…When we think about meal timings, your blood sugar is affected because our brain functions on fuel coming in consistently throughout the day.
On today’s episode, we chat with Vandana Sheth to discuss how your meal times impact your blood sugar levels, what you can do to manage it better, and actionable steps that can be implemented to jumpstart a positive relationship with your food.
Vandana Sheth is a nationally recognized and award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist, certified intuitive eating counselor, CEO of a successful nutrition and wellness coaching business, and global media spokesperson and author.
Shireen: On today’s episode, we are in conversation with Vandana Sheth to discuss how your mealtimes impact your blood sugar levels, what you can do to manage it better, and actionable steps you can implement today to jumpstart a positive relationship with your food. Stay tuned.
Vandana Sheth is a nationally recognized and award-winning registered dietician nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist, certified intuitive eating counselor, CEO of a successful nutrition and wellness coaching business and global media spokesperson and author. Welcome Vandana.
Vandana: So excited to be here Shireen.
Shireen: Such a pleasure having you on Vandana. Tell us a little bit more about your background, your upbringing, and cultural influences that have really shaped food choices and how you view your role as a dietician today.
Vandana: Would love to share about my journey to where I am right now. So, I was born and raised in India in a town called Madras, which is now known as Chennai.
It was on the coast and food was such a personal experience. Food was something that we savored. My mom was a phenomenal cook. She picked fresh ingredients every day are from the vegetables that came into season. She would add spices. I was raised vegetarian, so all our food was plant focused with lots of beans, lentils, whole grain, spices, just flavorful, and everything was made from scratch.
So, and I didn’t even know there was any other way. But she spent hours in the kitchen putting these amazing meals for us with such joy you could taste the love in her food. And it was, as I was growing up, I’m a classical Indian dancer. I realized the connection between food and how I performed and how I felt, and that drove my passion to study it more.
I loved science, but I didn’t want to be a physician. And when I realized that you could be a dietician, you could go into nutritional science, that’s what drove my journey into becoming a dietician. And when I came to this country 31 years ago, so it’s a long time ago. I realized how different food is growing up in India, from a city to coming to LA with the food choices available.
And again, this country’s come a long way in terms of the palette and global flavors coming into our regular cuisine. But that really is what has influenced my journey and how I see food. How I work with my clients to help them enjoy their cultural foods because that is absolutely something so important.
Shireen: Absolutely love that. In speaking of which and talking about meals itself and what we’re here to talk about around blood sugar management, a hot topic, definitely when it comes to diabetes management. Can you explain to us how meal timing works in relation to our blood sugar levels? I feel like it’s simple, yet incredibly complicated. Can you walk us through that?
Vandana: Yes. Yes. And so first of all, blood sugar management is critical for all of us. Whether you have pre-diabetes, diabetes or not, your blood sugar affects everything how you feel, how you function. And so, when we think about meal timings, your blood sugar is affected because our brain functions on fuel coming in consistently throughout the day.
When you have huge gaps in your day, our blood sugar naturally drops. And if we don’t give ourselves the right amount of nutrients that our body is going to look for that sugar from something else. So, we are going to potentially start breaking down muscle and protein to create the sugar that we need instead of really breaking down the food we eat to create the sugar.
Shireen: So that is interesting. Now, how does this relationship between meal timing and blood sugar levels really defer for individuals with type two diabetes compared to a general population?
Vandana: Yeah, so someone with type two diabetes is especially more sensitive to how their body is processing sugar, how their body is responding in terms of insulin sensitivity.
If they have more insulin resistance, their insulin is not doing its job as effectively. And so, for them it’s a especially important that we make sure that meal timings are coming consistently throughout the day so that they have these gentle rises in blood sugar and not big peaks and crashes.
Shireen: So, is there, I’m sure you get this question all the time, but is there a best time of day to consume either your breakfast or your lunch or dinner for optimal glucose management?
Vandana: I wish there was an ideal situation, but each of us lives our lives so differently. There are some clients who wake up and they’re just not hungry and they don’t want to eat. There are others who work super late, and their mealtimes are on later in the day.
But if I had to give a general guideline, it would be trying to get something in your system within the first hour or so from when you’re up, because that really breaks the fast. It gives your body some immediate fuel to get started, and then think about maybe four to five hours later, depending on how you’re doing.
