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CGM Blood Glucose Experiment: 5 Insights from a Non-Diabetic

November 13, 2020
Written by
Team NutriSense
Reviewed by

The first time I ever put on a NutriSense continuous glucose monitor (CGM), several people questioned my purpose. "But Kara, you don’t have diabetes? But you’re young? But you’re healthy?"

My primary goal for collecting as much personalized data as I can, like the data collected from interstitial fluid-based CGM devices, is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Glucose isn't just a metric that tells you if you need diabetes management or not.

Glucose is a vital sign, just like heart rate or body temperature. It’s affected by all of your lifestyle habits, and your glucose response provides insight into your diet, fasting regimen, physical fitness, stress, sleep, and more. It provides much more than just identifying glycemic levels for people with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes. 

Being able to see your blood glucose levels respond in real-time to all of your lifestyle factors makes it easy to identify what you're doing well and where there's room for improvement. It also helps give reason for how you may be feeling as a result of sudden drops or increases to glucose levels, or extreme levels that fall into hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. 

Once you have access to this data, anything is possible. You can discover how your body uniquely responds to different variables. Instead of following cookie-cutter recommendations from the healthcare system, you can build a personalized routine to optimize your health. This is critical for decreasing your risk for a whole range of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer.

As a dietitian, I am inundated with new research and nutritional information every day. Nutrition has become similar to politics with passionate ideologies and heated debates. There is so much noise in the world of nutrition, but wearing a glucose monitoring system cuts through the noise.

What's the point of wearing a continuous glucose monitor?

The initial stages of continuous glucose monitoring are all about exploration — figuring out what your baseline blood sugar levels are and how your normal routine affects those values. It provides an initial assessment of your overall metabolic health and if you suffer from conditions such as insulin resistance. Once you've gathered insights into how your body functions, you can tweak and alter your habits until everything is performing optimally. 

Since wearing CGMs (calibration can be done to match your blood tests if you have had work done previously), I've been able to fine-tune my routine based on the hundreds of data points collected by the device. There's no way I could gather this much data by just using a fingerstick. In addition to glucose readings, I've learned so much about myself in general. In this article, I'm going to share these insights so that you can hopefully takeaway inspiration for how to experiment with your own CGM and optimize your health.

Insight #1: Food pairings have a big impact on glucose levels

While wearing my CGM sensor, discoveries started to pop up all over the place. In particular, I really gained insight into my meal choices. I could list 50 different food insights I learned, but one thing that really stood out was the impact of processed foods.

Oatmeal paired with scrambled eggs is something I commonly have as a post-workout meal, and it is part of my regular routine. I have experimented with many different ways to prepare my oatmeal at this point. Altering the time of day I eat it, pairing it with various toppings, soaking it overnight, etc. Through all of my experiments, there was one variable that mattered the most — how processed the oats were.

After a lot of experimentation, I've crafted the following recipe that works best for me:

  • ½ cup oats
  • 2 tbsp of chia seeds
  • One scoop collagen
  • ½ cup of wild blueberries
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • Dash of cinnamon

Now, the following graph is that exact recipe, but the ½ cup of oats is instant oats:

Notice the huge glucose spike, followed by a quick return to normal blood glucose level. This response was leading to an energy crash about two hours after eating, followed by feelings of hunger an hour after that. The following graph is the same recipe, but I changed my oats to steel-cut oats. The result? A controlled glucose response and no feelings of hunger for over five hours 😎

Seeing this data helped me personalize one of my favorite foods to work with my unique metabolism.

Insight #2: A little carbohydrates can cause a giant glucose spike

I used to be scared of consuming too many carbs. I ate my oatmeal in hiding, not letting anyone know of my “guilty” pleasure. I avoided bananas like the plague. If I was craving carbs, I ate sweet potatoes, thinking they were the better alternative.

What I learned when I started measuring my food responses was the exact opposite of my initial thinking. It turns out, I can eat carbohydrates, as long as they are moderate portion sizes and coming from whole foods. It also turns out that the carbohydrate foods I thought were better for me, such as sweet potatoes, are some of my worst offenders.

As you saw above, I can tolerate steel-cut oats perfectly fine as long as I pair it with some protein and fiber. Bananas are my friend, leading to a minimal increase in glucose values. I also tolerate beans, legumes, and berries very well. And to my great surprise, starchy vegetables (including sweet potatoes) are my enemy. 

I have tried sweet potatoes in just about every form imaginable. Baked, roasted, mashed, cooled, paired with every protein or fat possible. At 7am, at 7pm. After a workout, after a walk. It didn't matter; the glucose spike will come and haunt me.

Why does this happen? 

