Even if you’re not diabetic, you’ve probably heard lots of conflicting information about carbohydrates:
- They’re good for you/they’re bad for you
- They’ll make you fat/they’ll help you lose weight
- All carbs are bad/ there are “good” carbs and “bad” carbs
…and so on. It’s enough to make your head spin. And if you’re diabetic, the question of carbs gets even more confusing.
For years, people with type 2 diabetes were advised to eat a very high-carb diet. But recent research (and common sense) suggests that this might not be the best idea. After all, your body turns carbohydrates into sugar—which results in higher blood glucose. So although many diabetics are still advised to eat an abundance of carbs, a growing number of doctors now recommend a lower-carb approach. Even more often, people with diabetes are told to track the amount of carbohydrates they eat each day, and to keep their carb consumption within certain broad limits.
But all carbs are not created equal.
A sweetened breakfast muffin contains lots of carbohydrates…but so does an apple or an orange. Pasta is high-carb, but so are many vegetables—and we’re not just talking about potatoes. So how do you know just what you should be eating? It really comes down to how your body uses the carbs you do eat.
Carbohydrates are a complex subject. But in a nutshell, there are three types of carbs: those that your body digests very quickly, those that are digested slowly, and fiber, which can’t be digested at all. If you’re cutting carbs–or even counting carbs—then knowing which foods fall into which category is crucial. Carbs in the first category make your blood sugar climb in a hurry, while the same amount of carbs from the second group won’t. So which foods fall into each group?
Easily-digested carbs include sugary foods like candy, soft drinks, and sweet baked goods…but also grain and grain-based products, especially those made from processed grains. White bread, saltine crackers, pasta made with white flour, and corn products are all processed into sugar shortly after you eat them. Starchy vegetables such as sweet corn, potatoes, and garden peas also give your body a sugar hit.
And while whole-grain foods are somewhat better for you than refined grains, even 100% whole-grain products are a carbohydrate bomb just waiting to explode. Go ahead and trade your white bread for whole-wheat bread…but keep your portion size in check. And think twice as you peel that banana if you’re counting carbs—it may be nutritious, but it’s also full of quick-acting carbs without any fiber to slow down their digestion.
If you’re limiting your carbs for the day, stick to carbs in the second, slow-releasing category whenever possible. This means foods that have plenty of indigestible fiber to balance their digestible carb content. That means non-starchy vegetables (ditch the potatoes in favor of sweet potatoes and cauliflower), high-fiber fruits (choose apples over bananas) and lower-carb, higher-fiber grains like barley and oats.