Blood Sugar

How to Prevent Blood Sugar & Triglyceride Spikes After Meals

BY Michael Greger TIMESeptember 10, 2022 PRINT

Within hours of eating an unhealthy meal, we can get a spike in inflammation, crippling our artery function, thickening our blood, and causing a fight-or-flight nerve response. Thankfully, there are foods we can eat at every meal to counter this reaction.

Standard American meals, rich in processed junk and meat and dairy, lead to exaggerated spikes in sugar and fat in the blood. This generates free radicals, and the oxidative stress triggers a biochemical cascade throughout our circulation, damaging proteins in our body, inducing inflammation, crippling our artery function, thickening our blood, and causing a fight-or-flight nerve response. This all happens within just one, two, three, four hours after eating a meal. Worried about inflammation within your body? Well, one lousy breakfast could double your C-reactive protein levels before it’s even lunchtime.

Repeat that three times a day, and you can set yourself up for heart disease—though you may not even be aware how bad off you are, because your doctor is measuring your blood sugar and fat levels in a fasting state, typically drawing your blood before you’ve eaten. But, what happens after a meal may be a stronger predictor of heart attacks and strokes—which makes sense, since this is where most of us live our lives, in a fed state.

And, not just in diabetics. If you follow nondiabetic women with heart disease, but normal fasting blood sugar, how high their blood sugar spikes after chugging some sugar water appears to determine how fast their arteries continue to clog up. Perhaps, because the higher the blood sugar spike, the more free radicals are produced.

So, what are some dietary strategies to improve the situation? Thankfully, “[i]mprovements in diet exert profound and immediate favorable changes.” What kind of improvements? Specifically, a diet high in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory whole plant foods. “[m]inimally processed, high-fiber plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, [beans], and nuts, will markedly blunt the after-meal increase[s]” in sugar, fat, and inflammation.

What if you really wanted to eat some Wonder Bread, though? In less than an hour, you’d get a big spike in blood sugar. But, if you smeared it with almond butter, what would happen? Adding about a third of a cup of almonds to the same amount of Wonder Bread significantly blunts the blood sugar spike.

But, wait; wouldn’t any low-carb food help? I mean, why add almond butter when you can make a bologna sandwich? Well, first of all, plant-based foods have the antioxidants to wipe out any excess free radicals. So, not only can nuts blunt blood sugar spikes, but oxidative damage as well—and blunt insulin spikes as well. Adding nuts to a meal not only calms blood sugar levels, but also calms insulin levels. Now, you’re thinking, “Well, duh, less sugar means less insulin.” But, that’s not what happens with low-carb animal foods.

If you combine some chicken with white rice—steamed skinless chicken breast—you get a greater insulin spike than just the white rice alone. So, adding the low-carb plant food made things better, but adding the low-carb animal food made things worse. Same thing with adding chicken breast to mashed potatoes—a higher insulin spike with the added animal protein. Same thing with animal fat; add some butter to a meal, and get a dramatically higher insulin spike.

If you add butter and cheese to white bread, white potatoes, white spaghetti, or white rice, you can sometimes even double the insulin. Whereas, if you add a half an avocado to a meal, instead of worsening, the insulin response improves, as it does with the main whole plant food source of fat: nuts.


Michael Greger, MD, FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. He has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Colbert Report,” and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. This article was originally published on
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