The surprising science behind the order in which we eat our food.
When eating a meal, I am someone who applies the ‘save the best for last’ philosophy. It makes me think I would have aced the marshmallow test because I am quite talented at delaying gratification when it comes to what I eat. If I am given a plate of steamed broccoli, pan-fried snapper and rice, I will always eat the broccoli first.
It turns out that there is science behind my accidental eating philosophy.
‘We’re always focused on what to eat,’ says Jessie Inchauspé, bio-chemist and author of Glucose Revolution. ‘But how about how to eat? It turns out a meal can have a very different impact on your glucose depending on the order in which its constituents are eaten.’
Several studies have been conducted into the order in which we eat the various elements of a meal and the corresponding effect on blood glucose levels. Research published in Clinical Nutrition looked at a typical Asian meal of vegetables, protein (chicken breast) and carbohydrate (white rice) – not too dissimilar to a typical meal in my own household.
Sixteen healthy adults were invited into the lab to eat five different meals. All contained the same number of calories, but differed in the sequence of when vegetables, protein and carbohydrates were consumed. Blood glucose levels were taken after each meal.
The meal order that resulted in the lowest blood glucose spike was from first eating the vegetables, followed by the chicken and then finally the rice. In contrast, the largest spike was caused by having rice first, and then meat and vegetables.
Research published in the Journal of the American Nutrition Association reviewed eleven different studies that had all investigated whether the order in which we eat our food influences our blood glucose response. The researchers found consistent evidence that eating your carbs last will help lower your blood glucose response to the meal.
Inchauspé sums up the research by saying that the best order to maintain stable blood glucose levels is: ‘Vegetables first, proteins and fats second, starches and sugars last. In a meal consisting of chicken, bread, green beans and an apple, this means: green beans first, chicken second, bread third and apple last. Eating your food in this order reduces the glucose spike by up to 75 per cent – and with it diminishes the side effects. You will feel fuller and more energised.’
Obviously, this won’t always be possible. If you are eating a meal like spaghetti bolognaise, it might be tricky to separate the meat chunks from the sauce and then the sauce from the pasta (not to mention you’ll look completely neurotic to your dining companions). But wherever possible, see if you can eat things in the recommended order. Your body – not to mention energy, weight, mood and, of course, blood glucose levels – will thank you.
Put it into action
- Eat your vegetables first, wherever possible.
- Then, eat the protein and/or fats.
- Finally, eat the carbs.
- As a bonus tip: don’t eat carbs on their own (e.g. a big bowl of chips or a thick slice of sourdough). Not only will they be sad and lonely, but they typically won’t fill you up and can spike your blood glucose levels without having some protein and fat to hang out with. Always pair carbs with vegetables and protein and ideally some healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, nuts or seeds.
Amantha shared this excerpt from her upcoming book in her email newsletter, One Percent Better. Subscribe here, and pre-order The Health Habit to secure your copy ahead of the 9 January 2024 release date.
If you love dessert but hate the sugar crash that follows, this trick is for you. Jessie Inchauspé – AKA The Glucose Goddess – shares her top tip for enjoying sweets, so you can have your cake and eat it too!
For most of us, energy peaks and troughs throughout the day are something we accept as part of life – but what if it didn’t have to be that way?
Discover a few dishes Matildas players love and learn how to make them yourself.
Three Penguin Random House staff members tried the Glucose Goddess Method for themselves. Read about their experiences here.
Peek inside Jessie Inchauspé’s new book and get a sense of what you can expect from this full-fledged guide to getting off the glucose rollercoaster once and for all.
Love audiobooks? They’re even better with extra content! Check out some of the audiobooks that include exclusive recorded content for even more enjoyment.
Learn about the best New Year's resolutions to inspire your own goals for 2023.
See some of the best non-fiction books of 2022 so far, as well as more great titles coming this year.
Wondering what makes a person highly effective? These 5 secrets from Time Wise will give you some insight.
Want to try something new? These popular audiobooks from different genres will help you explore new subjects and themes while listening. You might just discover an unexpected favourite!
I confess that I was seduced by the man who made this dish for me.
I love rhubarb and used to grow it outside my window in east London.