Combining Foods To Control Glycemic Response

You don’t need an obsessive, stupid low-carb, high-fat or ketogenic diet to control and mitigate glycemic response from whole food carbohydrates. What you need is to start using your brain.

I came across this post someone had emailed me the link to some months back as I was doing some email housekeeping yesterday. Thought I’d share it as I finish the draft of my next post about high protein intake in a calorie restricted, meticulously tracked way over the last month (7 solid pounds dropped).

Some pretty interesting stuff: Monitoring Metabolic Stress.

There’s six cool charts in the post you can check out, but I’ll share my favorite one.


Here’s the description.

Chart 5:  Kidney Beans with Added Grains; Vinegar; and Vinegar and Oil. Because kidney beans trace a gentle, sustained blood sugar curve, I chose to use them to test the addition of an acid (apple cider vinegar); an acid and oil (vinegar and extra virgin olive oil); and a carbohydrate (whole oats that were pre-soaked before cooking).  Adding vinegar to beans and even more so, vinegar and oil, significantly moderates the blood sugar effect of kidney beans.  Vinegar and oil accomplishes this same function for other foods if you keep them handy at a central place in the kitchen and on your dinner table.

Combining beans with grains (in our bean-whole oats example) would normally call for a 1:2 ratio of beans-to-grains in order to assemble complementary amino acids in the right proportion for a complete vegetarian protein.  Yet, eating beans and grains in this standard vegetarian way spikes blood sugar.  The idea that “wholesome” vegetarian meals push blood glucose to an uncomfortable zone is also borne out by other examples of vegetarian meals explored in my own day-to-day personal testing.  It appears that vegetarian meals, without the anchor of animal proteins and fats, easily spike blood sugar. [Vegans and vegetarians may be particularly interested in using a simple blood glucose monitor to sharpen food combining skills.]  What I believe this specific beans/oats case tells us is that beans and grains alone can deliver too much carbohydrate for the body to handle, if not offset with adequate protein/fat buffers.

So, see, it’s not really about “the carbs” at all. It’s about how you eat them and sensible food pairings. And note as well that even though the best response is with both the vinegar and oil, the oil is a very modest amount. Always be wary of adding a lot of fat to a heavy carb meal. See: Why you may reconsider buttering your potato.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Hap on May 10, 2017 at 09:36

    While partly common sense…in other ways quite confusing. At BreakNutrition the molecular biologist discusses a fairly well done paper in depth regarding the digestibility of cereal breakfast and glycemic as well as GIP and Insulin responses.

    The glycemic responses are unreliable……

    The following were takeaway points…but all should listen to the podcast interested in this stuff.

    2 foods with identical glycemic responses can stimulate GIP and insulin to significantly different degrees
    2 foods with identical glycemic responses can derive different proportions of glucose from endogenous production vs exogenous absorption
    The apportioning of endogenous vs exogenous glucose depends in large part on the rate of starch digestion and rate at which glucose is cleared (the latter is significantly dependent on tissue glucose uptake)
    measuring blood glucose (your glycemic response) after consuming a food or meal is marginally useful and has significant limitations:
    if your blood glucose is excessively high and/or unstable, this confirms your inability to handle the food appropriately
    if your blood glucose remains relatively low and stable, this does not confirm your ability to handle the food appropriately because the physiological ‘cost’ in terms of insulin, GIP and other responses are not factored in
    Fiber, again, does not seem to be a considerable factor affecting these metabolic responses
    The speed at which starch is digested is largely dependent on the degree and type of processing incurred by the macromolecular starch network

    Something to consider

    • Richard Nikoley on May 10, 2017 at 10:14

      “The glycemic responses are unreliable……”

      Absolutely, and good point. I probably ought to have made it.

      It’s always going to be different, per individual.

      I always tell people to dismiss absolute numbers, look at the deltas. Better is better.

