Balanced diet: Pairing protein and carbs to regulate blood sugars

In 2010 the USDA introduced MyPlate as the new guideline for proper nutrition. Since then, it has been the education tool that dietitians use to teach clients about eating a healthy diet. A balanced diet should contain protein, carbohydrate and fat. Each of these macronutrients provides us with energy along with a host of other nutrients.

Protein is made up of amino acids, the building blocks of life. Protein helps the body repair and produce new cells, keeps us full aiding in weight control, and has a moderate effect on blood sugar. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy thus causing the most dramatic effect on blood sugar as the food is broken down into glucose. Whole-grain carbohydrates provide more fiber than the refined versions, and it’s the fiber that keeps you full longer by slowing the digestion of food. Fats have the least effect on blood sugar. Their role in the diet involves nutrient transportation and providing energy. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are required by the body for normal function.

Since each of these macronutrients’ effect on blood sugar varies, it is important to have balance in the food choices you make at meals and snacks. Near-normal blood sugar levels help you feel better and may reduce or prevent complications from diabetes. Aim to always pair a protein and complex carbohydrate together at meal and snack times. Proteins help with satiety and carbohydrates help increase blood sugars. For example, a good snack would be whole-grain crackers (carb) and hummus (protein), or apple slices (carb) and peanut butter (protein).

There is a grain that helps hit the carbohydrate and protein goal at the same time, but with only one food item. Quinoa is an ancient grain, and a unique one at that; it is the only grain that is also a complete protein. To be a complete protein a food must contain all nine essential amino acids. One-quarter cup of dry quinoa contains about 31 grams of carbohydrate and 7 grams of protein. For comparison purposes, a 1-ounce portion of meat has 7 grams protein. Try out this recipe for Sausage-and-Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini for a carb- and protein-balanced start to your next meal.

Sausage-and-Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini

Serves 4

All you need:

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

3 links sweet or hot turkey sausage, casings removed

1 small onion, chopped

½ cup quinoa

1 cup water

1 cup quartered grape or cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram or 1 tsp dried

4 medium zucchini

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

1/8 tsp salt

1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

All you do:

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sausage and onion; cook, breaking the sausage into small pieces, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add quinoa and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in tomatoes and marjoram.

2. Meanwhile, cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut a thin slice off the bottoms so each half sits flat. Scoop out and discard the pulp, leaving a ¼-inch shell. Place the zucchini in a microwave-safe dish and sprinkle with pepper and salt. Cover and microwave on HIGH until tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover.

3. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler to HIGH.

4. Transfer zucchini to a broiler-safe oven pan (or pans), fill with the quinoa mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Broil on the upper rack until the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.

Nutrition Facts per serving: 293 calories, 13g fat, 3g saturated fat, 58mg cholesterol, 626mg sodium, 23g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 22g protein.

Source: Eating Well, Inc.

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