Carbs and Diabetes: 8 Diabetic-Friendly Carbs to Incorporate into Your Diet
Stop passing on the carbs! Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Wendy Jo Peterson spoke with three leading diabetes experts about the best carbs for people with diabetes to eat (in moderation, of course).
How many carbs should someone with diabetes have in a day?
If you’re living with diabetes, carbs don’t need to be feared. In fact, complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which helps slow digestion and regulate blood sugar. Potato chips may not make this list—but complex carbohydrates should definitely be included in your meal plan.
While there are some variables (like daily activity levels) when recommending a carb count, experts often recommend 35 to 65 grams of carbohydrates per meal and around 15 grams per snack. It’s also a wise idea to pair those carbs with the right kind of protein.
Beans, Legumes and Pulses
1/2 cup serving of lentils: 115 calories, 0.4g fat, 20g carbohydrate (1.8g sugars, 8g fiber), 9g protein.
Jill Weisenberger, a dietitian and author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide, says, “Work in beans, peas and lentils at least a few times each week. Not only are diets rich in legumes linked to longevity, they have unique benefits for people with diabetes or prediabetes. We see effects on both long-term and short-term blood sugar levels.”
These foods are loaded with plant protein, fiber and many other nutrients, too. For example, lentils are also an excellent source of folate, which is important for those planning a pregnancy or those suffering from depression. Find our best recipes made with a can of beans.
1 cup serving of raspberries: 65 calories, 0.8g fat, 15g carbohydrate (5g sugars, 8g fiber), 1.5g protein.
We recommend berries for people with diabetes because they’re packed with fiber. Both raspberries and blackberries boast eight grams of fiber per cup! We also like berries for their antioxidant punch and high amounts of vitamin C, benefiting any oxidative stress common in diabetes. Jump-start your morning with this recipe for overnight oats topped with fresh raspberries and chia seeds.
1 cup serving cooked oatmeal: 158 calories, 3.2g fat, 27 carbohydrate (1.1g sugars, 4g fiber), 6g protein.
Weisenberger feels that oats deserve to be on this list, saying, “Oats contain the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which appears to improve insulin action and lower blood sugar levels. Beta-glucan also sweeps cholesterol from your digestive tract before it reaches your bloodstream. In this way, oats may help lower your risk for heart disease and help you manage diabetes or prediabetes.” Oats really are a superfood with many health benefits!
1/2 cup serving of low-fat Greek yogurt: 85 calories, 2.3g fat, 4.5g carbohydrate (4.5g sugars, 0g fiber), 11.4g protein.
Yogurt gets a thumbs-up from us because it’s dense in protein and probiotics. Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial for those living with diabetes. Yogurt is also an excellent source of calcium. Not all yogurts are created equal, though, so be sure to check the label for “live and active cultures” and opt for a Greek yogurt with at least 14 grams of protein per cup. Break out the spoons for this Lemon Chia Seed Parfait recipe.
1/2 cup serving of roasted sweet potatoes, with skin: 90 calories, 0g fat, 21g carbohydrate (6.5g sugars, 3.3g fiber), 2g protein.
Another nutrition expert, Sylvia White, RDN, CDE, owner of ParentingDiabetes.com, is a big fan of sweet potatoes. “They’re anti-inflammatory and have antioxidants which help prevent diseases, including heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in people with diabetes,” she says. “They are high in fiber when the skin is eaten and have a low glycemic index which promotes a slower rise in blood sugar.”
See more of the best vegetables for people with diabetes.
1/2 cup serving of cooked quinoa: 111 calories, 1.8g fat, 19.7g carbohydrate (0g sugars, 2.6g fiber), 4g protein.
Quinoa is a nutrient-dense grain-like seed packed with protein and antioxidants, making it a top anti-inflammatory food. With heart disease being a top concern for people with diabetes, quinoa is a smart pick over rice or wheat pastas. Quinoa is dense in carbs, so keep the portion around 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Here are delicious quinoa recipes to help get you started.
1/2 cup serving of cooked barley: 96.5 calories, 0g fat, 22g carbohydrate (0.2g sugars, 3g fiber), 1.8g protein.
Toby Smithson, RDN, author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, speaks up for barley: “It’s a good source of soluble fiber, a cholesterol lowering fiber. Yes, barley is a carbohydrate-based food, but it has also been shown to blunt spikes in blood glucose levels in people with diabetes and may also decrease average blood glucose levels measured by an A1C test. Barley is one of the highest fiber grains.”
If you love a warm bowl of soup, check out this chicken barley soup recipe.
1 medium apple: 94.6 calories, 0.3g fat, 25g carbohydrate (18.9g sugars, 4.4g fiber), 0.5g protein.
An apple a day is healthy for people with diabetes, too. This meta-analysis showed that even one apple per week was associated with a reduction in diabetes risks. Just one apple is around 20 grams of carbohydrates, but round out the carb load with a dollop of almond butter.