A new, small study from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York found diabetics who ate their protein and vegetables before they ate their carbohydrates were better able to lower their blood glucose levels.

"We're always looking for ways to help people with diabetes lower their blood sugar," Dr. Louis Aronne, senior study author of the Sanford I. Weill Professor of Metabolic Research and professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, said in a press release. "We rely on medicine, but diet is an important part of this process, too. Unfortunately, we've found that it's difficult to get people to change their eating habits."

This is especially difficult when people, diabetic or not, are advised to stop consuming carbs. Carbs, however, raise blood sugar, and too many can be especially problematic for diabetics. So to get a better idea of how much of an impact food order makes, researchers worked with patients who had both type 2 diabetes and obesity and were taking an oral drug to help control their blood sugar.

Patients were twice given a meal to eat consisting of ciabatta bread and orange juice (carbs), as well as a chicken breast, lettuce, and tomato salad with low-fat dressing and steamed, buttered broccoli (protein, vegetables, and fat) twice on separate days a week apart. And when they ate their carbs 15 minutes before the rest of their meal, patients’ glucose levels were much higher than when they ate the meal in the reverse order. When patients ate their vegetables, protein, and fat first, blood sugar lowered up to 37 percent.

"Based on this finding, instead of saying 'don't eat that' to their patients, clinicians might instead say, 'eat this before that,'" Aronne said. "While we need to do some follow-up work, based on this finding, patients with type 2 might be able to make a simple change to lower their blood sugar throughout the day, decrease how much insulin they need to take, and potentially have a long-lasting, positive impact on their health."

Healthy eating habits are a critical component of diabetes care. The American Diabetes Association recommends diabetics fill half their plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, cucumber, kale, mushrooms, onions, kale, other salad greens, squash, and tomatoes, while the rest is packed with protein, healthy fats, and fiber.

The diet plans placing an emphasis on these particular foods are by default considered good for diabetics; some include the Mediterranean Diet, the Biggest Loser Diet, and DASH Diet. But the takeaway from prior and present research is diabetics better control their blood sugar not from any particular diet, but from healthy eating patterns.

Source: Shukla A.P., et al. Food Order Has a Significant Impact on Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Levels. Diabetes Care. 2015.