Many people have a banana as a morning snack, assuming it’s a healthy choice; hoping it will hold them over ‘til lunch once the post-breakfast rumbles set in. However, this is NOT the type of snack we would recommend to anyone who is looking to feel energetic, manage their weight or keep cravings at bay. The problem with eating a banana by itself, or any carbohydrate alone for that matter, is that because all carbohydrates turn to sugar once they reach the blood stream, they spike your blood sugar levels. This sets your body up for cravings, irritability, lack of focus and weight gain if you ride the blood sugar roller coaster long enough.
The blood sugar rollercoaster? Huh? What we’re referring to is the vicious cycle of spikes and drops in blood sugar levels that happens when following the Standard American Diet (SAD,) an eating regimen consisting of a high amount of carbohydrates with minimal healthy fats, and protein sporadically. The more carbs we eat and in short intervals of time, give our blood sugar rollercoaster the greatest highs and lows. You may be familiar with common side effects of riding this unhealthy blood sugar rollercoaster: finding it difficult to focus, hearing the vending machine calling your name, feeling light-headed and weak, and having intense cravings for sugar or carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates? What are those? Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (fat and protein are the other two). They are the first macronutrient to be used for energy, which is why you may be familiar with athletes who practice “carboloading” before endurance events, where they consume massive amounts of carbohydrates to sustain their energy. The problem is that most of us aren’t running marathons on a daily basis (and speaking from experience, Cassie wouldn’t recommend it.) When we eat a lot of carbohydrates, but don’t burn them for energy, they get stored for use at a later time, causing us to become full of excess energy. You may know this better as fat stores. How much energy are you storing?
So, what’s wrong with that banana? All carbohydrates are metabolized as sugar once they reach the blood stream, which is why they cause that spike in our blood sugar levels that the other two macronutrients, protein and fat, don’t. Fruits and vegetables are what we consider to be the most nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates, with grains, rice, pasta and sugary treats ranking last. We are big fans of fruits and vegetables — we really are. But not all are created equal. Some fruits don’t have as great an effect on blood sugar levels as other fruits. I call these low-sugar fruits, and these consist of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit. The high-sugar fruits that spike our blood sugar levels the most include bananas, apples, peaches, pineapple and pears. Vegetables can also be broken into two categories: the “starchy” ones that have a greater effect on blood sugar levels and the “non-starchy” ones that don’t. Starchy vegetables like peas, corn, beets and sweet potatoes raise your blood sugars the most. The “non-starchy’ ones that don’t impact blood sugar levels nearly as much are your salad vegetables like spinach, kale, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. For more on the types of carbohydrates, refer to this post.
But, can I still eat the banana? Any time you eat a carbohydrate by itself, you are going to get a spike in your blood sugar levels. So, you can still have your banana, but I always recommend consuming a protein and a fat source with it. You can remember this with the mantra, “PFC!” At the bare minimum, try to have a protein or fat source with the carbohydrate to soften the effect the carbs have on your blood sugar levels. Basically, our rule is to never eat a carbohydrate alone. So, let’s modify that morning snack to make it more balanced, so that it won’t set you up for that early blood sugar spike. We suggest having half of a banana with a couple tablespoons of peanut butter and a hard boiled egg. Your egg is the P (Protein,) your peanut butter is the F (Fat,) and your banana is the C (Carbohydate.) Another easy option with that banana is to have half of it with a handful of almonds (Fat) and a couple ounces of grilled chicken (Protein.) Better yet, ditch the banana for a low-sugar fruit choice, and have some raspberries (Carb) with your grilled chicken (Protein) topped with sliced avocado (Fat.). A favorite snack option for several of our clients is a “Pickle Roll-up.” It’s a piece of meat with cream cheese spread over it (or guacamole if you’er dairy free), wrapped around a pickle. Can you point out the PFC? In this case, the meat is your protein, the cream cheese is the fat, and the pickle your carbohydrate.
The positive verdict is that you can still have your fruit! It’s just a matter of balancing it out with the two other important macronutrients. Besides, when you start eating the combination of PFC (Protein, Fat and Carbs) in place of just carbs, you WILL notice a difference. You’ll feel so good that you won’t even want to go back to eating that single, darn banana. 🙂
Note: If weight loss is a goal of yours, we recommend limiting fruit and choosing vegetables as your carbohydrate choice, most of the time. Contact our team for individualized recommendations.