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- Food sequencing is eating macronutrients in a specific order during a meal with the intention of lowering postmeal blood sugar.
- Scientific research suggests that food sequencing can have a positive effect on blood sugar.
- Trying a food sequencing experiment is one way of determining if it’s the right method for you.
If you’re living with diabetes, you know that different foods affect your blood sugar differently. But have you ever eaten the exact same meal at the same time of day with different blood sugar results?
There are lots of reasons why this could happen. Anything from how hydrated you are to how much activity you’ve gotten to what medications you’ve taken could be causing the difference. Another potential reason behind different blood sugar results after eating the same meal could be food sequencing, or the order in which you eat your macronutrients.
Food sequencing has gotten a lot of attention lately, so we decided to dig into the research, talk to our diabetes experts, and get to the bottom of whether this way of eating has gone viral for good reason or if it’s just another food fad.
What is Food Sequencing?
Food sequencing is eating your macronutrients during a meal in a specific order. We need three macronutrients to give us energy: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Food sequencing suggests that eating protein and/or fat before carbohydrates can lower glucose levels after eating.
But all food just ends up in your stomach, right? Why does it matter what order it gets there?
Here’s what happens: proteins, fats and high-fiber foods (such as most vegetables) can slow the rate at which food exits the stomach (gastric emptying), thereby slowing how fast subsequent food containing carbohydrates and other nutrients get absorbed into the blood.
This means that when you eat high-fiber foods before high-carbohydrate foods, gastric emptying causes the glucose to move through your system more gradually and your body has more time to process it. Thus, you may experience a delayed glucose spike or no spike at all.
What Science Says about Food Sequencing
Relatively little research has been done on food sequencing for both people who live with diabetes and those who don’t, so there aren’t a lot of major studies examining its effects. Here’s what we do know.
One of the first studies was published in 2015 in Diabetes Care, the journal of the American Diabetes Association. It investigated the effect of food sequencing on postmeal glucose levels in 11 people with type 2 diabetes. The results were encouraging: average postmeal glucose levels decreased by 28.6%, 36.7%, and 16.8% at 30, 60, and 120 minutes. But with such a small sample size, it was hard to say whether these results could be extended to the larger population of people living with diabetes.
Another research paper from 2020 examined all the research done on food sequencing up until then and found that eating fiber, then protein and/or fat, then carbs may indeed benefit people with diabetes and obesity.
The same paper reported that eating protein first also supports the secretion of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) which delays gastric emptying. This hormone tells the body to produce more insulin after a meal, resulting in lower blood sugar. You may have heard of GLP-1 agonist medications such as Trulicity, Ozempic, or Rybelsus that mimic this hormone and promote weight loss.
However, a more recent meta-analysis of food sequencing and type 2 diabetes research found that “carbohydrate-later” meals resulted in very little change in postmeal blood sugar in the short term and inconclusive evidence for change in A1C over the long term.
So, the bottom line is that food sequencing could lower your blood sugar, but the exact reasons why it does are still mostly unknown, the effect on your blood sugar might be small, and more research needs to be done to understand these effects.
What Pop Culture Says about Food Sequencing
It would be hard to talk about food sequencing without mentioning Jessie Inchauspé a.k.a. Glucose Goddess. Inchauspé is a biochemist, author of Glucose Revolution, and has built a small army of believers in food sequencing.
One fan posted this comment on her Instagram: “My goal was focusing on reversing insulin resistance so, I just followed the hacks over the last eight months and still do. As a side effect I have lost over 30 lbs eating more than I ever have and actually feeling full consistently for the first time in my life.”
While many of Inchauspé’s followers tout the success they’ve seen with food sequencing, it’s important to remember that every body is different and there’s no such thing as a silver bullet to better health.
“With any food recommendation, it’s going to vary from individual to individual. What is effective for one person might not yield the same results for another person,” explains One Drop clinical health coach, Hanna, registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES), and diabetes prevention specialist. “There’s so much variability.”
Is Food Sequencing Right for You? Try an Experiment
“With any new idea that could possibly benefit your health, the first questions I ask are ‘is there a potential negative risk?’ and ‘does it cost money?’ For food sequencing, the answer to both of these questions is ‘no.’” explains Hanna, “There’s no harm in conducting a food sequencing experiment and seeing how it affects your health.”
Here’s how to conduct a food sequencing experiment over four to five days:
Keep everything the same except for food order.
Change only the order you’re eating your protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Try to keep your activity, hydration, and stress levels the same each day you’re conducting your experiment.
Measure your portions.
Coach Hanna recommends measuring out equal portions of chicken (or plant-based protein of your choice), broccoli, and rice since this meal has all three macronutrients. Use a food scale to make sure you’re eating the same amount of every food each day.
Test your blood sugar.
Immediately before you start eating, test your blood sugar. Then, test it again one to two hours after your first bite. Be consistent with how long after you start eating you test (i.e. if you test one hour after your first meal, test one hour after subsequent meals). Use the One Drop app to keep track of your glucose levels or write them down.
Try each food sequence two to three times.
Like any experiment, repetition is key. Eat protein-fat-carbs for the same meal on two to three different days. Then eat carbs-protein-fat for the same meal on two to three different days. This means, you’ll have a total of eight to 12 different blood sugar readings to compare.
The Bottom Line
The science to date shows that food sequencing can have positive effects on postmeal blood sugar levels, but more research needs to be done to understand exactly how this happens, what size effect it has, and to determine any long-term effects food sequencing might have.
If you’re wondering if food sequencing could help you lower your blood sugar, there’s no harm in trying an experiment. As with any new health idea, try to keep an open and curious mind while you’re experimenting and check in with your care team or One Drop coach before making drastic changes to your routine.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Alexa Stelzer, RDN, LD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.