“Life’s short—Eat dessert first.” Have you seen that t-shirt? Perhaps the phrase makes sense at an ice cream shop, but sadly it’s rather horrible nutrition advice. A study recently published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism confirms that dessert first has a detrimental effect on post-meal glucose levels, at least if your dessert is made up of carbs.
The order in which you eat your macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) affects both how much your blood glucose rises after a meal and how quickly it drops back down. Starting with carbs—dessert or not—is not your best bet for steady blood sugar.
“Starting a meal with a salad or a salad and protein, and saving the carbs for the end, can lower postprandial glucose spikes, reduce glycemic variability and prevent reactive hypoglycemia,” Dr. Alpana P. Shukla, the study’s author, told Endocrine Today.
Weill Cornell Medical College recruited 15 participants for the study: 11 women and four men with an average age of 52 and average HbA1c of six percent. Prediabetes is diagnosed at an HbA1c level between 5.7 and 6.4 percent.
The study participants consumed the same meal on three different days using three different food orders:
Meal order 1: Carbohydrates first over 10 minutes, 10-minute break, then protein and vegetables eaten together over 10 minutes.
Meal order 2: Protein and vegetables first over 10 minutes, 10-minute break, then carbohydrates eaten over 10 minutes.
Meal order 3: Vegetables first over 10 minutes, 10-minute break, then protein and carbohydrates eaten together over 10 minutes.
Participants gave blood samples before the meal and again at 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, and 180 minutes after beginning the meal. Fasting glucose levels were similar among the participants before the start of the meal, but there were clear differences after the meal based on food order.
In the protein and vegetables first meal, glucose levels were on average 38.8 percent lower than the carbohydrate first meal at 30 and 60 minutes post-meal. The vegetables first meal resulted in glucose levels an average 23.4 lower than the carbohydrate first meal at 30 and 60 minutes post-meal.
Interestingly, average glucose concentrations at 120, 150, and 180 minutes after the meal were lower when participants ate the carbohydrates first meal as opposed to the other two. But researchers found that eating carbohydrates first resulted in more glycemic variability whereas eating vegetables first or protein and vegetables first helped glucose level stay more stable with less risk of high or low blood sugar.
Unfortunately, the study did not find that carbohydrates don’t matter just as long as we stock up on protein and veggies first. Still, if you’re looking to avoid a steep spike and a quick drop, it seems wise to start with quality protein and vegetables. Vegetables are, of course, also carbohydrates, but they generally result in less dramatic glucose changes than simple carbohydrates, and their fiber helps slow glucose absorption, encouraging steadier levels.
The study validates mom’s advice to eat our vegetables first. Eating vegetables first, or vegetables and protein first, can set your body up for a steadier rise in glucose levels, even if you do end your meal with a serving of your favorite carbs. Plus, consuming filling protein and veggies first may fill us up so we don’t feel like eating as many carbohydrates… but you’ll have to do the research on that!
Stay healthy, friends!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.