Eating in Order

If you’re careful about what you eat, you may count your carbs, optimize protein, and maximize veggies. But you might also have noticed that there’s a lot of talk about eating those foods in a particular order: veggies first, then protein, and finally carbohydrates. Some influencers claim that as long as you’re eating in order, you can eat whatever you want and still have steady blood sugar and all the benefits that come with that. 

The benefits of steady blood sugar

It’s no secret that spikes in blood sugar, which are often followed by a drop, can make you feel lethargic and bad-tempered. Have a doughnut and a mocha drink for breakfast and you may feel jittery at first and then have an energy slump that sends you to a vending machine halfway through your morning. 

Stabilizing blood sugar can give you steady energy through the day, improve your mood, keep you from feeling hungry, reduce cravings for sweets or snacks, and possibly even benefit your heart and brain health. Avoiding blood sugar spikes has also been associated with weight loss.

While Harvard Health reminds us that people who are not diabetic or pre diabetic usually have normal blood sugar levels regardless of what they eat, stabilizing blood sugar is a harmless and possibly helpful habit to consider. 

Eating in order

One study set out to test whether eating more slowly was a healthier choice. Instead, they discovered that eating boiled rice before tomatoes, broccoli, and fish caused blood sugar spikes. Eating the vegetables first, followed by the fish and then the rice, did not. The meals were identical and it turned out that the speed of eating didn’t affect the outcome, but eating the vegetables first seemed to protect against increased blood glucose. 

Another study, with diabetic women as subjects, had participants eat carbs first, last, or together with meat and veggies in a sandwich. This study also found that eating carbohydrates (in this case, bread) at the end of the meal kept blood sugar lower than the other patterns.

A small study of healthy people in Singapore found much the same results: eating combined rice, meat, and vegetables in traditional Chinese dishes led to higher blood glucose readings after the meal, compared with having meat and vegetables first, followed by rice. The purpose of this study was to see whether this pattern, which had been observed in people with diabetes, held true for people who did not have diabetes.

Should you try it?

The evidence is fairly clear: eating carbohydrates like rice and bread at the end of a meal is less likely to cause blood sugar spikes than having these foods at the beginning of a meal. It’s not as clear that this is really a health game changer for healthy people. If it leads you to decide that you can have a couple of slices of pie for dessert as long as you start with a salad, it might have negative consequences. 

However, starting your meal with a salad could be an easy habit to develop. It might increase your overall intake of vegetables, which would definitely be a good thing. Since rice or potatoes without accompanying meat and veggies might be boring, it could even make it easier to count those carbs.