Bananas:
CGM blood glucose experiment: How blood sugar levels reacts to bananas


Vs. sweet potatoes:
CGM blood glucose experiment: How blood sugar levels reacts to sweet potatoes


There could be many factors at play here, but it turns out we have a lot of variability in glucose responses between individuals. We are all a unique compilation of genetics, epigenetics, environment, and microbiomes that lead to different reactions to the same food. Research has shown that when you give a standardized meal to people, almost everyone has a widely different glucose response with a standard deviation of 31.

Everyone’s carbohydrate tolerance is unique, and that's what is so insightful about wearing a CGM — you can find out exactly where you lie on the spectrum. What I have found is that our nation’s current carbohydrate recommendation for 45–65% of calories coming from carbs is extremely high for someone whose blood glucose levels respond like mine. And that's most likely the case for a lot of other people.

About 20–25% of my calories from carbs is my personal sweet spot. If I am sick, not working out, or in the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle, I drop that percentage down to about 10–20% to compensate.

Insight #3: Late night meals increase your fasting glucose levels

Carbohydrates affect my glucose levels more negatively as the day progresses, as our insulin sensitivity naturally lowers in the evening hours. A higher glucose spike from carbohydrates consumed at night turns out to be a fairly typical response found in almost everyone.

Most of your hormones work on a circadian rhythm, and insulin is no exception. Insulin sensitivity varies from person to person. Still, most people experience the highest insulin sensitivity in the middle of the day and the least insulin sensitivity in the middle of the night.

This study showed that insulin sensitivity peaked for most people at noon, and was 54% higher than their insulin sensitivity at midnight. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a lot of sense. Our bodies are designed to process food during daytime hours and not while we are sleeping.

I consistently found that when I consume fewer carbs at dinner and more during the daytime hours, I improved my responses to those foods, limiting glucose spikes and lowering my fasting glucose values during the night. If I decide to eat any food, especially carbs, late at night, then I will see the effect on my fasting glucose values all night long.

Take below for example — right before bed at 11:45pm, I had a bowl of popcorn. I experienced an initial glucose spike, but the real insight is what happened during the night long while I slept. Generally, if I consume popcorn during daytime hours, it will give me a small glucose spike, but then come back to normal glucose levels within two hours of eating.

When I ate it right before going to bed, my nighttime glucose values stayed elevated until I woke up the next morning. Usually, my nighttime glucose values are between 70–80 mg/dL while I sleep. Imagine if I did this every single night and had no idea this was happening! It would easily bring my average glucose up to alarming levels.

CGM blood glucose experiment: Late night snacking increase your fasting glucose levels


CGM blood glucose experiment: Late night meals elevate fasting glucose levels until the next morning


Insight #4: Glucose levels are sensitive to stress  

The most significant non-food variable that affected my glucose levels is, unsurprisingly, STRESS! While wearing the CGM, I had just started another job on top of my full-time job. I was working all the time, barely sleeping, and always stressed about finding enough time in the day to get everything done.

While this was happening, I watched my fasting glucose values consistently rise and wondered what the heck was going on. If anything, I was eating less than usual and still exercising to cope with my added stressors. After digging into the research, it became clear that elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) can drive up fasting glucose values higher than any other factor (Source)

When our cortisol levels are consistently high, this sends signals to the brain and liver that we need to make extra glucose (gluconeogenesis) and decrease our insulin sensitivity to assure that excess glucose is available to handle the stressor at hand. If this behavior is consistent over time, it dramatically increases our risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes (Source)

Below is a typical day for me. You can see that there is some glucose variability throughout the day. However, most of the time, I am staying between 70–100.

CGM blood glucose experiment: Blood sugar levels during a typical day (i.e. no stress)


This second picture is a day with similar food and exercise, but when my stress levels were very high. My average glucose, fasting glucose, and postprandial glucose levels are all higher due to the stress. Being able to quantify the effect that stress had on my body allowed me to realize how serious this issue was and take the necessary action to deal with it.

CGM blood glucose experiment: Increased blood sugar levels when the body is stressed


Insight #5: Seeing your glucose levels keeps mindless eating in check

Finally, and arguably most importantly, continuous glucose monitoring and receiving real-time feedback improved my relationship with food. I know I'm not alone when I admit to not always having had a healthy relationship with food.

Feeling stressed? Grab the chips. Feeling bored? Open the fridge. Binged on some cookies? Guilt and self-loathing for the next 48 hours. The amount of mental energy wasted on these silly thoughts is outstanding; imagine what I could have been doing instead.

Having real-time feedback from my body in response to my food decisions brought awareness to my behaviors. It showed the impact of my choices in a way that I can't ignore and turn a blind eye. If I ate a food I knew I shouldn't have eaten, I can see if my blood sugar levels become hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic. It held me accountable to my goals in a way that didn’t feel shameful or guilt-ridden.

