliably trust your sensations of satiety and hunger. And once you figure out the best food choices for you at a given time of the day, it is way easier to start adjusting your meal schedule.
Let Veri be your personal guide into your metabolism helping you to make consistent, well-informed decisions that will improve both your everyday wellness and long-term health.