By Dr Joe
Eating To Your Meter is one of the most under-rated and unused health optimizing tools out there.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes or insulin resistance, mastering eating to your meter is the 1st step towards lowering your blood sugar and preventing wild blood sugar swings whenever you eat even if you are non-diabetic as well.
I will describe the ‘how to perform eating to your meter’ exercise shortly, but before then I’d like to make the case why I came to this conclusion.
If you really want to optimize your health, then you need to optimize blood glucose excursions when you eat. Blood glucose swings have a direct relationship to your metabolic health in the medium to long term…
…even if you are not diabetic, yet. Obviously, blood sugar swings matter a lot more if you already have pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.
And the easiest way to know how food affects your blood sugar levels is through the eating to your meter technique. The principle of eating to your meter should be your guiding light.
The key phrase there is: “Your Blood Sugar“. Not mine, not your sisters or brothers, not your partners, not the general population but YOUR blood sugar. How we react to the food we eat varies from person to person. The gurus never ever emphasize that.
Indeed, eating to your meter should form the basis of how to lower your HbA1C or lower your blood sugar. You will understand why when I describe the technique later on this piece.
Background – Confusion Reigns
When you do research online about optimizing your health for whatever reason, you get bombarded with all sorts of advice. A lot of it conflicting information which will not only confuse the bleeding daylight out of you, but will drive you nuts.
And I mean it.
The more experienced and vocal experts don’t agree when they sit around the table to thrash issues out…even when they belong to the same camp.
An example is Dr Fuhrman and Dr McDougall both in the Carbohydrate side of the argument and they can’t even agree on how much carbs will be appropriate for optimum health.
As you can see from the video below, the gentleman asking the question must have come to that conference wanting to clarify some points and clear a path for himself. Succeed, he didn’t. Hence, he shared his frustration by asking a rather bulls-eye question. Watch video below to see what I mean.
As you can tell from that video, the argument is all about the calorie density prescription that would be considered appropriate. Both Dr Fuhrman and Dr McDougall can’t agree.
Add that to the Low Carb High Protein camp and the Low Carb High Fat camp and your mind gets even more twisted. Worse if you are new to all of these.
As a medical doctor, it took me a while to get my head around what kind of diet pathway would be appropriate for me when I made the decision to get rid of all the nastiness of metabolic syndrome.
I developed metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance syndrome) largely because I wasn’t paying attention to my health, even though my day job was to care for others.
Having said that, the care I was taught to provide wasn’t the one I wanted for myself on this occasion. Conventional medicine usually meant popping pills and popping yet more pills as one’s condition deteriorated. I had had enough of that and I wanted to go the simpler route of using diet to optimize my health.
Given the fact that doctors are not taught nutrition in medical school, that task of deploying the dietary ammunition proved to be quite a struggle for a while before I charted a cause after intense research.
The main struggle being the amount of conflicting information you get both online and offline when you attend conferences.
Eat this, don’t eat that. Eat 2 of those. No, eating 2 of those will harm you. Get Low Carb. No, go High Carb. Fat is bad. No, fat is great. Eat wholegrain. No wholegrain will make you a Grainatarian and will rocket your insulin level. It goes on and on and on forever. It’s just mind-boggling.
If it is mind-twisting for me as a doctor, how much more the ordinary folk who is just as well fed up with taking 4 pills a day and would like an alternative pathway through the medium of diet.
Someone who wants to claim the right to disease-free living using diet as his/her main driver.
This is one reason for this blog. A channel to disseminate my successes as I travel this path.
What I discovered.
With so much conflicting information flying around, I discovered something that I think represents the missing piece in the puzzle.
And I discovered it whilst researching dietary ways of dealing with type 2 diabetes. It is the ‘Eating To Your Meter’ principle.
This ‘Eating To Your Meter’ principle is so important and yet so basic that it solves a lot of the headache of choosing the right diet to halt at worst, and reverse at best, any of the chronic diseases that have their causative roots entrenched in the Western diet.
