Have you ever watched someone eat food off their plate in a particular order—tucking into their broccoli first, then moving onto their chicken before even touching their side of rice—and think they’ve got some bizarre eating ritual? Possible, but it’s also likely they’re timing their carb consumption, which, according to a study from the American Diabetes Association, helps control blood sugar which in turn helps you maintain your weight.
In the study, researchers recruited 11 people with type-2 diabetes who were overweight or obese, and taking a drug called Metformin, which helps control blood sugar. All participants fasted for 12-hours overnight before consuming a 628-calorie meal with protein, carbs, and fat. In one trial, they ate the carbs first (ciabatta bread and orange juice) before eating skinless grilled chicken, a small salad, and buttered steamed broccoli 15 minutes later. In the next trial (one week later), participants ate the same meal, only the order was reversed. They ate the salad and broccoli first, then the chicken, followed by the carbs. Their blood samples were taken before the meals, and then 30, 60, and 120 minutes after.
When the subjects ate the vegetables and protein first, their blood sugar levels were about 29 percent lower after 30 minutes, 37 percent lower after 60 minutes, and 17 percent lower after 120 minutes after starting their meal, compared to when they ate carbs first.
“It’s possible what this is doing is delaying or tempering how fast the carbohydrates get absorbed,” Sethu Reddy, MD, chief of the Adult Diabetes Section at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, told Reuters. “Drinking whey protein shakes before meals has been linked to lower blood sugar levels after eating, but little was known about the influence of foods, and the order in which they’re consumed, on blood sugar levels following a meal.”
Now, you may not have diabetes, or even worry about your insulin levels, but the glucose your cells don’t use (what your workout doesn’t burn off) is stored as fat, according to the Mayo Clinic. Blood sugar spikes make it easier for your body to pack on the pounds, so prioritizing protein could be a smart approach.