  2. thhq on May 10, 2017 at 04:52

    I used to use a blood glucose monitor to do experiments lke this. The worst glucose spikes came from sticky sushi rice and rhubarb pie. The rice is high GI and a straightforward, like cooked oatmeal. The pie is not, being a mixture of fat, sugar, flour and high acidity fruit. The pie had glycemic response more like Coca Cola, which contains half the sugar as relatively low glycemic index fructose and is acidic.

    All that said, I haven’t found added acidity or fat to be reliable dampers for glycemic response.

  3. Hap on May 10, 2017 at 15:28

    Yes, there is individual response to glycemic loads based on capacities at many levels to absorb, eliminate, and metabolize glucose or more complex carbohydrates.

    The research described above is not exactly the point you are making but it is relevant. We concentrate on measuring glucose responses, mainly because it is convenient and cheap. However, the results can easily be misleading. A better test would be the insulin response to meal and specifically the insulin load or area under the curve (AUC). AUC can be extremely eye opening and is part of understanding the Kraft responses and the path to significant insulin resistance in many cases.

    Still I test my BG and A1c because my doctors do and frankly, I don’t want to hear them moan and groan and try to insist on various regimens and if I can show them something they understand and it fits the mold, they will shut up. Even Mark Sisson wrote in his latest blog on blood testing that very low carbers will have high FBG and that they should eat at least 100g/day for a couple of day before doing blood tests…..just to keep the doctors off their backs.

    I’ve taken to eating potatoes now without the “trimmings”, just salt and pepper. If nothing else, since I don’t eat dairy with meat, that eliminates the vegetable oil based “butters” and a bunch of fat calories.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 10, 2017 at 17:16

      Hap, make sure you read that last link in the post., about butter on potatoes.

      Another piece of the puzzle. Less glyc responses in trade for a lot more insulin and time to clear.

    • Hap on May 13, 2017 at 22:22

      I made the mistake of re reading Denise Minger’s post on Defense of Low Fat High Carb a few years back …and of course, some discussion of this on your blog. Most of it was confusing and irritating. I understood her point and the criticsms, many of which appeared as explicit blog posts by Jason Fung.

      Seems like the potato hack is a version of the Rice Diet, perhaps.

      She promised in 2013 a long awaited Part II……still waiting.

      Is all that now a moot issue….or are we still wrestling over it?

      Apparently, Esselstyn and especially Pritikin did some reasonably decent study of the diet. I never paid much attention to Pritikin or Ornish, even when I was a young buck….well , actually I did to Ornish.

      What really impressed me, not the improvements in biomarkers, but the regression of soft plaque in coronary arteries.

  4. Hap on May 10, 2017 at 20:16

    OK….a long article on fats and carbohydrates consumed together. I will have to read it over again, really carefully. However, my take home message corresponds to your previous posts about macronutrients……protein always……reciprocal cycling of fats and carbs. Mix it up.

    At least I am on the right track now of eschewing as much fat as possible when eating a higher carb meal like a baked potato. Non starchy vegetables…maybe acceptable to pour on the oil or to speak.

    Physiological insulin resistance consuming fat with carbs, from an evolutionary perspective , not sure I quite understand. In the short run it needs to be an advantage. Chronically, a problem.

    Need to go back to the Gabor discussion and relisten.

  5. pzo on May 22, 2017 at 08:46

    After spending maybe two thousand hours of nutritional research in the last eight years, here is the take away:

    “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” For every position proffered, there is quality research indicating the contrary. Yes, sometimes it’s easy to spot a poor underpinning, but often every parameter seems reasonable.

    If one’s goal is losing fat, not just weight, my experience is keep up the protein, perhaps about .75 grams per pound of lean body mass, do some exercise including cardio (to burn calories), some resistance training, keep the fats down only because of the high caloric profile, CICO works.

    And Eat. Real. Foods. At least 90% of the time.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 22, 2017 at 10:53

      I will be blogging it soon, but what I found by consistently hitting 150-200g daily for about three weeks straight is that it killed my hunger over the last couple of weeks. Haven’t even big logging because I know I’m way under.

    • M.Morton on June 5, 2017 at 05:35

      People who struggle with weight are not people to whom that has not occurred.

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