Why do I think this is the missing puzzle piece?
The reason and there is only one – Customization.
Even though we belong to the same species, yet we are so different as people that it makes sense to individualise everyone’s approach.
Each dietary approach claims a high level of success and indeed they are all correct in their claims.
- Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) purists
- Low Carb High Protein enthusiasts
- Plant-based camp which can be split up into Calorie-Dense (Starch) sub-category and the Calorie-Light (Non-Starch) sub-category.
Each of those dietary groups have hundreds of success stories. When you look closely as well, they all have their own fair amount of failures too.
The point being there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that’s going fix everyone in one fell swoop.
Some individuals are going to be outliers.
Hear Dr Sarah Hallberg talk about lipid profile failures in the Low Carb High Fat users below. I am glad Sarah admits that the Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet does not work for everybody.
Also, that when LCHF works it does carry some unintended consequences of increasing LDL (Bad Cholesterol) for a small proportion of its enthusiasts.
Very sporty and good of Sarah to admit that and to actually commence a 2-year study that will hopefully throw some answers to that question. Because as she rightly stated this puts those outliers at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you go into forums of the different health optimisation groups, you will find people who complain of not having the same experience as the successes. Does that mean that health optimization strategy is bad?
No, far from it.
I believe the journey should begin with you as an individual and that’s where the ‘Eating To Your Meter’ comes in.
Yes, the solution is ‘Eating To Your Meter’.
The operative word again here is ‘Your’.
Because we are so different, it becomes essential to have a plan that is personalised based on the fact that there are:
- Inter-personal variations
- Intra-personal variations
Our bodies have such confounding variables that not only do we have inter-personal variations, we also have intra-personal variations.
What do I mean by intra-personal differences?
How your body responds to a particular meal can actually vary from day to day. Factors like sleep, level of physical activity and type of physical activity can influence your body’s response to a particular meal.
When you alter your insulin resistance status, your body’s response also changes naturally.
Case in point.
When I started my journey to change my health for the better having been diagnosed with prediabetes (metabolic syndrome to be precise), I couldn’t tolerate one banana fruit. If I ate one ripe banana, my blood glucose will hit 8.1 mmol/l (145.8 mg/dl). Wow!
Having reversed my insulin resistance, I can now eat 4 bananas at once and my blood glucose reading will be at a maximum of 5.8 mmol/l. (104 mg/dl). This is the result of insulin resistance reversal confirmed by testing myself several times using the eating to your meter technique.
I don’t get the exact same blood glucose reading every time I eat 4 bananas but so far since re-introducing bananas into my diet, 5.8 mmol/l (104 mg/dl) has been my highest reading. Now that’s an intra-personal variation.
Oh, if you are wondering, does he actually eat 4 bananas in one sitting? Oh, Yes, I do. I eat more over the course of a day but that’s a story for another day.
How did I confidently abandon bananas and subsequently re-introduce them into my dietary plan? I used the Eating To Your Meter as my guiding tool.
What about inter-personal variation?
I will illustrate this with another example.
My wife and I will eat the same meal. When we test ourselves and our blood glucose readings couldn’t be more different.
Granted I have become more insulin sensitive than my wife because I embarked on reversing insulin resistance earlier than my wife, so it is to be expected that I should have lower readings comparatively on the same meal.
This difference in blood glucose readings has actually become a motivating factor for my wife to work harder reversing her insulin resistance, so she could catch up with me. Nice!
What are the objectives of the Eating To Your Meter?
The objectives are quite simple. It’s all about optimizing your health.
We will optimize our health by optimizing our blood glucose excursions when we eat. And we will use the eating to meter tool to achieve this. By doing this we aim to:
- Develop a list of “Good For Me” foods
- Develop a list of “Not Good For Me” foods
- Develop a list of “Probably Good For Me” foods
The “Good For Me” and Not Good For Me” list are the most important and you will see what I mean when I describe the Eating To Your Meter technique.
