The optimal diet: how a small wearable device can help us find it

Sync team
Sync team
May 24, 2021

The ‘Universal Perfect Diet’ Myth

We’ve been taught to see nutrition in black and white. Foods are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. But what if generalised advice isn’t enough? In reality, every person is different so our response even to the same foods can be unique. Our nutrition choices shouldn’t be based on ‘one-size-fits-all’ advice or blanket statements.

The right diet is the one that works for each of us, and thankfully our body already has a mechanism in place to help us decide what works for us. So how does it work?

Our Individual Glucose Response To Food

Whenever we eat something, our blood sugar (glucose) levels react. That’s because our body breaks down what we eat and absorbs it. The carbohydrates we consume turn into glucose, which is released into our bloodstream (blood sugar) to power our cells with energy. For more, see our article on how glucose works.

We know that each food has a different impact on our glucose levels, (for example refined carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than others). But reactions can also differ from person to person. Our individual responses are due to a combination of factors, from a person’s unique gut bacteria makeup (microbiome) and body type, to age, sex, level of physical activity, lifestyles and genetics.

Studies have confirmed:

A recent study at King’s College London showed that even identical twins had different responses to the same food, both in terms of blood sugar elevation and insulin surge.

A clinical study of 1,000 non-diabetic people over five years at the Weizmann Institute discovered that individuals may respond differently to the same food. This study was duplicated by the Mayo Clinic in the US with 329 people and drew the same conclusions.

The bottom line is, a food’s carbohydrate concentration, nutrition label or standardised glycemic index still can’t predict your unique glucose response to a meal.

The ‘Healthy Food’ Paradox

Studies have shown that even foods typically considered healthy like rice cakes and fruit salad can cause unhealthy glucose spikes for some. Many people are surprised to find that oats (a typical ‘healthy’ breakfast), spike their blood sugar levels, while for others it doesn’t.

One of the main reasons our glucose levels surge to an unhealthy range is because we eat things that don’t work for us, without realising it. Even if we’re eating a healthy diet, we may be continuously spiking our glucose after meals, which can have a  detrimental impact on our health.

So, how do we get a handle on how our body reacts to different foods, so we can start to optimise our diet?

Connecting The Dots: Continuous Glucose Monitoring

A Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) reveals our glycemic reaction to any food or meal in real time. Unlike the traditional finger-prick method which measures blood sugar at a specific point in time, this wearable constantly monitors our levels (every 15 minutes to be exact) as they fluctuate throughout the day.

Even if we’re not diabetic a CGM can be a powerful tool, allowing us to connect each glucose spike to a specific food so we can tailor our diet, avoid triggering foods and minimise unwanted glucose spikes.

What does that mean in practice?

Strategies: The Quest For A Personalised Diet

Everyone who starts measuring their glucose soon realises it’s not about eliminating carbs entirely, but rather creating the right context for those foods in our body so we don’t get large spikes in glucose and surges in insulin.

Here are some strategies you may find useful to consider when managing your new findings:

Meal composition, combinations and order

You can change how much a food affects you by changing what else you eat with it. For example, a big bowl of rice on an empty stomach may cause a large spike because of its carbs. But combined with avocados or other fat or proteins, the blood sugar impact can be softened. Similarly, studies have shown that eating foods that contain fibre like salad or vegetables before a carb-heavy meal can produce a smaller glucose spike.

Meal timing

The timing of meals can also uniquely affect our blood sugar response. Having a meal at breakfast may cause a different response if it’s eaten for dinner. For others, there may be no difference in timings, hence negating claims that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ meal times that work for all. What is clear is that eating late (especially carb-heavy meals that can elevate our glucose levels) is bad for our sleep.  

Meal pace

If someone told you to chew your food slowly, they were right. How quickly we eat can affect our blood sugar and the speed at which our body absorbs our food. If we can eat slower, it can have a lessening effect on our blood sugar, a tangible benefit to mindful eating!

Post-meal walk

Turns out this is more than just a pleasant ritual to a heavy stomach. A light walk after a meal can have a significant positive impact on our blood sugar. There are also some studies that suggest exercise before meals (especially breakfast) could be beneficial for glucose spikes. In other words: move more!

Summary

When we’re thinking about the optimal diet for us, we need to consider healthy regulation of our blood sugar as a fundamental factor.
The optimal diet varies from person to person. Different people can have very different glycemic reactions to the exact same food: a food that spikes my blood glucose levels may not spike yours, and vice versa.
Everyone, diabetic or not, can benefit from wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), to measure glucose response and understand how different foods affect us.
Remember, post-meal spikes in glucose are damaging to health and can lead to metabolic dysfunction, obesity, increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and more. Keeping glucose levels steady over time leads to better health.

