Healthy carbs to eat for diabetes management and prevention, weight, and overall health

  • 3 Minutes Read
Brenda Braslow
Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

Move away from labeling carbs as good or bad and understand what carbs to eat for better blood sugar control, to prevent or treat diabetes, and for weight issues.

What are healthy carbs to eat

How to stop labeling foods as good and bad when searching for what healthy carb foods to eat

First off, get rid of the "good carb"/"bad carb" theme

A lot of people, especially in diabetes and weight loss circles, talk about "good carbs" and "bad carbs." Such labels make dietitians cringe.

3 reasons why labeling carbs as good or bad doesn't work

  1. There is no such thing as good or bad food. It is not that black and white because all foods can fit within a healthy eating plan. You know it's wiser to eat certain foods more often while limiting others.
  2. It can be exhausting and unrealistic to pressure yourself into strictly including only "good carb foods". In some cases, it can actually lead to an eating disorder.
  3. It creates a category of forbidden foods. Let's say you read a diet book that claims certain carb foods are bad. Your brain will likely tell you to run out and buy the first bad carb you can find just to prove who's in charge. If you learn potato chips and ice cream are bad carb foods, a planted seed takes hold in your brain. So, you'll likely think about them and want them, whether you realize it or not. And maybe you haven't even thought about potato chips lately, but now a top-of-mind desire happens when they are off-limits. When you walk by the chip display, you'll see the chips! Then, if and when you eat them, you'll feel like a failure for unhealthy eating, right?

Carbs - Don't fear them

Just discover the healthy carb foods and figure out how to eat them more often

Carbs 101

Our bodies prefer carbs because carbs convert easily and quickly to energy. There are three types of carbs: starch, sugar, and fiber. Starches occur abundantly in foods like bread, cereal, rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas. Sugar is found naturally in fruit, juice, and milk and is also added to such processed foods as candy, pastries, soda, and energy drinks. We also add sugar, honey, and syrups to foods at the table.

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods. It is unique because your body cannot digest or extract energy from it. Fiber has many health benefits such as improving immune function, digestion, and overall health.

What makes carb foods healthy to eat?

Healthy carb sources are usually low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in nutrients. Healthier carb choices may also have a higher protein content to balance the carbohydrate (e.g., quinoa or Greek yogurt). In addition, a healthy carb food has a lower glycemic index, meaning it won't raise blood glucose as quickly as a less healthy carb food.

Tip: Pay attention to how specific carb foods impact your blood sugar or hunger. Remember to tune into the amount eaten and what foods and condiments you eat with the food, e.g, syrup with the pancakes or butter and sour cream with the mashed potatoes.

Healthy carb sources to eat more often

Carb foods to eat less often and in smaller amounts

Eat mainly healthy carbs in the right amounts for your body

Diabetes experts have concluded there is no "optimal" amount of daily calories from carbs. How many carbs you eat should be individually based on your progress with your health goals and tailored to your personal preferences. It is wise to balance carbs with protein and fat. Protein and fat take longer to break down and, when eaten with carbs, can help dampen the rise of blood glucose after a meal. Balancing carbs, protein, and fat can also lead to a more nutrient-rich diet that is good for your whole body. It's vital to aim for healthy nutrition while you manage your blood glucose. You want strong bones and a healthy heart, right?

Be kind to yourself as you learn and practice what healthy carbs to eat

Seek out healthy carb foods that you enjoy. If you don't like whole-wheat pasta, try quinoa or brown rice. Don't feel like cooking oatmeal? Sprinkle raw oats on your Greek yogurt. When you have a hankering for white rice, limit it to 1/4 of the plate. Find healthy carb recipes you and your loved ones enjoy. And, if you're hungry for chocolate, sit down and enjoy a small piece. If you go to the ice cream store, enjoy a kid's size portion. When you permit yourself to enjoy small indulgences, they'll no longer have power over you. This strategy works much better than telling yourself you can never eat ice cream again.

Bottom line: Healthy nutrition is about choosing healthy carb foods more often than less healthy options, balancing the carbs with proteins and fats, and being particularly mindful of the portions.

Related content

Carbohydrates: Sugar, Starch, and Fiber
7 Low-glycemic diet plan strategies to enhance your weight loss and blood sugar control
Why you should eat good food sources of fiber every day for optimal health

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Diabetes->Carbs & Carb Counting Nutrients->"Carbs: Fiber, Starch, & Sugar"
Oct 22, 2021
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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