The “Probably Good For Me” foods are the ones that a little adjustment of the recipe may bring the meal into the “Good For Me” food list.
For instance, starchy foods will fall into that category. When you reduce the servings portion of the wholegrain content of a recipe, you reduce the glycaemic load and that meal may become more blood glucose-friendly for you.
The whole idea is to avoid blood glucose spikes and the operative word in ‘Eating To Your Meter’ is “Your”. Because it is about you and how your body responds to a particular meal. It is all about you and not what any expert has told you to eat.
Yes, there are certain foods that are golden truth. Refined sugars and refined carbs are foods to be avoided because they are very likely going to spike you. If you doubt it, test them and you will realize that it isn’t all theory.
The beauty of ‘Eating To Your Meter is that it gives you absolute control over what you eat.
If you have insulin resistance, pre-diabetes or have type 2 diabetes, this eating to your meter exercise is more or less mandatory.
I believe that every adult over 45, certainly over 50, should carry out the eating to your meter exercise regardless of whether you are insulin resistant, prediabetic, type 2 diabetic or not.
If you think about it, how else are you going to know if a particular food you eat on a regular basis is good for your metabolic health or not. It just makes perfect sense to build the “Good For Me “ list of foods and you can enjoy your meals with confidence instead speculating about a meal’s suitability.
So how do you perform the Eat To Your Meter exercise?
The first thing to remember is that you are targeting a post meal blood glucose of 140 mg/dl (7.8mmol/l), okay. This blood sugar level should represent the worst blood sugar rise that is permissible after your meals.
Why is this?
Well, research has shown us 140 mg/dl (7.8 mmol/l) is the target safe blood glucose that is non-toxic to cells. Blood sugar rises beyond this level does lead to cell destruction inclusive of the cells in the pancreas that actually make and secrete insulin for you. You’d want to protect those cells, don’t you?
Besides, this research did show that high blood sugar excursions after eating, even in the absence of clinical diabetes, is associated with heart disease and all-cause mortality.
With that in mind, here are the blood sugar readings you should ideally be targeting:
|1 hour after meals||Under 140 mg/dl (7.8 mmol/L)|
|2 hours after meals||Under 120 mg/dl (6.6 mmol/L)|
To do this all-important exercise, you need a glucometer to read your blood glucose. The one I recommend is the Roche Accu Chek mobile . It’s very easy to use and the strips come pre-loaded in a small inserted drum.
Heck, the lancets for the Accu Chek mobile are even integrated to the rest of the glucometer unit as just one single unit. The finger prick of the lancet is so gentle, you would hardly feel it. This is very much unlike the others I have tried.
>> To do the eating to your meter you need to “draw a line in the sand” by setting target blood glucose of 140 mg/dl (7.8 mmol/l) which will act as a ceiling.
>> You have to dedicate your entire effort at staying under this upper limit target. It doesn’t end there. When you get better at doing this, you may need to lower this target by a couple of units. For instance, you would be doing an excellent job if you later on set a target of 126mg/dl (7.0mmol/l) at the 1-hour mark post-meal.
Remember, levels between 4.0 mmol/l (72 mg/dl) and 7.0 mmol/l (126 mg/dl) are where you want to be ideally 1 hour after eating. In making the 3 different lists of foods, you can use old reliable Pen & Paper, simple Notepad app on your computer or Spreadsheet if you like.
Here is the technique
**Very important. Before you test any food, make you haven’t eaten anything in the preceding 3 – 4 hours. Why…because we want to test all foods on a clean slate. No interference from a previous snack or food. That would be unfair on the index food being tested, if you ate say 2 hours ago.
Make a note of what you are about to eat and the amount too.
Test your blood glucose before you commence eating. This pre-meal test is optional though, if you are not insulin resistant, but it does help if you want to analyse your results later.
Look at your watch or clock and note the time you had your first bite of food.
Test your blood glucose 1 hour after your first bite.
