There’s no one-size-fits-all for a metabolically healthy diet. How we each respond to food goes beyond the macronutrient content of the food itself. You might respond well to bananas and have a big spike in blood glucose when you eat quinoa or brown rice, while someone else may have the opposite response.
Individual differences, such as the composition of our gut microbiome, our micronutrient status, how well we sleep, exposure to stress, physical activity, and our genetics, can all contribute to those unique reactions.
In addition, how we consume a food can impact its metabolic response: For example, if we pair it with fat, protein, or fiber. The order in which we eat things matters, too—having fat or protein before carbs can help blunt a blood glucose spike. Consuming vinegar or cinnamon before or with a meal can also lower the response.
“Focusing on whole, unprocessed foods and avoiding added sugars are the cornerstones of optimal metabolic health.”
Many diet approaches can support metabolically healthy eating. We don’t endorse any particular diet because we recognize that each of us reacts differently to food, and that many factors influence what we eat.
However, we can identify several foods that have a low glycemic index and are unlikely to spike your blood glucose levels. Here’s a starter list of things you can try, and if you have a continuous glucose monitor or use other methods to test your blood sugar, see how you respond. Even if you can’t measure your response, this is an excellent list to build your individual diet around.
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In general, starchy vegetables are the most likely to raise glucose, as the have relatively high levels of carbohydrates. Leafy green, non-starchy vegetables should serve as the core of any diet.
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Celery root
- Green beans
- Hearts of palm
- Lettuce of all varieties
- Mustard greens
- Rapini (broccoli raab)
- Snow peas and snap peas
- Summer squash
- Turnip greens
Nuts and Seeds
These are a great way to add healthy fats, protein, and micronutrients to any meal or to have as a healthy snack.
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
Beans and legumes
Particularly when paired with healthy fat, beans and legumes can be a great source of fiber and protein without a significant spike. That said, some people have a substantial response to beans. Tofu is generally a good choice for not spiking glucose levels.
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Soybeans (edamame)
- Pinto beans
Many berries have a lower glycemic load and tend to work well for people, while starchy fruits (such as bananas) and high-sugar fruits like dates may lead to a blood-sugar spike. Citrus is a great low-carb flavor addition to any dish. Generally, fruit paired with fat and protein (like nut butters or full-fat unsweetened yogurt) and additional fiber (chia seeds or flaxseeds) can help blunt a spike. Also, portion size matters—keep them small as you learn how your body reacts.
Eggs and Dairy
If you choose to eat dairy products, fermented is best; also, avoid low-fat options and aim for whole-fat and organic. If you use dairy alternatives, avoid sweetened varieties and oat milk.
- Eggs (go for organic, cage-free)
- Plain unsweetened Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Sour cream
- Unsweetened nut, seed, and bean milks (excluding oat or rice milk)
- Unsweetened non-dairy yogurt (excluding oat)
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Monk Fruit
- Zucchini noodles
- Konjac noodles
- Hearts of palm pasta
- Chickpea, black bean, or lentil pasta (these spike some people and not others)
Meat and Fish
- Game meats
For seafood, try wild-caught, small fish, such as:
Oils, Fats, and Sauces
Flavorings and Treats
- Extra Dark Chocolate (88% or higher is a good choice)
- Cocoa powder
Remember, everyone’s ideal metabolic diet is different. There’s no guarantee that any of these items will produce a low glycemic response for you. However, focusing on whole, unprocessed foods and avoiding added sugars are the cornerstones of maintaining steady blood sugar levels and achieving optimal metabolic health.