I get regular emails from people asking for help to balance their blood sugar. The most common request is, “Please tell me what I should eat. I need a meal plan.”
Many people are so confused. They’ve read so many books, been to different doctors and health professionals and got conflicting advice. They simply don’t know what to eat any more.
Two or three years ago, I decided to write a book with meals plans for people with hypoglycemia. But each time I started, I had a bad feeling. The truth is, it’s impossible to write meal plans that will suit everybody. We are all so different.
A young man of 20, who is 6ft 2in tall and physically active doesn’t need the same meal plan as a 65 year old woman who is 5ft 2in and doesn’t exercise much. And someone who lives in the UK or northern US states, where winters are cold, doesn’t need the same meal plan as someone in Southern California or Florida.
Some of my readers are in the Middle East, India and South East Asia. They don’t want the same meal plan as someone in the US.
Most best-selling diet books devote about half the space to meal plans and recipes! This is crazy. Sure, it gives people what they want. They want someone else to tell them what to eat. But in practice, it’s impossible to follow those diet plans for more than a few days. Then you slip up and eat something you shouldn’t. Then before long, you give up that diet and move on to the next one!
So, I’m not going to give you any meal plans. But what I am going to give you, will empower you much more in the long run. I am going to give you principles to guide you. So you can create your own meal plans.
The ultimate goal – intuitive eating
I like the idea of intuitive eating. But don’t worry, I’m not going to just drop you in the deep end and tell you to eat intuitively! For most people, that is simply too big a step to take all at once.
If you have been restricting your diet for a long time, cutting out various foods, afraid to eat certain foods in case they upset your blood sugar – or make you fat – you need to take small steps to begin with. You need some structure to your eating. Some rules to set you in the right direction.
So, here is what I recommend:
1. Eat three balanced meals a day – at the same time every day. This is not really rocket science. It’s what humans have been doing since the beginning of recorded history. But many people today have lost the habit of three meals a day. With our busy lives, and so many tempting snack options, people are eating all day long.
So, number one rule is to get back to regular meal times. Sit down and eat a balanced meal, three times a day.
This, of course, raises the question of “what is a balanced meal?” Here’s the answer:
2. Choose foods that you enjoy – preferably foods that are traditional to your culture. And create meals that are traditional for your culture. You don’t need to eat any strange foods. Whatever part of the world you live in (or where your ancestors came from) there are traditional foods and meals that people have eaten for many centuries.
If you live the the UK or North America, a balanced meal can be a simple as meat, vegetables and potatoes. Essentially, a balanced meal should contain some protein, some fat and some complex carbohydrate. You need all three.
(Some of you are going to complain you can’t do this, because you are gluten free, or dairy free, or something else free. So you can’t eat ordinary meals. Don’t worry, I will come to this later. But stick with me for now.)
So, if you eat an omlette and salad for lunch, that is NOT a balanced meal! It lacks enough complex carbohydrate. You should add some wholegrain bread and butter, or potatoes (with butter). Likewise, a breakfast of fruit and low-fat yoghurt is NOT a balanced meal. Some people might be able to survive through the morning on a breakfast like that, but most can’t.
But a breakfast of lightly scrambled eggs on two thick slices of wholegrain toast and butter – now, that’s a balanced breakfast that can see you through until lunch time without needing to snack!
If you keep reading, I will give you some ideas for balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner/supper. But in the meantime, there’s another aspect to consider:
3. Eat enough to satisfy your hunger, so you are pleasantly full. But stop before you are feeling stuffed. It’s important to eat enough to feel satisfied at each meal. Otherwise, you will be hungry and looking for snacks a couple of hours later.
This is particularly important if you are trying to lose weight. It’s tempting to cut down on what you eat at meals. But here is the truth for most people – it’s what you eat between meals that makes you fat. Not what you eat at meals.
So eat enough at each meal. Then relax for a while afterwards to help digestion. Eventually, you want to get to the stage where you know just how much you need to eat to see you through until the next meal without feeling hungry.
Why not eat snacks to keep my blood sugar stable?
I have answered this question at length in my ebook “Revealed: the Hidden Truth About Hypoglycemia”. To summarise, eating 6 to 8 small meals a day, like many experts recommend, will only make your blood sugar issues worse in the long run. Your liver is designed to keep your blood sugar topped up between meals. By eating every 2 or 3 hours, you are constantly stimulating insulin production and not allowing the previous meal to be digested properly.
You have to bear in mind, most nutrition studies are funded by the food industry. Even if they’re done by a seemingly independent body such as a university, the money ultimately is likely to come from the food industry.
So, it’s not surprising we see so many diet books and media articles recommending we eat snacks throughout the day to “keep our blood sugar levels from dropping.” Look at the number of snack foods and sugary drinks in your supermarket. It’s huge. Imagine what would happen if people stopped eating snacks. These food companies would go broke. So there’s a lot of vested interest in keeping us eating snacks.
You don’t need to follow that trend, though. If you are serious about your health, I’m absolutely convinced you need to stop snacking between meals.