Try to get that second meal and calculate about four to five hours later, get that third meal. If there is a bigger gap, you might want to consider a snack, a car protein combination. So, your blood sugar is also more stable, taking you through to dinner rather than having this huge gap, which is very common with many of my clients between lunch and dinner.
They get done with work. By the time they get home, they are so hungry, dinner is not ready. And then we start snacking on whatever is available, then feel guilty. Blood sugars are out of control, so might be simpler to plan a snack either right when you leave work or when you get home. There’s a snack that’s a protein combination, sort of an appetizer, and then set you up for dinner later.
Shireen: And you mentioned the breakfast itself and sometimes not being hungry when you wake up first thing in the morning. Is there any effect if your first meal of the day is at 12:00 PM versus 8:00 AM? Or is it about just being consistent, like you said, four or five hours apart and that’s sort of sticking to, to that schedule? Or is it none of the above?
Vandana: It really depends. I wish. There was just one cookie cutter answer, but it depends on each individual. So, this is the type of stuff we can dig deeper when we meet one-on-one with clients so that we can understand their life experience, what works for them.
In general, I would like to see consistency. It’s not just from when you wake up to when you eat, but it’s also what is the gap between the last time you ate in the night to that first time in the morning. That gap also makes a difference. So typically, with my clients with blood sugar concerns, I have them try and maintain about 10 to 12 hours of a gap, 12 hours ideally, and then have something to break that fast.
Shireen: And let’s talk about the impact that these foods have on the blood sugar levels. What are you aiming for by making it consistent sort of meals and having them on time? What is that doing to blood sugars?
Vandana: Yeah, so all three, all food will raise your blood sugar. It just raises your blood sugar at different levels depending on what it’s made of.
So, if it’s a carb rich food, it’s going to convert to sugar fairly quickly. If it’s a protein-rich food, it’s going to take a more gentle approach and not have a direct effect right away. And if it’s fat, it’s going to take a much slower effect. And just a small percentage directly affects your blood sugar. So, when we look at our meals, what are they made of?
Ideally, you want that combination of carbs, protein, and fats because they give us that quick burst of energy, a little gentler energy, and we feel satiated longer. The exact amount of how much carb, how much protein, how much fat depends on each individual based on your activity level, your gender, and your nutritional needs.
Shireen: And so, if you had to tell someone who is not in any kind of sports or not as physically active as they need to be what would you sort of guide them to when they’re looking at either their plate or the way they look at meals throughout the day?
Vandana: So, I would say whenever possible, let’s aim for getting lots of veggies on our plate. Because that’s something most of us lack, or we think we’re eating enough, but not really. So, if you had to keep it simple, let’s make sure we get lots of produce. Specifically non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers. So many colors and the more vibrant those vegetables on your plate, the more micronutrients and antioxidants you’re getting.
The second part of your plate let’s focus on making sure you’re getting some protein. And that protein. Ideally you want to get lean protein, so it can be plant based or it can be animal based, depending on your food preference. And then you want to focus on your carbs and try to get the carbs that are more whole grain, that have a lot more fiber.
So, look at whole grain bread, or if you are Indian, maybe chapati or roti. Try and get that, the stuff that’s made from whole grain. Whole grain flour, because then you’re getting all the nutrients and there’s a slower rise in your blood sugar compared to something that’s like a naan, that’s made from refined flour. Your blood sugar is going to spike much faster.
Shireen: And then how does that apply to a snack?
Vandana: Yeah, so with snack, it may not necessarily be a combination of all three, but I always ask my clients to try and pair two food groups. Preferably a carb and protein. So, for example, you could have a tennis ball sized apple with a small quarter cup of nuts. Pistachios, almonds your choice. Or it could be maybe some veggies, colorful veggies, and served with a little hummus. And right there you got a little appetizer plate.
Shireen: So, are there potential risk of irregular meal timings for individuals with type two diabetes and how can these be avoided?
Vandana: So, when we think about blood sugar, again, the key is to remember, it has to be customized and each of our body responds to food and our fasting state differently.
But in general, if you have erratic mealtimes and you’re having a hard time managing your blood sugar, that is one thing we want to fix. Because when you have inconsistent mealtimes like you eat, some days you have an eight-hour gap. Some days you have a five-hour gap, your body doesn’t know how to break things down appropriately.
Your blood sugar is going to have highs and lows, and that might be an issue. So, I would say it’s important that you try to get more consistent with your mealtimes, so your blood sugar can be more stable. One of the risks can be if your blood sugar drops too low, you have hypoglycemia, then you end up having to treat it.