I can no longer hide from my decisions or make excuses for my behaviors. Instead of going “all-out” in response to the mental stress of it all, I now have an enhanced mind-body connection that makes it easier to respect the natural signals my body gives me.

I can mindfully enjoy a treat without going overboard. I can stay on track with my goals while also freeing up mental space from thinking negatively about food. It's a gift that keeps on giving. I definitely wouldn't be able to get this type of experience just by going to my usual healthcare provider.

In summary

CGM systems enable me to optimize my health, avoid finger pricks, and become more confident in implementing very specific lifestyle changes. The beauty of personalized nutrition is that there is no one right way to eat. But, there is a better way for you to eat.

Food is a huge part of health, but there are so many other factors to consider. Is your stress unmanaged? Do you have a consistent exercise and movement routine? Is your sleep being neglected lately? Stepping back and looking at the whole picture is vital to truly understand your body and work with it instead of against it.

To figure out if a continuous glucose monitor is the right solution for you, learn about the NutriSense CGM program and subscription plans.

Written by Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC and Director of Nutrition at NutriSense.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
Listen to the full podcast:
CGM Blood Glucose Experiment: 5 Insights from a Non-Diabetic
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​​Springtime Sniffles: Causes and Prevention Tips for Your Seasonal Allergies
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If you're one of the millions of Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, you know how important it is to find ways to make yourself feel more comfortable during this time of year. Read more about springtime allergies and what you can do to manage them.

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6
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Preparing for a Healthy Ramadan
Preparing for a Healthy Ramadan

From April 2 to May 2, people worldwide observe Ramadan, a time of fasting and spiritual reflection. Learn more about the traditions, and how to healthily break a fast during this holy month with tips from one of our dietitians.

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6
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Obesogens: What Are They and Do They Affect Blood Glucose and Weight Gain?
Obesogens: What Are They and Do They Affect Blood Glucose and Weight Gain?

Obesogens are in everything, from the products we use and the food we eat, to the air we breathe! Learn more about what these endocrine-disrupting chemicals are and how you can avoid exposure to them.

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11
min
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Pairing Your Food: Are there Good and Bad Combinations?
Pairing Your Food: Are there Good and Bad Combinations?

Are eggs and beans bad for you? Should you forgo the fruit juice with your cereal at breakfast? The NutriSense Nutrition Team tells you more about how healthy some common food pairings are for you.

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8
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Eating for Endurance
Eating for Endurance

Learn everything you need to know about eating if you are an endurance athlete.

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12
min
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A Closer Look at Heart Rate Variability
A Closer Look at Heart Rate Variability

Heart rate variability is the variation in time between your heartbeats. Learn more about it, why tracking your trends matters and how it can give you insights into your fitness, stress, diet, and overall health.

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8
min
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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Multiple Sclerosis
Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Multiple Sclerosis

Living with an autoimmune condition can be challenging. Continuing our series on these conditions, learn more about detecting, treating, and managing Multiple Sclerosis.

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6
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Reading Nutrition Facts Labels Like a Pro: Dietitian Tips and Tricks
Reading Nutrition Facts Labels Like a Pro: Dietitian Tips and Tricks

When you're looking to buy a specific food product, the nutrition facts label can help you make informed choices about the foods you eat. Our dietitians put some tips together on what to look for on nutrition labels to make the best choices for your health.

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46
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FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition with Molly Kimball
FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition with Molly Kimball

Molly Downey, RDN, LDN, nutrition manager at NutriSense, delves into all things glucose and wellness, and how devices like these can inform us about our health, on this episode of FUELED with Molly Kimball.

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8
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Are Sardines Good for Your Health?
Are Sardines Good for Your Health?

Sardines are small, but they pack a big nutritional punch! Learn more about the health benefits associated with eating them and check out some fun facts about this flavorful, nutrient-dense food.

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9
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9 Essential Ways to Track Your Fitness (That Don’t Involve a Scale)
9 Essential Ways to Track Your Fitness (That Don’t Involve a Scale)

Most fitness tracking metrics involve stepping on the scale, but they don't always have to! Here are nine other ways to track your fitness.

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14
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Foods You Should Avoid Eating If You Have Prediabetes
Foods You Should Avoid Eating If You Have Prediabetes

There are many food items that can worsen the effects of prediabetes. Here are some foods you should avoid or limit your intake of throughout your day.

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11
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How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?
How Many Meals Should You Eat in a Day?

What's the perfect time to eat, and how many meals should you eat in a day? Explore how eating at different times and frequencies each day impacts your body and blood glucose.

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6
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks

Looking for a way to add apple cider vinegar into your diet? Start with some of these delicious glucose-friendly ACV drinks, recommended by our Nutrition Team.

