Eat This Before Your Meal to Help Regulate Blood Sugar

March 13, 2024

Imagine no longer having to deal with mid-day energy crashes, a “foggy” brain, or mood swings that have you going from happy to irritated in a split second. Well, according to experts, there may be a way to bypass these frustrating symptoms for good—and more importantly—set yourself up for all-day-long energy, focus, and mental clarity, better digestion, and even a reduced risk of heart disease down the line.

And it all comes down to one simple “eating trick” called food sequencing.

It’s the idea that the order in which you eat your food can either positively or negatively impact your energy, digestion, blood sugar, and overall health. One popular expert—Jesse Inchauspé, a biochemist who’s affectionately known as the Glucose Goddess—preaches about this in her latest book, The GlucoseGoddess Method.

In her protocol, Inchauspé, recommends adding a “veggie starter” at the beginning of your lunch or dinner.

With this in mind, food sequencing may look like this:

1. Start with Vegetables and/or a Salad.

2. Next, Eat Protein.

3. Finish with Carbohydrates.

As a registered dietitian of over 20 years, I’ve seen the difference that food sequencing can make in one’s life—especially for those struggling with extreme dips in energy or worsening brain fog after eating meals.

In this blog, we’ll explore what it looks like to start with veggies before touching any other food on your plate. And according to research thus far…the outcome is pretty promising.

How Eating Vegetables Before a Meal Helps Regulate Blood Sugar

There’s a reason we should be consuming 2-4 cups of fresh veggies each day: they have a profound impact on how our body (and blood sugar) responds to the other carbs we eat (think: potatoes, rice, corn, and so on) (1).

Although there haven’t been many studies on this concept (yet), one 2015 study published in Diabetes Care found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate protein and vegetables before consuming a carbohydrate-rich food (like bread or pasta) had lower post-meal blood sugar levels compared to those who ate the carbohydrate-rich food first (2).

So how can just one simple change (in this case, eating veggies before other high-carb foods) result in such dramatic effects? There are a few good reasons…

Vegetables Are High in Fiber

It all comes down to a type of roughage or “bulk” that vegetables have called fiber.

When you eat dietary fiber, you’re equipping your body with what Inchauspé calls a “fiber mesh.”

Unlike other macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, which your body breaks down and absorbs, fiber is not digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, and colon and then out of your body through your stool. Since fiber passes through your body intact, it can help slow the rate food moves through your digestive system, which can have a positive effect on blood sugar (3).

Inchauspé elaborates on this a bit further, saying that when “fiber arrives in our intestines, it deploys itself against our intestinal walls.” It’s there where fiber “forms a protective mesh that slows and reduces the absorption…of any glucose coming down afterward.”

Inchauspé even provides a visual example of this on her Instagram, using a simple meal of broccoli and pasta.

Fascinating, right?

Let’s look at a few more studies…

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In a recent study, over 200 individuals with type 2 diabetes were followed over the course of five years (4). Half the participants received one-on-one nutritional therapy every 1 to 2 months, in which they were instructed to eat vegetables before carbohydrates at every meal.

Whereas the other half (the control group) received routine doctor’s consultations every 1 to 2 months. In this consultation, brief dietary advice was provided through the oral instruction, “Please eat vegetables first”. (Simply put, they weren’t told why they should eat their vegetables first, nor were they given any education on the benefits of doing so, unlike the other group.)

The results were as expected: the intervention group, which was instructed to eat veggies before carbs, saw a significant reduction in HbA1c (a test that measures the average amount of glucose in your blood over the past 2-3 months).

At the start of the trial, their HbA1c was measured at 8.5%. And by the end of the five years, it dropped nearly one percent to 7.6%. This data is classified as statistically significant, meaning that the observed changes are very unlikely to have occurred by chance and, instead, are due to participants eating veggies (at least 120 grams) prior to carbohydrates at each meal.

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An older study conducted in Japan in 2011 followed 101 participants with type 2 diabetes for two years (5). Participants were randomly assigned to groups instructed to either eat vegetables before carbohydrates (VBC) or a traditional exchange-based meal plan (EXB).

HbA1c levels were significantly lower in the VBC group than in the EXB group after 6, 9, 12, and 24 months of the study. The VBC group went from an average of 8.3% at the start of the trial to 6.8% at the end, whereas the EXB group went from 8.2% to 7.3%.

