7 Expert-Approved Ways to Avoid a Blood Sugar Spike (Without Avoiding Carbs)
Published on May 12, 2022
By Aly Walansky
If you find that you crave sweets a lot, you’re overly tired, or you regret what comes out of your mouth when you’re dealing with a hanger problem, you should probably consider improving your blood sugar balance. You might think of blood sugar monitoring as something only people living with diabetes need to consider, but the truth is that everyone’s blood sugar goes up and down throughout the day — whether they’re diabetic or not.
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“Whenever you eat something with carbohydrates, it gets broken down into sugar, and your pancreas produces insulin to help your cells absorb the sugar so it can be used for energy,” says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, co-author of Sugar Shock. But blood sugar responses can vary from one person to the next, which is why some people choose to monitor their blood sugar levels, even if they don’t have diabetes. Blood sugar levels also impact your energy levels and how you feel all day long. “Your blood sugar can have a direct impact on how you feel day to day,” says Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD. Think of that late afternoon energy slump — those times when you get hangry and it’s hard to focus. “That slump is a direct result of mismanaged blood sugar,” says Sauceda.
Monitoring your blood sugar can be seriously beneficial for your health — and can lessen your chances of developing diabetes, among other concerns. “CDC data suggests that one in three people are at risk for type 2 diabetes with higher-than-normal blood sugar levels that aren’t high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes,” says Cassetty. This condition is known as prediabetes, and 80% of people with it aren’t aware they have it.
So what can we do to avoid a problematic blood sugar spike? You could just avoid carbs forever… but in our opinion, deprivation is never the answer, and there are so many healthy foods that can spike your blood sugar — like sweet potatoes and dried dates — that we’d much rather learn from experts how to enjoy carbs in a way that keeps our sugar levels more evenly balanced.
So, how do you avoid the blood sugar spike when eating carbohydrate-rich foods?
1. Add vinegar to meals
Did you know that vinegar could help lower your glucose when you have some before or during your meal? “Consuming an ounce or two of vinegar (either alone, or in a glass of water) before or when eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal will help to curb that post-meal glucose spike,” says Casey Means, MD, co-founder and chief medical officer at Levels. Additionally, consider adding vinegar to your recipes, like salad dressings or marinades.
2. Add protein and fat to the mix
Healthy eating is about the total picture: balanced meals are really important for maintaining optimal blood sugar levels and avoiding a crash. “Yes, we want to eat carbohydrates like bananas to facilitate our blood sugar rising and falling throughout the day, but we also want to include fat and protein in the same meal or snack to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream to avoid the spike of blood sugar,” says Veronica Rouse, MAN, RD, CDE.
“Desserts can cause spikes in blood sugars because they tend to contain refined carbs and added sugars, both of which get absorbed into your bloodstream quickly,” says Cassetty. To manage blood sugar levels without deprivation, have a lower-sugar, protein-rich treat. “In one study, people’s blood sugar levels were measured after including a sugary carbohydrate source (two tablespoons of jam) compared to eating that same food with a protein source (an egg),” says Cassetty. On average, blood sugar levels were higher after eating the jam than they were after eating the jam with an egg. In other words, protein helps blunt the blood sugar response.
3. Substitute all-purpose/wheat flour with alternative flours
The type of flour you bake with makes a big difference. “Ultra-processed carbs like white flour quickly convert to sugar in the blood,” says Dr. Means. For baking, replace all-purpose flour with alternative, lower-carb flours like almond, cashew, or coconut flours. “Refined grains such as wheat flour can lead to high blood sugar spikes,” Dr. Means notes.
4. Add some fiber
“Fiber helps with slowing sugar absorption which means less of a blood sugar spike,” says Sauceda. There are two ways to do this, so you can opt for either depending on the circumstances. “Have your dessert after a meal rich in fiber, or add fiber to your dessert,” says Sauceda. Adding fiber to your dessert may look like a fudgy black bean brownie. Fiber also helps feed your good gut bacteria and there is emerging research on how your microbiome may influence your blood sugar. However, not every dessert has to have fiber in it. So if you just had a really healthy, fiber-rich meal, that’s a great time to have a sweet — rather than on an empty stomach.
5. Get more exercise
Go for a walk or engage in exercise after eating a high carbohydrate meal. “Sugar is fuel for your muscles, so engaging them will remove the sugar from the blood and your muscles will use the sugar for energy,” says Rouse.
6. Adjust the portion size
“Sometimes my fave desserts are the ones that are going to spike my blood sugar the most, and I don’t want to change the recipe to be ‘healthier’ and that’s ok,” says Sauceda. When you find a food that’s worth it to you and you want to minimize the blood sugar spike, adjust your portion size. This could look like just eating a smaller portion, or having your normal portion but splitting it into two servings — like a small serving after lunch and then another one after dinner, or dividing it up over the course of a couple days.
7. Don’t drink your sugar
Sugar-containing drinks, including sodas, blended coffee drinks, and juices can lead to rapid glucose spikes since the sugar is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream. “Many of these drinks deliver high volumes of fructose, which are converted to byproducts in the liver that directly lead to insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” says Means.