A list of foods that do not cause insulin release would be nearly identical to a list of foods that do not raise blood sugar, as the two processes are directly linked. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and allows for the absorption of glucose, which provides energy.
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Foods That Don't Release Insulin
For the body to function properly, it requires energy. This energy is created from the food you eat. When the stomach begins the digestive process, it extracts carbohydrates from consumed foods, and these carbohydrates are then turned into a form of sugar known as glucose. The stomach and small intestine then both absorb this glucose and feed it into the bloodstream, which is how cells absorb energy and keep you moving.
However, for this process to work successfully, the body requires insulin. Insulin is a hormone made up of beta cells that is produced in the pancreas. Without insulin, the glucose remains in the bloodstream and can cause dangerously high blood sugar levels.
To monitor these blood sugar levels, researchers developed a form of classification known as the glycemic load, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A food product is given its glycemic load classification based upon factors such as its total carbohydrate content and how much of that becomes glucose, therefore assessing its effect on blood sugar levels.
Using the glycemic load is a great way of creating a list of foods that help stabilize blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic load cause a small, gradual increase in blood sugar. For insulin to be released, there must be a high level of glucose in the bloodstream — so eating foods that possess a low glycemic load means that there will be less glucose produced and therefore, less insulin released.
According to Harvard, a glycemic load is considered low if it's under 10, so the following are all foods that promote healthy blood sugar levels:
- Bran cereals
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Wheat tortilla
- Skim milk
The foods below all have a glycemic load between 11 and 19, which is considered a medium rating, so are foods that cause some increase of blood sugar but not to an extreme extent:
- Pearled barley: 1 cup cooked
- Brown rice: 3/4 cup cooked
- Oatmeal: 1 cup cooked
- Bulgur: 3/4 cup cooked
- Rice cakes: Three cakes
- Whole grain breads: One slice
- Whole-grain pasta: 1 1/4 cups cooked
It is particularly important for the 463 million adults with diabetes (either type 1 or type 2) to pay attention to the glycemic loads of the foods they consume, as high blood sugar levels can be dangerous and require continuous monitoring.
Harvard Health has a more extensive list of foods and their respective glycemic loads.
Foods That Turn Into Sugar
A food's glycemic load can also be used to measure the degree to which a particular product may affect your overall blood sugar. A low glycemic load signifies a lesser effect on glucose levels, so where there is a high glycemic load, the opposite is true.
For this reason, if you want to avoid foods that cause high blood sugar, avoid foods that possess a high glycemic load. These are the foods that turn into sugar once they are in the body.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School advises that a glycemic load of 20 and above is considered high, which includes the following foods:
- Baked potato
- French fries
- Refined breakfast cereal: 1 ounce
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: 12 ounces
- Candy bars: 1 1/2 ounce bar or 3 mini bars
- Couscous: 1 cup cooked
- White basmati rice: 1 cup cooked
- White-flour pasta: 1 1/4 cup cooked
It's important to be aware of these levels regardless of whether you have diabetes, due to the negative effect that high-glycemic-load foods can have on the body.
A March 2013 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who stuck to a diet comprised of low glycemic foods demonstrated a significantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes when compared to those who consumed foods with a higher glycemic load.
In addition, a similar October 2012 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found a link between high glycemic foods and heart health. The study concluded that there was a significant link between increased high glycemic food consumption and coronary heart disease in women, but not in men.
The study did make note that further research was required to ascertain the reason for the gender difference, but maintained that the results were significant in determining the risks associated with high glycemic foods.
Read more: 15 Reasons to Kick Sugar
Prominent Sources of Glucose
While the glycemic load classification is a good way to keep track of foods that increase blood glucose, many products don't include this classification on nutrition labels. Luckily, there are other ways to tell which foods increase insulin sensitivity and which don't.
Glucose comes from carbohydrates, and insulin is released when there's a high glucose count in the bloodstream. Therefore, minimizing the amount of carbohydrates you consume will reduce the amount of insulin eventually released.
There are two predominant sources of carbohydrates in the human diet: starch and sugar. Try modifying your diet so that you eat a moderate amount of these foods.
Starchy foods include:
- Breakfast cereal
Foods that are high in sugar include:
- Fructose: Natural sugar found in many fruits, particularly canned fruits
- Lactose: Natural sugar found in many dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt
- Added sugars: The most common form of dietary sugar, found in chocolate, fizzy sodas and many candies
All of the above foods are highly common in the American diet, and there is no need to completely remove them to maintain healthy blood sugar levels — just be mindful of the amount you are incorporating into your meals. Carbohydrates are necessary for energy, so a diet devoid of them could potentially cause you more harm than good.
If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and are concerned about your diet, adopting a plant-based lifestyle could yield many benefits. A small February 2019 study in Nutrients found that of the 20 participants, those who were following a vegan diet demonstrated improved synthesizing, storing and secretion of insulin, in comparison to those eating animal products.
Is This an Emergency?
- Kaiser Permaente: "How Our Bodies Turn Food Into Energy"
- Diabetes: "Insulin Basics: American Diabetes Association"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar"
- Harvard Health: "Glycemic Index of 60+ Foods"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Is There a Dose-Response Relation of Dietary Glycemic Load to Risk of Type 2 Diabetes? Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies"
- Nutrients Journal: "A Plant-Based Meal Stimulates Incretin and Insulin Secretion More Than an Energy- and Macronutrient-Matched Standard Meal in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Study"