Everyone at the table may have different blood sugar responses to the same food.
A recent article by Ariana Eunjung Cha in The Washington Post reveals that what we term“health food” may have different effects on an individual’s weight loss. According to a study published in Cell, “Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Responses,” the way one person’s body responds to a meal may be very different from the way another person’s body responds to that same meal. Specifically, blood sugar responses vary among individuals, which in turn affects the way they store fat. Among other things, the study may indirectly explain why one diet did wonders for your friend but left you tallying zero results on the scale.
The study was performed on 800 healthy and pre-diabetic participants, ranging in age from 18 to 70. The researchers closely monitored the participants’ food intake through a mobile app and also collected data through health questionnaires, body measurements, blood tests, stool samples, and glucose monitoring.
Prior to this study, we knew that both age and body mass index (BMI) effect blood glucose levels after a meal, but the study found something else: In some cases, individuals have opposite responses to a particular food item. In one startling example, a woman who regularly consumed tomatoes as part of her healthy diet discovered that her blood sugar significantly spiked after eating them, making them a not-so-healthy choice for her after all.
The implications of the potential for different blood glucose responses are major. As Cha explains, “the findings show that tailoring meal plans to individuals’ biology may be the future of dieting.” Furthermore, the study also upends the system upon which many low-carb, high-protein diets, like Atkins, have been built: the glycemic index.
If you’ve ever seen a health food advertised as “low glycemic,” it means that eating the food (supposedly, as we now know) will only cause a minimal blood sugar spike and have a slower rate of digestion. In theory, when we consume foods that keep us fuller for longer (i.e. low GI foods), we’re more likely to avoid over-consumption of “empty-calorie” foods, many of which are high-GI foods (like chips and candy). Diets consistently rich in high-glycemic foods have been linked to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Additionally, as we’ve covered on Peaceful Dumpling, spikes in blood sugar may also be to blame for stubborn hormonal acne.
Given these established links, it makes sense that doctors have used low-glycemic diets as a treatment for diabetes and other blood glucose-related health problems—and generally speaking, low-glycemic diets, which are sometimes referred to as carbohydrate management or counting, have benefited diabetic patients.
The recent Cell study, however, may explain why seemingly perfect diets might actually do harm if they contain specific foods that cause unexpected spikes in an individual’s blood sugar—like tomatoes from the example above, which are given a GI ranking of 15 (very low).
Of course, until nutrition science is able to bring this kind of testing to everyone, it may be hard to know if we’re eating foods that do naughty things to our blood sugar—and if we are, which food is it?! But there are a few things that you can do to pay closer attention to your blood sugar response and increase your likelihood of having a healthy diet–stool sample unnecessary.
Keep a food journal. While this is certainly not the most scientific way of monitoring the goings-on of your body, if you keep it up for a while, you will start to recognize some interesting trends (some of which may not even be related to blood sugar but may still prove useful). Keep track of what you eat and how you feel shortly after eating it. Do you feel tired (as in fall-asleep-on-the-spot tired?) Do you have unusual thirst or a headache? Is your vision blurred or do you suddenly have to pee, like, a lot? These are all symptoms of a big blood sugar spike and may suggest that something you ate may not be good for your body, regardless of whether or not it’s lauded as a healthy food.
Finally, eat natural, whole foods, and eat a variety of them. Okay, I know that tomato example probably threw everyone off, but just because some whole foods may be suspect doesn’t mean that processed foods have suddenly gotten healthier! You’re probably better off betting on real foods, which pack in fiber and antioxidants. Just make sure to eat a wide variety, so you’re more likely to minimize contact with foods that give you no love.
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Photo: Ali Inay via Unsplash