Blood Sugar Balancing – why carbs need parental supervision

“I don’t have Diabetes, so why do I need to know how to balance my blood sugar?”

This is a common response I get when I bring up the topic of balancing blood sugar. Well, the truth is, this is important for everyone. Not only does it help prevent Diabetes by regulating your own bodies response to sugar intake and insulin release, but it also helps prevent energy crashes (fatigue), maintain weight (manage cortisol levels), prevent mood swings (hyper blood sugar highs and depressive blood sugar lows), manage anxiety, and allow for exercise endurance by releasing carbohydrates/sugar at a steady rate for use during physical activity.

So really, who doesn’t have a need for one or more of the above categories?

Blood sugar balancing simply means creating a steady release of carbohydrates/sugar into your blood stream instead of allowing them to release quickly and then come plummeting down. I won’t delve into the Glycemic Index of foods because although that does affect your blood sugar it’s not really what I’m talking about today. Today, I’m talking more about certain researched foods and food pairings. More specifically, carbohydrates paired with proteins, fats and fibers.

Think of carbs as children walking alone at night in an unfamiliar neighbourhood or running across a street without looking – it’s not a good idea because what if something dangerous happens? In this case, the danger could be sky rocketing high blood sugar which may lead to hyperactivity, inability to focus, rummaging through your cupboards for even more sugar, feelings of anxiety, and then plummeting energy when you need it most. Not cool.

So what’s the solution? Carbs need a parent, just like kids do when walking alone at night or across the street. The parents in this case are the good ol’ other macronutrients such as good fats and protein. Fiber is also great to bring along. How come? They are more patient and “walk” a lot slower thus taking the longest to the go through the stomach into the rest of the GI tract. This means a steady and safe walk home instead of screamingly hyper carb children running across the street without looking because they want to get there the faster. Now the carb children have parental supervision – wait for it, wait for it, okay green light, lets go.

Hopefully that odd analogy makes sense and why it’s important to eat fruits, grains, and other forms of sugar with fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, cheese), protein (poultry, eggs, fish, meat, soy, protein powders, dairy) or fibers (flax, chia, salba) 🙂

The Blood Sugar Equation

Children             Parents or Babysitter
Carbs         +             Protein/Fat/Fiber           =        Energy All Day!

Foods That Help Control Blood Sugar

In 2009/2010 I spent a lot of time researching and being educated in foods that help to control blood sugar thanks to the apprenticeship I completed. Here are some researched foods that help control blood sugar, not only during the time of consumption, but also help set up a good blood sugar balancing environment for the rest of the day. Yay protective mechanisms! But don’t go eating a bag of cookies after because you’re wearing protection. Unfortunately that’s not the purpose here 😉

1. Legumes– These have carbohydrates in them but don’t fall into the pairing rule because they release their carbohydrates much more slowly since they naturally contain very high amounts of fiber and protein (built in “parents”), which help to slow down the release of sugars/carbs. They also contain higher amylose starch which has been shown to release more slowly than amylopectin starch often found in cereal grains(1). The resistant starch “produces a lesser increase in postprandial glucose than digestible starch and correspondingly lower insulin levels.”(2) Pass that bean salad!

2. Whole grains – The consumption of whole grains versus their refined white counterparts help to stabilize blood sugar for a longer period of time due to their reduced digestion and gastric emptying time. Whole grains in their natural form contain more protein and fiber and this is what creates the slower release of sugars into the bloodstream when compared to the fiber poor refined grains. They have a few “parents” built in, however if you’re extremely sensitive to high and low blood sugar it’s best to still add more “parents”. According to a study, going from a high glycemic refined diet to a low glycemic wholegrain diet helped reduce from 8% to 7.2% and hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) episodes were reduced by half(3). Time to make those muffins with wholegrain flour and maybe throw in some nuts and seeds don’t ya think?

3. Apple Cider Vinegar – When consumed before bedtime it helps to reduce fasting blood sugar levels upon wakening. Participants began the study with a fasting glucose of 0.3 mmol and ended with 0.15 mmol. They have attributed this to the acetic acid in the vinegar that helps delay gastric emptying and starch digestion. However they recognize that using cheese (a fat) paired with the vinegar may have had an effect(4).  In another study, participants felt more satisfied when they consumed white bread with vinegar rather than white bread alone and were more likely to eat fewer calories overall, which indicates more stable blood sugar levels(5). This doesn’t mean you can go eat white bread and vinegar and be healthy though –  it just created satisfaction 😉

I don’t know about you but a grain and bean salad with apple cider vinaigrette sounds pretty tasty and energizing right now!


#1 – Jenkins, David JA., Thompson, Lilian U., Thorne, Mary Jane. (1983). Factors Affecting Starch Digestibility and the glycemic response with special reference to legumes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1983:38;481 – 488.

#2 – Bantle, John P., Beebe, Christine A., Brunzell, John D., Chiasson, Jean Louis., Franz, Marion., Garg, Abhimanu., Holzmeister, Lee Ann., Hoogwerf, Byron., Mayer-Davis, Elizabeth., Mooradian, Arshag D., Purnell, Jonathan Q., Wheeler, Madelyn. (2002).  Evidence Based Nutrition Principles and recommendations for the Treatment and Prevention of Diabetes and related Complications. American Diabetes Association – Diabetes Care. 10.2337/diacare.25.1.148, 148 – 198.

#3 – Liu, Simin., Manson, JoAnn., Willet, Walter. (2002). Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, and Risk of Type II Diabetes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 76 (1): 274S.

#4 – Johnston, Carol S., White, Andrea M. (2007). Vinegar Ingestion at Bedtime Moderates Waking Glucose Concentrations in Adults with Well-Controlled Type 2 Diabetes. American Diabetes Association – Diabetes Care. 10.2337/dc07-1062

#5 – Gaas, Cindy A., Johnston, Carol S. (2006). Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect. MedGenMed – Medscape General Medicine. 8(2): 61. PMC1785201.


About Sarah Maughan

Sarah Maughan is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, ON and has been consulting since 2009. Her website aims to educate you, make you laugh, help you live and inspire you to eat whole food! To stay up to date sign up for free blog and recipe updates! In the meantime, empower your body with food!
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