Blood sugar balancing is the latest wellness focus everyone's obsessed with. Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist, naturopath and founder of Artah supplements, previously told us it's her top biohack for optimising her health. What does eating for blood sugar balance mean? Well, it's not about cutting sugar from your diet, rather it's about combining foods to support how your body metabolizes them and to buffer blood sugar spikes. This could involve adding more veg and greens to carb-heavy meals such as pizza and pasta, or adding healthy fats in the form of avocado, peanut butter or chia seeds to your snacks to make them more nutritionally complete.
Why bother? Being on a constant glucose rollercoaster can contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation which is linked to developing certain diseases later in life. Short term, it can also cause symptoms such as low energy and poor sleep. Food combining is a key part of the Zoe diet, a personalised nutrition programme that wants you to forget everything you’ve ever heard about calorie counting and portion control and learn how to eat for optimum health. Blood sugar balancing and gut health are its two key pillars.
There is serious science behind the programme, which has a 200k-strong wait list for the starter kit. It involves a blood glucose monitor and finger prick tests that allow you to measure how you metabolise sugar and fats from your blood and adapt your eating regime accordingly. It's pioneered by Professor Tim Spector, who also runs the Zoe Health Study app into which millions of us input our Covid symptoms, who also spurred the Blue Poop Challenge. More recently the Zoe team have invited hundreds of thousands of the population to join the mega Big IF study – the largest study of its kind into intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating (TRE) – to find out if it’s right for them.
Another big element of the Zoe diet programme is the app, which offers users access to hundreds of recipes and tips on how to make better food choices to suit their unique metabolism. It has spurred a social media sensation, with Zoe's followers taking to Instagram to share their blood sugar and microbiome-friendly meals. The Zoe feed is full of healthy 'food-spo' from kale pesto pasta to squash, bean and barley soup and features plenty of how-to reels on things like fermenting your own kimchi.
Of course, you don’t have to have taken the Zoe test to adopt a blood sugar-balanced diet. Zoe's US medical officer Dr Will Bulsiewicz, a New York Times bestselling author and gastroenterologist has provided us with five new recipes from his latest title The Fibre Fuelled Cookbook which will soon be added to the Zoe app. The benefits of fibre of course, are that it is key to buffering blood sugar spikes and it feeds your good gut bugs too.
For blood sugar-balancing breakfasts try overnight oats and buckwheat pancakes, plus healthy, light lunch ideas, such as rainbow and lemon lentil salads plus tasty fibre-filled suppers.
Happy meal planning!
Blood sugar-balancing breakfasts
Vanilla berry overnight oats
Dr Will says: “Overnight oats are the product of slow cooking, much like fermentation. Rather than transforming our food with a burst of flames, we instead apply a heavy dose of self-restraint by walking away and nothing more. When we return, we discover that nature has rewarded our patience with a bowl of magical goodness."
Top tip: If you are not following a low Fodmap diet, you can use unlimited fruit for topping and sub 4 pitted dates for maple syrup and use 7 tablespoons of warm water to create the cacao drizzle.
- 1 small or medium ripe banana
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 3 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1½ cups unsweetened almond milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Sliced ripe banana, 10 medium strawberries, ¼ cup blueberries, 30 raspberries, or 1 blackberry, hemp seeds, chia seeds, coconut flakes, chopped pitted dates
For the cacao drizzle topping
Blend together 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons cacao or cocoa powder, and enough warm water until just smooth.
1. Slice the banana and place in a bow or a wide-mouth mason jar. Using a fork or back of a spoon, gently mash together until a smooth paste forms. Add in the rest of the ingredients, mix well, and let sit for 15 minutes.
2. Remix well, then put it in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 8 hours.
3. Enjoy as is, or garnish with toppings of choice.
Warm apple pie oatmeal
Dr Will says: “Ginger has been shown to improve nausea and discomfort after meals. It’s also been shown to accelerate stomach emptying. My suspicion is that the latter explains the former.”
- ⅓ cup rolled oats
- 1 cup peeled, cored, and finely chopped apple
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ cup unsweetened apple puree
- ½ teaspoon vanilla powder
Supercharge It! (with optional toppings):
- Chopped mango
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Coconut flakes
- Chopped pitted dates
- Carob topping
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the oats, chopped apple, chia seeds, ginger, apple sauce, and 1 cup water.
2. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, until the oats are soft and thick. If needed, add an extra 2 to 3 tablespoons of water for desired consistency. Stir in the vanilla powder and divide between two bowls.
3. Enjoy as is, or with your favourite low-histamine toppings. If you prefer slightly sweeter oatmeal, drizzle 100 per cent maple syrup on top, to taste.
The crowd-pleasing weekend brunch recipe: blueberry buckwheat pancakes
Dr Will says: “Blueberry buckwheat pancakes are an act of love for someone on a Saturday or Sunday morning. You can share them with others, but after a hard week you deserve a little self-care indulgence. For those wondering, buckwheat is not related to wheat and therefore these pancakes are gluten-free. Please don’t let the word 'wheat' trigger you."