This showed that eating veggies before a meal resulted in better blood sugar control than the traditional approach to blood sugar control that involves counting carbohydrates.

Vegetables Can Increase Your GLP-1 Levels

Studies show that eating vegetables first can cause your body to secrete higher levels of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) (6, 7). 

GLP-1 is a hormone made by your small intestine that plays several roles in managing your blood sugar, including (8):

  • Increasing how full you feel after eating (satiety): GLP-1 affects areas of your brain that process hunger and satiety, so you are less likely to overeat.
  • Triggering insulin release from your pancreas: Insulin is an essential hormone that allows your body to use the food you eat for energy. It lowers the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood. If you don’t have enough insulin, your blood sugar increases, leading to diabetes.
  • Blocking glucagon secretion: Glucagon is a hormone your body uses to raise blood sugar levels when necessary. So, GLP-1 prevents more glucose from going into your bloodstream.
  • Slowing stomach emptying: Slower digestion means that your body releases less glucose (sugar) from the food you eat into your bloodstream.

GLP-1 is so important in blood sugar management that it is currently being evaluated for the therapy of type 2 diabetes. 

Vegetables Are Lower in Calories & Carbohydrates

Vegetables are also low in calories and carbohydrates, making them ideal for blood sugar (and weight) management. The inclusion of vegetables can help ensure a balanced diet and steady energy throughout the day. 

Some vegetables stand out as particularly beneficial for those looking to control their blood sugar. 

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini have minimal impact on glucose levels due to their low carbohydrate content. 
  • Leafy greens, including spinach and kale, are not only low in carbohydrates but are also rich in magnesium and potassium, which can help regulate insulin sensitivity

Additionally, the high antioxidant content in vegetables like artichokes and red onions can support overall metabolic health, contributing to better blood sugar control.

Native Note: Inchauspé recommends having the veggie starter make up about 30% of the volume of your meal.

Why Managing Your Blood Sugar Is So Important

Regardless of whether you have diabetes or not, having well-managed blood sugar can offer some important benefits. 

Among those with diabetes, managing healthy blood sugar levels is crucial as it helps prevent the long-term complications associated with this condition. This includes reducing the risk of damage to critical organs such as the heart, kidneys, and nervous system, which can lead to serious conditions like heart disease, kidney failure, and neuropathy. 

Additionally, stable blood sugar levels can improve overall well-being and energy levels, while reducing the likelihood of experiencing diabetic emergencies, such as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), which require immediate medical attention.

Consistent blood sugar management is vital even for individuals without a diabetes diagnosis. When blood sugar levels are within a normal range, you can expect steady energy, improved cognitive function, a stable mood, and an easier time keeping weight off, all while preventing the onset of insulin resistance (a precursor to type 2 diabetes) and supporting metabolic health. 

It may also reduce the risk of developing other conditions, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer, contributing to a longer and healthier life. While people without diabetes should be able to secrete enough insulin (and utilize it effectively) to maintain healthy blood sugars, it is wise to at least attempt to eat in a way that supports this outcome as well.

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9 Quick Tips to Help Regulate Your Blood Sugar

We’ve already covered how and why eating vegetables at the beginning of a meal may support healthy blood sugar. But food sequencing isn’t the only way to help keep your blood sugars in check. 

Here are some other tips I like to suggest to my clients when they want to manage their blood sugars naturally. Of course, everybody reacts to interventions differently, so these may not work for everyone:

  1. Monitor carbohydrate intake, aiming to spread it evenly throughout your meals (9).
  2. Include high-fiber foods in your diet, like fruits and vegetables.
  3. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water to help regulate glucose levels.
  4. Exercise regularly (this can help enhance insulin sensitivity and manage blood sugar) (10, 11).
  5. Maintain a consistent meal schedule and avoid skipping meals, as this can disrupt blood glucose (12).
  6. Monitor blood sugar levels regularly, as advised by a healthcare professional.
  7. Manage stress through techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises (13, 14).
  8. Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, as poor sleep can affect blood sugar control (15).
  9. Limit your intake of ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks, focusing on a balanced diet with whole foods (16).
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Lauren Manaker
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Lauren Manaker

Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian (RDN), certified lactation educator (CLE), author, and speaker with over 20 years of experience. She earned her BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Florida (go Gators!) and an MS in Clinical Nutrition from Rush University in Chicago.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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