Baked potatoes on a plate, decorated with salt, pepper, and various herbs
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A Dietitian Lists the Five “Bad” Carbs You Should Eat If You Have Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you can still benefit from carbs.

Not all carbohydrates must be avoided if you have diabetes, despite what you may have been told. When it comes to actively controlling your blood sugar, there may be some benefits to some carbohydrates that have been stigmatized as “bad” or off-limits.

When you have diabetes, your body either produces insufficient insulin or is unable to use it effectively, which causes an excessive amount of blood sugar to remain in your system. The American Diabetes Association estimates that over 37 million Americans suffer from diabetes.

An effective management of diabetes requires regular physical activity, dietary changes, and vigilant blood glucose monitoring. Your doctor can occasionally advise taking specific medications to assist control blood sugar levels.

When Managing Diabetes, Including Carbs

Carbohydrates are the most misinterpreted macronutrient there is. The contradictory information on carbohydrates can leave one perplexed, with some saying they should be consumed in extremely small amounts and others saying they are fine.

The American Diabetes Association states that carbs can (and should) be included in a diabetes-friendly diet as long as some types are prioritized and others are restricted—or eliminated, based on your individual needs. 

Simple carbs are easily absorbed into the system and can cause sharp rises in blood sugar. They are frequently found in highly processed foods like white bread and sugary drinks. Conversely, complex carbohydrates—which are present in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as well as other foods high in fiber—digest more slowly and release energy gradually, avoiding sudden spikes in blood sugar. 

While they shouldn’t be totally avoided, simple carbs should be ingested in moderation and in a way that balances them with other nutrients. Those with diabetes can maintain stable blood sugar levels and general health by making sure their diet is high in fiber and complex carbs. 

The “Bad” Carbs You Should Consume If You Have Diabetes

1. Potatoes

For people with diabetes, “white” carbohydrates are typically off limits. However, potatoes work. When eaten with the skin on, these starchy veggies pack a powerful punch in terms of fiber. (The USDA reports that 4 grams of fiber are included in each roasted medium russet potato). According to the 2022 edition of Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, these potatoes also include protein, another food that may assist support balanced blood sugar levels.

If you have diabetes, you might want to choose heart-healthy preparations for potatoes, such baking them instead of deep-frying them (like french fries). That’s because, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, foods like fries are often high in saturated fat and sodium, and having diabetes raises your risk of heart disease. Oh, and don’t forget to consume the skin, which is loaded in fiber.

2. Pasta

Pasta is a “white” refined carb, yes. However, there is evidence that pasta starch digests more slowly than more “indulgent” white carbohydrates, such as doughnuts and pastries, which may assist to lessen the blood sugar reaction.

In 2022, a study made using semolina wheat and water was published in the Journal of Nutrition, examining the effect of eating three different diets on blood glucose levels: bread, pasta, and couscous. Despite being manufactured from the same ingredients and consumed in identical amounts, the results showed that pasta—both spaghetti and penne—had a lower blood glucose and insulin response than bread or couscous. Pasta likewise required more chewing than bread or couscous, and the results of eating and digestion were larger particles. This implies that, more so than bread or couscous, the structure of the pasta is what slows down digestion and moderates the blood sugar response.

Your share matters in the end. Data from 2019 published in the journal Nutrients showed no correlation between eating pasta within the recommended total carb intake for adults with diabetes and deteriorating blood glucose control, fat gain, or cardiovascular risk factors.

One cup of cooked pasta—roughly the size of a baseball—comes from a 2-ounce portion of spaghetti. Eating a portion of pasta that is suitable while including veggies, lean protein, and healthy fats like olive oil is crucial.

3. Dried Fruit

A diabetic-friendly diet is generally assumed to prohibit dried fruit because of its high sugar content. However, some dried fruits without added sugars can be a practical and nutrient-dense supplement; just be mindful of portion proportions.

Dried fruits that can be included in a diet that is beneficial to people with diabetes include prunes, or dried plums. Fiber, which can maintain balanced blood sugar levels, is present in prunes. In addition, Nutrition Research found in 2019 that they had a low glycemic index, meaning they may have less of an effect on blood sugar levels than foods with a high index. Because prunes have a high sorbitol content, the authors also note that prunes may possibly improve insulin sensitivity.

4. Carrots

Carrots are considered a food to avoid by certain people with diabetes, maybe due to their natural sweetness. Carrots taste sweet, although they don’t contain a lot of sugar. According to the USDA, a medium carrot has around 2 grams of dietary fiber and only about 3 grams of natural sugar—two characteristics that may aid with blood sugar regulation. In addition to being rich in vitamins and antioxidants, especially vitamin A, carrots help improve general health.

5. Cereal

Cereal is available in many different forms, ranging from whole-grain, high-fiber options to sugar-laden ones full of artificial coloring and flavorings and low in fiber.

If you are controlling your diabetes, you should normally be able to enjoy a bowl of cereal as long as it is made with whole grains and is devoid of added sugars. Additionally, you can receive even greater health benefits if your cereal is prepared with oats. 

For diabetics, oats are an extremely healthy food. Because of its reputation for lowering insulin and blood sugar levels, the fiber in this whole grain is termed beta-glucan. A meta-analysis from 2021 that was published in the Journal of Nutrition revealed a substantial correlation between oat flakes consumption and lower blood glucose levels after meals.

Pro tip: To add extra fiber, protein, and healthy fats to your cereal dish while controlling your diabetes, consider adding flaxseed, chia seeds, or nuts. This may help support blood glucose control.

In summary

Carbs are not harmful to those who have diabetes. And for many people with diabetes, some carbohydrates that are typically categorized as “bad” are actually OK, especially when consumed in moderation and as part of a healthy, balanced diet. As individual needs vary, it’s crucial to consult your healthcare practitioner to be sure certain foods are suitable for you.

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