And often people are fearful as their blood sugar is dropping. They overcorrect, so then you’re overtreating with more carbs coming in, treating a high blood sugar. So, it’s this rollercoaster and it doesn’t feel great in the body. You just don’t feel good when your blood sugar is all over the place.
Shireen: And that is so true. What would you say to someone who wakes up and their blood sugar is drastically low and then we hear, oh, drink orange juice, and then it just flops the other way. How do you work with someone through something like that happens largely first thing in the morning?
Vandana: So first of all, it’s awful when you wake up with a super low blood sugar, it’s scary. And so, I would ask you to first treat that, and there’s a specific protocol to treat that. So, you want to make sure you’re having, depending on your numbers, you want to have about 15 grams quick acting carbohydrate, such as four ounces of fresh juice, four ounces of a hundred percent juice is all you need to bring it up to a decent state.
And if you’re still shaky, still low, then you need to treat it with a meal. Maybe some toast with peanut butter or half a sandwich, something like that. You also want to look at why did it drop that low? Did you have a huge gap in the night where you’re more active? Did you have too much medication at night because you want to get to the root cause of this so you don’t have this happening over and over.
And if it’s happening more frequently, definitely meet with your physician, meet with your diabetes care specialist, your dietician, to look at your personal journey and to customize their recommendations for you.
Shireen: Well, let’s move to the other culprit here. Stress and emotional eating can really play a role in how and what we eat disrupting our regular schedule. How do both of these impact sugar, blood sugar levels, and what are some of the strategies that you ask your patients to incorporate in order to manage this better?
Vandana: Well, I’m so glad we’re talking about this because stress and emotional eating is a huge part of what’s going on with all of us, right? Especially if you’re dealing with diabetes or pre-diabetes, the concern is that stress naturally will raise your blood sugar. And so that’s something to keep in mind that.
For example, I have a client who’s testing their blood sugar. They are upset because their blood sugar is off and then they’re stressing and the blood sugar continues to spike, right? So that’s not fun. But once they realize that connection between stress and how their blood sugar is responding, we can take action. And so, a few things I usually have my clients do is first of all, try to recognize the impact that stress has on their food and on their blood sugar.
And how their body’s processing the food. When we are super stressed, we don’t take the time to really joyously eat our food. We are just so distracted. We don’t connect with that satisfaction. Then we’re looking for something else to eat because we never gave it the attention that deserves. So that’s one thing we work through with my clients.
The second is build some kind of stress management technique on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It could be five-minute breaks built into your calendar, no matter how busy you are. A few times a day, or if you have a smart watch, many of our apps have the mindfulness type programming in there.
Or use something like Headspace or Calm, do a guided meditation. Literally go out for a walk, getting yourself away from whatever that stressor is, physically get some fresh air, sunshine, you’re going to feel better, come back a little calmer. So those are some simple right-away techniques that my clients use and seem to thrive.
Shireen: I love that you mentioned, just going back a second when you talked about joy in food. How do you make that connection, especially if the joy is coming when you’re emotionally eating? When it’s coming from food that aren’t that great for you?
Vandana: First of all, I come from a mindset that all foods can fit into a healthy way of living. My clients don’t get eat-this, don’t-eat this list. We don’t do that. I get to know my clients and understand really, what is it that you love eating. What is non-negotiable to you? Let’s figure out a way to make that happen so that it’s part, it’s not a big deal. Let’s make it happen. So, if that’s a cup of ice cream or that’s, say an Indian client with a sweet treat, it’s a celebration.
Absolutely. Let’s plan on how you can have that and not spike your blood sugars. So, there are ways to do that. When it comes to joy, it’s all about being present with our food. Again, our lives are so busy that we tend to just check it off as one more thing. Okay, I had to eat, I ate and moved on. Or we are answering our emails while we are eating or we’re watching our favorite show and eating.
But any of those don’t connect us with the actual food that’s in front of us. So, something I do with my clients is for those who struggle with this, we actually do a mindful eating exercise. I guide them through this process, and we do that a few times with few different foods. And it’s fascinating to see the connection that the aha moments that they experience when they do taste food that way.
Shireen: How incredible. Is there any potential long-term health risk associated with irregular meal timings for people, especially as is potentially spiking their blood sugar levels?
