Best and Worst Foods for Blood Sugar
BySarah Axtell, ND •February 2, 2022
Eating foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugar can lead to a major spike in blood sugar. Your body then secretes insulin to address elevated blood sugar, which can then lead to a drop in blood sugar (this is termed “reactive hypoglycemia”). When levels drop, we feel hungry and tired and thus crave carbs to compensate. This roller-coaster ride of blood sugar can lead to post-meal fatigue (it’s not normal to be tired after eating!), anxiety, weight gain, a weakened immune system, diabetes, and heart disease.
The good news is you can control this with your diet. We want a steady state of blood sugar (think “train ride” versus “roller-coaster”). Below are the best and worse foods for blood sugar.
Worst Foods for Blood Sugar (some obvious and not so obvious!):
- White, refined carbohydrates devoid of fat, fiber, and protein- flour, tortillas, pasta, bread, cereal, granola, instant oatmeal, white rice, crackers, cookies, and candy.
- Juice, Dried Fruits, and Certain Fruits– Don’t be fueled by juice- it is liquid sugar. And dried fruits such as raisins, dried cranberries, and dried mango can spike your blood sugar as much as skittles. High glycemic fruits such as grapes, mango, pineapple, and banana can also cause spikes in blood sugar. Best fruits are berries, mandarin oranges, and kiwis. Always aim to pair fruit with protein and fat (think an apple with almond butter or blueberries with walnuts).
- Sweetened Yogurts– Many commercial yogurts have as much sugar as an ice cream. Your yogurt with granola in the morning is like eating cookies and ice cream in the morning! A better option is plain yogurt topped with chia seeds or flax seeds, berries, and nuts.
- Oat milk– This may be a surprising one as oat milk is touted as a healthy milk alternative. However, oat milk is very high in carbohydrates, even if you get the unsweetened version. In fact, according to Harvard Medical School, oat milk contains a glycemic index score of 86 making it 86 percent as high as straight glucose. The type of sugar in oat milk is “maltose,” which causes significant rises in blood sugar. Oat milk, for example, has 16 grams of carbs per serving while almond milk has 1 gram per serving. Best milk alternatives are unsweetened almond, hemp, or coconut milk.
- Tomato soup and Pasta Sauce– You might think of tomato soup and pasta sauce as a savory food, but they might as well be dessert! One serving of commercial tomato soup or pasta sauce has as much sugar as a serving of chocolate chip cookies (10-12 grams). My favorite commercial marinara sauce is Trader Joe’s Organic Tomato Basil (no added sugar).
Best Foods for Blood Sugar:
- Avocado– Avocado is full of healthy, monounsaturated fat. Fat helps to stabilize blood sugar.
- Chia seeds- In addition to fat, fiber also helps to stabilize blood sugar. The combination of fat, fiber, and protein in chia seeds helps to slow digestion, which means a slower rise in blood sugar. This is why chia seeds are an excellent addition to higher carb foods such as oatmeal and yogurt.
- Eggs– Opt for protein-rich eggs instead of cereal in them morning. Eggs are a complete protein, promoting blood sugar balance and satiety. By starting the day with protein, you will no longer be tired and hungry all day long.
- Nuts and nut butters– Like chia seeds, nuts and nut butters are full of fat, fiber, and protein. When eating fruit, always aim to pair it with nuts or nut butters to prevent a large spike in blood sugar from the fruit. My favorite snack is blueberries with walnuts or an apple with almond butter.
- Green leafy vegetables- Kale, spinach, arugula, chard, and collard greens are among the lowest glycemic vegetables. And not to mention the micronutrients they provide will fuel you with energy!
Other tips to balance blood sugar:
Exercise! Notably walking post-meals will do wonders for your blood sugar. Research shows that exercising in the “mid postprandial phase” of the eating cycle, which occurs between 30 to 120 minutes after eating, most effectively prevents a glucose spike. Remind yourself that even a small walk around the block after eating is better than nothing!
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.