The 1 hour reading is supposed to be the Peak reading – the spike, if you like from the meal.
Test again 2 hours after your first bite. Your blood sugar should be heading back to the pre-meal level. If it is, you’re showing a good 2nd phase insulin response. If it is not, you should keep testing until your blood sugar begins to decline.
>> Do this for as long as possible – 1 month, 2 months depending on how elaborate your home menu is.
Include a variety of meals. Your popular meals, your favorite foods and even the ones you eat less often. You want to cover a broad range of foods.
Analyze the foods and their corresponding results. You want to note the foods that are spiking you above the 7.8 mmol/l (140 mg/dl) and wouldn’t settle back down beyond the 2-hour mark. These are the “danger foods” that will go into your “Not Good For Me” list.
>> Conversely the foods that don’t produce any spikes are great and must go into your “Good For Me” list of foods.
>> It’s probably a good idea to give each meal a second and even a third chance, on the off chance that the high reading may be due some other factor. This is where the “Probably Good For Me” list comes in, especially those foods whose results are pretty close to the target 7.8 mmol/l (140 mg/dl) on either side of it.
You want to re-test those on different occasions to see if the results will get better. If the results don’t improve after two or three attempts, it is best to stay away from that food or alter the recipe foods to make it more blood glucose-friendly.
>> Following this steps for several weeks, you will have your own customized food list that suits you and your personal circumstances.
You will have your own “Good For Me” and your own “Not Good For Me” list of meals going forward.
Something to note here. Don’t snack before you test any food please.
You shouldn’t have eaten for the preceding 3 hours (preferably 4 hours) before testing any food. You don’t want to be unfair to any food you are testing by confounding it with some other food or snack you ate, say 1 hour earlier. Makes sense?
That’s it. You have now Eaten To Your Meter!
Wouldn’t it be great having a list like that? Meaning you can cook and eat those meals with confidence knowing that your eating habit isn’t ruining your metabolic health?
What are we trying to achieve here with the eating to your meter exercise?
We want to develop a portfolio of meals that will reduce insulin demand on our pancreas. High blood sugar levels place a heavy demand on the pancreas to secrete lots more insulin to drive down the sugar levels in the blood.
Eating foods that lead to modest rises in blood sugar ultimately provoke less insulin secretion from the pancreas. That way we keep our insulin levels low. Less insulin leads to less fat preservation.
Less fat preservation means we prevent the fat spill-over effect which produces fat toxicity on our muscle cells, the liver cells and indeed our pancreas too – the organ that makes the insulin in the first place.
Nearly all the metabolic problems that lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome which of course includes high blood pressure and later on, strokes, heart attacks, alzheimers are traceable to hyperinsulinaemia (high insulin levels).
Hence, eating foods that are low insulin-demanding is the first step towards optimizing your health. I can verify that eating to your meter will set you on that path.
Of course, you also need to work on making yourself more insulin sensitive too. Improving your insulin sensitivity means you may re-introduce some healthy foods that had otherwise spiked you in the past.
For instance, if brown rice had spiked you initially, when you become insulin sensitive further down the line, you may re-introduce it in reduced amounts like one serving at first and see how your body responds to it. That’s what I did with my bananas.
You will become confident and emotionally satisfied about the fact that the food you are eating isn’t going to ruin your health in the years to come.
That’s how you take control of your health, folks.
It might seem tedious and challenging at first but I can confirm you will make some really cool and shocking discoveries when you do this ‘eating to your meter’ exercise. You will be surprised that some of the wholegrain foods your expert is advising you to eat are indeed not good for you, at least initially anyway.
The eating to your meter exercise is about the best way you can customize all the generic advice you receive from your preferred expert. Then and only then will you confirm if the advice is right for you and your body.
Remember, this is all about you. This is one instance where you are allowed to be selfish.
Suggested further reading:
1 Unique Spice That BEATS Abdominal Fat (plus controls blood sugar)