As a major macro-nutrient, carbohydrates are needed for good health. They’re also your body’s first source of energy! After digestion, carbs turn into sugar and enter the blood. However, some are digested rapidly, causing spikes in blood sugar.
This increases the risk of heart disease, weight gain, and most importantly, type 2 diabetes. For people who already have diabetes, it can also cause complications. In fact, keeping blood sugar within a normal range is the point of diabetes management.
However, slow-digesting carbs are a smart choice, even if you are not diabetic. These foods will gradually increase blood sugar, giving you more stable energy levels.1
To know which kinds of food are fast-absorbing, you need to look at their glycemic index. This is a value that represents how fast a food makes blood sugar increase. Low-glycemic food is 55 or less and is digested slowly. High-glycemic food, which is absorbed quickly, is 70 to 100.2
By knowing what types of food are fast-digesting, you can control your blood sugar. Here’s a list of three examples.
1. Refined Grains
White rice, bread, and pasta are all refined grains. These foods have been processed to the point where the bran and germ have been removed. The result? Less fiber, vitamins, and minerals.3 They’re also high in starch, so they’ll quickly boost blood sugar.
Instead, reach for whole grains like whole wheat bread, wheat pasta, or brown rice. These options are minimally processed and high in fiber, a nutrient that slowly raises your blood sugar. They also offer vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
For comparison, white rice has a glycemic index of 72, while brown rice is 50.4 The fiber in brown rice will also keep you full for a long time.
When shopping for whole grains, check the label. Bread should have whole wheat, whole rye, or another grain as the first ingredient. If it’s 100 percent whole wheat bread, that’s even better. Check for added sodium, too.5
Treats like candy, cake, and cookies are full of simple sugars. It won’t take long for the body to absorb them! They also bring in calories, contributing to weight gain.
Does this mean you should avoid sweet treats forever? Definitely not. In moderation, even diabetics can enjoy dessert. It’s about portion control.
If you’re craving for something sweet, opt for fresh fruit or fruit salad. They’re packed with vitamins and fiber, and typically have a low glycemic index. In small amounts, toppings like dark chocolate or honey can be part of a healthy diet.6
This category also includes sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, fruit juice, and bottled iced tea. Even fancy lattes can hold a lot of sugar. These drinks are highly processed, low in nutrients, and are bound to heighten your blood sugar levels.
Craving a sweet drink? Choose 100 percent fruit juice. Make a smoothie, infuse water with fruits and herbs, or brew your own iced tea.7
3. Starchy Vegetables
Some veggies have more carbohydrate than others. These are called starchy vegetables, and should be eaten in smaller amounts. Otherwise, the high carb content will rapidly increase blood sugar.
Potato is a prime starchy vegetable. In America, you can find it everywhere, from French fries to hash browns. A baked russet potato has a glycemic index of 111! Other starchy vegetables include plantain, pumpkin, squash, green peas, and corn.8
Focus on non-starchy vegetables, which are low in carbs but high in fiber and vitamins. The more you eat, the fuller you’ll be. Examples include beets, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, tomato, onions, mushrooms, and sprouts.9
Don’t forget, carbohydrates are an essential source of energy. By enjoying these fast-absorbing carbs in moderation, you can achieve a well-rounded diet.
|↑1, ↑5||Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health.|
|↑2, ↑4||Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health.|
|↑3||Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods. NIH Senior Health.|
|↑6||Sugar and Desserts. American Diabetes Association.|
|↑7||Sweetened Beverages. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑8||Grains and Starchy Vegetables. American Diabetes Association.|
|↑9||Non-starchy Vegetables. American Diabetes Association.|