Makes 8 pancakes
- 1 cup oat flour or buckwheat flour (or a mix of both)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cup water or oat milk
- 1 tablespoon ground flax mixed with 2 1⁄2 tablespoons of water until jelled
- 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla powder
- 3⁄4 cup peeled, cored, and chopped fresh apple (about 1⁄2 large apple)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons molasses for sweetness (optional)
- 1 cup frozen wild or regular blueberries
- Olive oil or cooking spray, to grease the frying pan or griddle
1. Baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and ginger until well combined.
2. Powder, apples, and molasses in the base of a blender and puree until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the blueberries.
3. Heat a large nonstick pan or griddle over medium heat. Lightly coat with oil or cooking spray.
4. Pour the batter onto the pan in 1⁄4 cup servings (the batter will be thick) and shape into a round circle. Let a few bubbles appear for 1 to 2 minutes, until easily lifted from the pan. The pancake colour will be darker, then repeat with the remaining pancakes, greasing the pan(pp as needed to prevent sticking.
The super easy fibre-filled lunch ideas
Rainbow farro (spelt grain) salad with tahini apple dressing
Dr Will says: “If it has farro, I’m there for it. I love the nutty taste and soft, chewy texture. Farro is an ancient wheat grain that originates from Mesopotamia and makes a great alternative to rice. A cup of farro has 20 grams of fibre. Gadzooks!”
Top tip: To pack for lunch, toss together the farro [an ancient grain similar to or spelt, such this one from Waitrose], vegetables, and beans. Add the dressing right before serving. If you are not on a low-histamine diet, you can substitute black peppercorns for pink peppercorns.
- 1½ cups cooked farro or other short grain like spelt
- 1½ cups finely chopped broccoli florets
- ½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- ½ yellow or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
- 2 cups cooked white beans
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, broth, or water
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pink pepper
In a large bowl, combine the farro, broccoli, bell peppers, cabbage, and white bean.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together the tahini, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pink pepper. For a thinner dressing, whisk in an additional tablespoon or two of water. Season to taste, then add to the farro salad and toss well.
Lemon lentil salad
Dr Will says: “I can’t decide if this is a summer salad or an autumn/winter salad. The sweet potatoes and carrots feel like cooler weather foods, but then the courgette, yellow squash, and lemon are such classic summertime favourites. I guess it’s just versatile for all seasons. What do you think?"
Top tip: "Want to roast your veggies oil free? Let’s do it! Simply steam the starchy vegetables (that is, the sweet potatoes and carrots) until just tender. Combine them with your raw non-starchy veggies (that is, the courgette and squash) in a large bowl and add enough moisture to help the spices adhere. Now add the spices (Step 1 above), mix, and set aside for 10 to 20 minutes before roasting to allow the spices to absorb moisture. Boom! Delish."
Fodmap note: 1 cup diced courgette is a low Fodmap–friendly serving.
- 2 cups diced sweet potatoes
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 1 small courgette, diced
- 1 small yellow squash, diced
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more for the dressing
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for the dressing
- Olive oil (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1½ cups canned lentils, drained and rinsed
1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the sweet potatoes, carrots, courgette, and squash in a large bowl and add the paprika, cumin salt, and pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil then toss well to cover the mixture with the spices. Place in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and tender.
2. While the vegetables are cooking, make the dressing. Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, tahini, and 2 tablespoons water until creamy and smooth. Add in the parsley along with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Mix together the canned lentils and cooked vegetables with the dressing and serve.
The plant-based supper inspo: tempeh skillet with saffron rice
Dr Will says: “Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. China’s Buddhist monks dyed their robes red with saffron, and Cleopatra soaked in a saffron-scented bath. Now you get to enjoy this timeless classic with dinner on a random Tuesday. Lucky you!"
Top tip: The key compounds and pigments in saffron — picrocrocin, safranal, and crocin — dissolve better in water than oil but need time to steep and escape. Grind with a pestle and mortar and steep for at least 20 minutes (up to 24 hours) for optimal release.
- 1½ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil or water
- 1 teaspoon date paste or 100% maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional; can substitute chilli powder if not low Fodmap)
- 1 garlic clove, minced (optional; not low Fodmap)
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon freeze-dried or fresh chives
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 8 ounces tempeh, crumbled
- 1 small courgette, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced spring onion (green parts only)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh coriander
- ¼ teaspoon good-quality saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup brown basmati rice, rinsed
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, a half tablespoon of the olive oil, the date paste, lime juice, chipotle powder, if using, garlic, if using black pepper, oregano, chives, paprika, and cumin. Add the tempeh, courgette, bell pepper, and scallions to the bowl and toss to coat. Cover, then place in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight to marinate.
2. When ready to eat, place the saffron threads in a small bowl and cover with hot water to bloom. Heat one teaspoon of the extra-virgin olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add in the rinsed rice. Toast for 1 to 2 minutes, until the rice is fragrant and golden brown. Add in the reserved saffron mixture, salt, and 1¾ cups water, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and cook for 40 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the water and is tender.
3. Heat the remaining half tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the tempeh and vegetable mixture and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the tempeh is crispy and the vegetables are cooked through, stirring often. If the tempeh starts to stick, add in a little water, vegetable broth, or oil. Taste, adding more salt as needed. I usually add ¼ teaspoon more with a little more black pepper.
4. Serve with the saffron rice.
Recipes are taken from Dr Will Bulsiewicz's The Fibre Fuelled Cookbook and all will soon appear on the Zoe app