References

The ‘Universal Perfect Diet’ Myth

We’ve been taught to see nutrition in black and white. Foods are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. But what if generalised advice isn’t enough? In reality, every person is different so our response even to the same foods can be unique. Our nutrition choices shouldn’t be based on ‘one-size-fits-all’ advice or blanket statements.

The right diet is the one that works for each of us, and thankfully our body already has a mechanism in place to help us decide what works for us. So how does it work?

Our Individual Glucose Response To Food

Whenever we eat something, our blood sugar (glucose) levels react. That’s because our body breaks down what we eat and absorbs it. The carbohydrates we consume turn into glucose, which is released into our bloodstream (blood sugar) to power our cells with energy. For more, see our article on how glucose works.

We know that each food has a different impact on our glucose levels, (for example refined carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than others). But reactions can also differ from person to person. Our individual responses are due to a combination of factors, from a person’s unique gut bacteria makeup (microbiome) and body type, to age, sex, level of physical activity, lifestyles and genetics.

Studies have confirmed:

A recent study at King’s College London showed that even identical twins had different responses to the same food, both in terms of blood sugar elevation and insulin surge.

A clinical study of 1,000 non-diabetic people over five years at the Weizmann Institute discovered that individuals may respond differently to the same food. This study was duplicated by the Mayo Clinic in the US with 329 people and drew the same conclusions.

The bottom line is, a food’s carbohydrate concentration, nutrition label or standardised glycemic index still can’t predict your unique glucose response to a meal.

The ‘Healthy Food’ Paradox

Studies have shown that even foods typically considered healthy like rice cakes and fruit salad can cause unhealthy glucose spikes for some. Many people are surprised to find that oats (a typical ‘healthy’ breakfast), spike their blood sugar levels, while for others it doesn’t.

One of the main reasons our glucose levels surge to an unhealthy range is because we eat things that don’t work for us, without realising it. Even if we’re eating a healthy diet, we may be continuously spiking our glucose after meals, which can have a  detrimental impact on our health.

So, how do we get a handle on how our body reacts to different foods, so we can start to optimise our diet?

Connecting The Dots: Continuous Glucose Monitoring

A Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) reveals our glycemic reaction to any food or meal in real time. Unlike the traditional finger-prick method which measures blood sugar at a specific point in time, this wearable constantly monitors our levels (every 15 minutes to be exact) as they fluctuate throughout the day.

Even if we’re not diabetic a CGM can be a powerful tool, allowing us to connect each glucose spike to a specific food so we can tailor our diet, avoid triggering foods and minimise unwanted glucose spikes.

What does that mean in practice?

Strategies: The Quest For A Personalised Diet

Everyone who starts measuring their glucose soon realises it’s not about eliminating carbs entirely, but rather creating the right context for those foods in our body so we don’t get large spikes in glucose and surges in insulin.

Here are some strategies you may find useful to consider when managing your new findings:

Meal composition, combinations and order

You can change how much a food affects you by changing what else you eat with it. For example, a big bowl of rice on an empty stomach may cause a large spike because of its carbs. But combined with avocados or other fat or proteins, the blood sugar impact can be softened. Similarly, studies have shown that eating foods that contain fibre like salad or vegetables before a carb-heavy meal can produce a smaller glucose spike.

Meal timing

The timing of meals can also uniquely affect our blood sugar response. Having a meal at breakfast may cause a different response if it’s eaten for dinner. For others, there may be no difference in timings, hence negating claims that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ meal times that work for all. What is clear is that eating late (especially carb-heavy meals that can elevate our glucose levels) is bad for our sleep.  

Meal pace

If someone told you to chew your food slowly, they were right. How quickly we eat can affect our blood sugar and the speed at which our body absorbs our food. If we can eat slower, it can have a lessening effect on our blood sugar, a tangible benefit to mindful eating!

Post-meal walk

Turns out this is more than just a pleasant ritual to a heavy stomach. A light walk after a meal can have a significant positive impact on our blood sugar. There are also some studies that suggest exercise before meals (especially breakfast) could be beneficial for glucose spikes. In other words: move more!

Summary

When we’re thinking about the optimal diet for us, we need to consider healthy regulation of our blood sugar as a fundamental factor.
The optimal diet varies from person to person. Different people can have very different glycemic reactions to the exact same food: a food that spikes my blood glucose levels may not spike yours, and vice versa.
Everyone, diabetic or not, can benefit from wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), to measure glucose response and understand how different foods affect us.
Remember, post-meal spikes in glucose are damaging to health and can lead to metabolic dysfunction, obesity, increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and more. Keeping glucose levels steady over time leads to better health.

References