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8
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Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 
Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 

Find out how taking a walk after your next meal can benefit various aspects of your health, including your blood glucose levels.

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55
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I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology
I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology

Molly explains how using a continuous glucose monitor is what personalized health care means. If you want to fine-tune your health, tune in to this special episode of I Think, I Can.

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10
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My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles
My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles

My Day | My Life explores the lives of people who have, in one way or another, mastered the art of aging. In this episode, meet Carlee Hayes, dietitian and Nutrition Manager at NutriSense.

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9
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Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Worried about getting injured during your next workout? Learn about the most common workout injuries, how they can affect blood glucose levels, and some tips to help you prevent them.

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6
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Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day
Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day

Would eating the same meal, at the same time, have the same blood glucose response for three different people? See what our team found out after sampling a delicious corned beef and cabbage dish in preparation for St. Patrick's Day!

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7
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Build Healthy Habits During Lent
Build Healthy Habits During Lent

Do you know what you're giving up for Lent this year? For those who observe it, this can be a good time to give up bad habits, and add healthy ones into your routine! Read on to find out more about how to build healthy habits this season.

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11
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Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?
Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?

Cereal is one of the most popular breakfast foods out there—but how healthy is it, really? Review the nutritional content of some popular breakfast cereals, and learn how to choose a healthy option for your individual needs.

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9
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Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition
Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition

Did you know that more than two in five adults have obesity? Find out more about the pressing public health issue, review some new research that is shedding light on the condition, and learn how to diagnose and treat it.

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7
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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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9
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Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?
Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?

Read on to find out what impact, if any, vinegar really has on our body’s ability to balance blood sugar.

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8
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Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?
Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?

If you have insulin sensitivity, is eating two large meals a day or three to five smaller meals better? Find out more about the relationship between meal frequency and insulin sensitivity, and how many times you should be eating in a day.

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9
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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common yet often ignored condition. Learn more about the symptoms to watch out for, how you can seek treatment, and read first-hand accounts from two women who have dealt with endometriosis.

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8
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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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7
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Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?
Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?

Pizza can be challenging to enjoy eating without worrying about how it affects your health. But while it may be indulgent, it is possible to prepare or order it in a way that won’t wreak havoc on your health or blood sugar levels. Read on to find out more!

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8
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Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?
Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?

Review our post on the impacts artificial sweeteners have on blood glucose, insulin, and other areas of your personal health.

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8
min
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What Research Says About Sleep and Blood Sugar Levels
What Research Says About Sleep and Blood Sugar Levels

Recent research has shown that sleep and blood glucose are intricately connected. Read on to learn more about what this means for your blood sugar levels and overall health.

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8
min
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Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health
Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health

Did you know that menopause can affect your metabolic health, and vice versa? Read on to understand the relationship between metabolic health and menopause, and how to manage metabolic health during your menopausal journey. 

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57
min
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How a Continuous Blood Sugar Monitor Can Help You Find Your Perfect Diet
How a Continuous Blood Sugar Monitor Can Help You Find Your Perfect Diet

In this episode learn the truth about how we react to certain foods in regards to our blood sugar response and how you can tailor your diet according to your CGM results.

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66
min
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All About Blood Sugar With Molly Downey, RDN
All About Blood Sugar With Molly Downey, RDN

This week, dive into how to eat your carbs and manage your blood sugar, too with Molly Downey, RDN, LDN.

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8
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A NutriSense Dietitian's Favorite Kitchen Staples
A NutriSense Dietitian's Favorite Kitchen Staples

Food can be fun, pleasurable, and nutritious all at the same time. Read on to learn more about the two nutrient-dense kitchen staples one of our dietitians swears by to help optimize her health!

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10
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10 Tastiest Nutrient-Dense Foods From Around the World
10 Tastiest Nutrient-Dense Foods From Around the World

Instead of the type or amount of food you eat, you should focus on the amount of nutrients you're adding to every meal. Here are some of our favorite nutrient-dense foods from around the world to help you get started.

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7
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Do Pineapples Raise Blood Sugar Levels?
Do Pineapples Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

Learn everything you need to know about pineapples, your health, and your blood glucose levels, and see how our dietitians like to eat the sweet, tropical fruit. 

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14
min
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Setting Up The Right Diet Plan For Prediabetes [+Sample Diet Plan Included]
Setting Up The Right Diet Plan For Prediabetes [+Sample Diet Plan Included]

Learn more about the relationship between prediabetes and your diet, and see how to build a diet plan that works for you with some great tips, tricks and recipes from our nutrition team!

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9
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What You Should Know About Acupuncture
What You Should Know About Acupuncture

Learn more about the research on, as well as the benefits and risks of acupuncture, a form of alternative medicine that involves inserting needles into your body for pain and stress relief.

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6
min
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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.