Now, just to be clear. I’m not saying you should never, ever eat a snack again in your life! Of course, there are times when it’s appropriate to eat a snack. If you are genuinely hungry, due to either missing a meal or not eating a balanced meal, then you should eat a small snack to keep you going until the next meal.
Or, you might like to treat yourself occasionally at a cafe with a cup of good coffee and a small snack. If it’s once (or maybe even twice) a week, then it won’t do much harm. But what you need to avoid is the habit of just grabbing snacks every day, at random, whenever you feel like it.
At the risk of sounding like a cracked record, I reiterate – eat three balanced meals each day (or four if you wish) and you should not feel the need to snack in between.
Some sample meal plans
I’m going to recommend some guidelines for what to eat at each meal. Bear in mind, we are all different, so don’t follow these exactly. They are just to give you ideas, which you can adapt to suit you own unique body type, exercise level etc. These meal ideas are for people in western countries, so if you live in another part of the world you will need to adapt them to your own needs.
Breakfast: One of the best foods you can eat for breakfast is eggs. They have been a traditional breakfast food for thousands of years. You can eat eggs any style. I like them scrambled or boiled. But you can have them poached or fried. (A popular breakfast in Japan is to crack two raw eggs over a bowl of warm rice. The rice lightly cooks the eggs.)
With your eggs, eat a couple of slices of wholegrain toast and butter. I mainly eat organic sourdough bread from a local bakery. It’s far superior to most of the bread you can buy in the supermarket.
A cup of tea or coffee with milk (not too strong) can finish off your breakfast.
Another good option for breakfast is muesli, made with rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. I like to soak my muesli overnight in milk, so it is easier to digest in the morning. If I’m having muesli, I usually like to add a boiled egg and piece of toast and butter, to give me enough food to last until lunch time. Sometimes, I even eat sardines on toast for breakfast!
Some people recommend oatmeal for breakfast. I find a bowl of oatmeal leaves me feeling hungry by about 10am. Likewise, a breakfast of fruit and yoghurt is probably not enough to see you through until lunch. You need to experiment.
Lunch: If lunch is not your main meal, wholegrain bread with butter and cheese is a great combination for lunch. If you add soup (in winter) or salad and maybe a piece of fruit (make sure you only eat really ripe fruit, as most fruit sold in the supermarket tends to be unripe these days), you have a balanced meal.
Any combination of a protein food such as fish, chicken or meat, with some salad, soup or other vegetables (depending on the climate and season), and some complex carbohydrate such as bread, potatoes, rice, pasta etc. and a little bit of butter or oil makes a good lunch. Again, you can finish with a cup of weak tea or coffee with milk.
Dinner/supper: I’m assuming this is your main meal of the day. But if not, you can interchange this with lunch. A serving of meat, chicken or fish, combined with either cooked vegetables or salad and some starchy carbohydrate (potatoes, pasta, rice etc) and some butter or oil, makes up a balanced meal. Really, there are so many options here, it is just a matter of choosing the foods that you like, which are traditional in your part of the world.
You can even finish with a small dessert, if you like. It’s natural to like something sweet at the end of a meal. Just avoid packaged desserts that you buy at the supermarket. Make it yourself from natural ingredients. I shouldn’t really have to say this, but I know many of my readers live in America, where the quality of food in supermarkets is very poor (from what I understand). So stay away from anything that contains artificial ingredients and any other kind of junk food.
A simple dessert is a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate. Finish with a cup of weak tea or coffee and milk, or whatever drink you prefer. A glass of orange juice or other fruit juice is also OK to have with your main meal. But make sure it is pure fruit juice and only a small amount.
So, there are some ideas. But you can adapt them, as long as you remember that a balanced meal contains protein, fat and carbohydrate – all three. Low-carb or zero-carb, or low-fat/no-fat is NOT a balanced meal. It will leave you feeling hungry and looking for snacks (just what the food companies want – but not you!)
Now, a word for those who are gluten and/or dairy free.
I often get emails from people saying my diet recommendations sound great but they can’t follow them because they can’t eat wheat or dairy. Well, you have two choices. First, you can substitute a gluten-free grain such as rice, or potatoes, and make that your staple. And if you are dairy intolerant, you can use coconut milk (preferably organic and without added sugar).
If you are sure you can’t tolerate wheat and/or dairy, then this is what I recommend.
However, if you are simply avoiding wheat and/or dairy because of what you have read somewhere, or what someone has recommended, then you might want to reconsider. I cut out all gluten-containing grains, all dairy products and several other foods for three years while I was trying to recover from chronic fatigue syndrome. It made little or no difference. I cut out so many foods, I eventually became skin and bone through malnutrition.
When I started eating wheat, dairy and everything else, as part of three balanced meals a day, with no snacks – my health turned around rapidly.
To conclude, here’s a thought-provoking video if you want to open your mind to the truth about wheat and dairy:
OK, this is enough for now. Until next time.