Vandana: First of all, one long-term effect can be that the longer you go actually you are ignoring your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. So, you’re getting farther and farther from really recognizing when your body’s giving you those cues, you’re saying, no, not right now. I’m busy. I’m going to get to you later. Eventually your body stops giving you those signals, so then it leads to disordered eating in a sense. Because you don’t recognize when you’re hungry.
When you’re full, you’re just eating. You don’t know how much to eat. You don’t know when you’re full. That’s one thing that I would be concerned with. With blood sugars, yes because you’re continuously then putting your body at this rollercoaster moment where it doesn’t know how to process foods that are coming.
Your body’s constantly being challenged to maintain its blood sugar in a more stable way. And so, if this is important to you, managing your blood sugar should be important to all of us. If you are dealing with diabetes or pre-diabetes, it’s so important that you focus on eating consistently and what is consistent for you might be different than someone else in your family.
So, we need to customize that for you, but definitely something you want to do. Just like you don’t drive away without gas in your car. It’s not going to go far. Simple analogy, but it’s true. Right? How far can you go? So, we are pushing our body to fumes almost without fueling appropriately and consistently.
Shireen: Oh my, I absolutely love that. We’re fueling into fumes. That is a vivid image. With that Vandana I would love for when you’re talking about this, I think one of the key things that comes to mind is, okay. But then I hear you loud and clear. What can I do to jumpstart a better, healthy, joyous relationship where I can reset things, understand my body’s cues again? Maybe I’m disconnected. What can someone do today?
Vandana: Wow. So many things. But if I had to pick one thing, I would say just check into your eating times. Can you set aside 15 to 20 minutes for your meal? Can you be present with your food? Actually, take the time to set it up in a pretty plate. Set a glass of water, sit in a comfortable place, and really joyously enjoy that food. That’s one.
The second one would be, let’s look at the composition of their food. Are we getting a lot of veggies on there? If we aren’t, what’s missing? How can we make that happen? And the third would be really start paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues throughout the day. Your body gives you those signals.
We just have gotten into a habit of ignoring them but start paying attention to that. The more consistently you pay attention to what your body is asking you for in your fueling appropriately. The less of those times where you feel like, oh, I just need to eat. I’m stressed. I need to cope with this. Those would be some quick suggestions.
Shireen: Absolutely. Absolutely. Love this. And I feel like we can absolutely go on and on. But at this point, we are toward the end of the episode. At this point Vandana, can you tell us how our listeners can just connect with you and learn more about your work?
Vandana: Yes. I would love for your listeners to connect with me. I am on social media. I’m on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. I have a little bit of TikTok presence, but my website would be a good place to go. It’s vandanasheth.com and I’m sure you will have that out there in the notes for anyone. But I also wanted to share an amazing resource that we just put together.
So, I am a cookbook author. My book is available on Amazon, and this is my book. If anyone is interested in vegetarian quick recipes, they’re not my mom’s recipes. They don’t take hours. They all come together in 30 minutes or less with lots of shortcuts. And the second new resource we are releasing is a course.
It’s a program specifically for someone who’s newly diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes. It’s called Jumpstart: From Diagnosis to Immediate Action. It’s a self-paced program. It has all the videos, trainings that you need. It’s got worksheets, handouts, including seven-day meal plan. Plant-based as well as not, and snack ideas, grocery shopping list, it’s got everything you need to take you to action.
So, it takes away the overwhelm. So, if anyone is interested, I would ask you to check out that link, and I will share that with, and specifically for your listeners, we created a 20%. Discount. So, there’s a discount code as well. I would love for you to check out the course and hopefully you join and find a lot of value with it.
Shireen: Love it. And what we’ll do is we’ll link up all of these different resources in the show notes for this podcast and the description. If you’re watching us on YouTube, we’ll noted below. And with that Vandana thank you so very much for joining us on this episode today.
To our listeners head over to our social media. You know the drill at this point. Head over to our social media. Head over to our Facebook, our Instagram. Find this very podcast post and answer the simple, quick question. How have you gone about balancing and sort of stabilizing your blood sugar levels? What have you done? Either be in your meals or exercise or managing your stress, give us your tips.
What are you doing differently that has truly helped you in your journey as you sort of moved toward better eating? Better managing your diabetes or just blood sugar management in general. Share with us again. Head over to our Facebook @Yumlish on Instagram. We’re there as well. Find this podcast post and common below to let us know. With that Vandana, thank you so very much again.
Vandana: Thank you for having me.