Low Glycemic Index Foods for Diabetics
What Is Diabetes?
Following a heart-healthy diet that includes low glycemic index foods is critical for a diabetic to maintain good health. Diabetes is a condition where the pancreas either stops producing insulin (type 1 diabetes) or uses insulin inefficiently (type 2 diabetes).
The carbohydrates that you consume become sugar in the bloodstream. The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin in response to the blood sugar, also called blood glucose, which helps the body to process the blood sugar as energy. If the pancreas does not secrete insulin, produces insufficient amounts or if the body is unable to process the insulin properly, blood sugar builds up in the bloodstream resulting in diabetes.
To maintain good health, diabetics should avoid swings in blood glucose levels by following the proper diet, participating in daily physical activity, taking any prescribed medications and visiting their diabetes specialist, nutritionist and/or endocrinologist at least four times per year.
Why Are Carbohydrates Important?
Carbohydrates are directly responsible for the production of blood sugar and are an essential part of your diet. Without a continuous supply of blood sugar, a condition called hypoglycemia can set in that can result in dizziness, unconsciousness, seizures and even death. The American Diabetes Association recommends that 40 to 60 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates.
But all carbohydrates are not created equal. Simple carbohydrates, like sugar or white flour, are absorbed into the body very quickly resulting in severe spikes in your blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, take longer for the body to absorb them resulting in more stable blood glucose levels.
What Is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index was designed to help diabetics distinguish good carbohydrates from bad carbohydrates. The index rates carbohydrates on a scale of 1 through 100, with 100 being pure glucose.
Foods with a GI rating of 55 or lower are considered “good” carbohydrates with a low glycemic index rating, while diabetics should avoid foods with a GI rating of 70 and higher. Low glycemic index foods are normally rich in dietary fiber helping you to feel full for a longer period of time and also helping to maintain more stable blood sugar levels.
Low Glycemic Index Foods: Fruits
Although fruits contain many vitamins and minerals essential for good health, not all fruits are the right choice for diabetics.
Diabetics should limit their consumption of mangoes, apricots, raisins and pineapple, and should completely avoid canned fruits in syrup and watermelon.
Fruits with a low GI rating include:
- Grapes (red or green)
- Kiwi fruit
- Dried apricots
Low Glycemic Index Foods: Vegetables
Diabetics are susceptible to a number of medical complications, but a diet rich in the essential nutrients found in vegetables can help. Help yourself to salads filled with an assortment of cut-up vegetables at least once per day to keep your health up and your blood sugar levels down.
Legumes are a good choice for diabetics as they are low in fat and high in protein. Add them to rice or toss them in your salad for a well-balanced, heart-healthy, low glycemic index meal. Avoid broad beans and watch your consumption of canned beans, especially canned kidney beans and lentils.
Watch your root crop vegetables. A general rule of thumb is to avoid foods that are white, including white sugar, white flour, and that rule applies to root vegetables as well. Limit your consumption of white potatoes and avoid baked and mashed potatoes as well as potato chips and mashed potatoes from flakes. Limit your intake of beets and avoid parsnips altogether.
Low glycemic vegetables and legumes include:
- Snow peas
- Summer squash
- Sweet potatoes (yams)
- Kidney beans (boiled)
- Lentils (boiled)
- Chickpeas or garbanzo (boiled or canned)
- Black-eyed beans
- Green beans
- Lettuce (all varieties)
- Peppers (all varieties)
Low Glycemic Index Foods: Grains
When it comes to grains, choose whole wheat or multi-grain options whenever possible. Foods made with white flour generally have a medium to high GI rating, except for those foods that have been protein-enriched. Protein helps to slow the body's absorption of carbohydrates, minimizing spikes in blood sugar levels.
Avoid cereals and baked goods that contain sugar, especially if they are made with white flour. Be careful with packaged foods altogether. Oatmeal from steel-cut or rolled oats are permissible, but you should limit your consumption of instant oatmeal from packets.
Grains with a low GI rating include:
- Protein-enriched pasta
- Whole wheat pasta
- Ravioli (meat-filled)
- All-Bran cereal
- Porridge (not instant)
- Oat bran
- Multi-grain bread
- Whole grain bread