A rise in blood glucose levels is a very normal response after eating a meal. But now new research has found that the order in which parts of the meal are eaten can change how the body releases glucose into the bloodstream.
Keeping blood glucose levels in check is a core principle of looking after diabetes and this is where diet and lifestyle choices are important. A typical mixed meal will contain a range of nutrients including carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Both the type and quantity of carbohydrates in a meal can give rise to different blood glucose responses and this forms the basis of the glycaemic index ranking of foods.
One novel area of research has looked at how the order of eating the main nutrient components of a meal can affect the blood glucose response.
Called sequential nutrient ingestion, the idea is that eating the protein and non-starchy vegetable components of a meal before the carbohydrates will lead to a lower glucose response. Think of it as having the meat and salad first followed by the potatoes.
Extending the research into sequential nutrient ingestion, a research team in New York looked at how meal component eating order affected blood glucose responses in 15 people with pre-diabetes.
Under controlled laboratory conditions, the participants ate the same meal on three different days but changed to the order of eating of the meal components.
One day the carbohydrates were eaten first followed 10 minutes later by protein and vegetables. Another day involved having the protein and vegetables first followed 10 minutes later by carbohydrates. And the third day was vegetables first followed by protein and carbohydrates.
Looking at the glucose responses in the three hours after the meal, the standout finding was that eating the carbohydrates last saw a lower and flatter glucose response compared to eating the carbohydrates first. Less insulin was also needed to be secreted as well. For someone on the way to developing type 2 diabetes, this is a good thing.
So why the difference in glucose response when carbohydrates are eaten last? While the mechanism is not certain, it is thought that the fat and fibre eaten first helps to provide a buffer to slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates.
For someone with diabetes or prediabetes, eating a varied healthy diet is important, but this new research shows that there could be some merit to eating the main carbohydrate part of a meal last.