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Low Glycemic Index Foods for Diabetics

Updated on June 16, 2011

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.

Most white foods, like white flour and sugar, have a high GI rating.
Most white foods, like white flour and sugar, have a high GI rating. | Source

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.

Apples are rich in vitamins and have a low GI rating of 38.
Apples are rich in vitamins and have a low GI rating of 38. | Source

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:

  • Peaches
  • Oranges
  • Grapes (red or green)
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Bananas

  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit
  • Dried apricots
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Plums

With a GI rating of 15, broccoli is rich in Vitamins C and E as well as iron.
With a GI rating of 15, broccoli is rich in Vitamins C and E as well as iron. | Source

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
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Sweet potatoes (yams)
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Kidney beans (boiled)
  • Lentils (boiled)
  • Chickpeas or garbanzo (boiled or canned)
  • Black-eyed beans

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce (all varieties)
  • Peppers (all varieties)

Protein-enriched pasta is a low-glycemic source of carbohydrates.
Protein-enriched pasta is a low-glycemic source of carbohydrates. | Source

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


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    • Ruchi Urvashi profile image

      Ruchi Urvashi 6 years ago from Singapore

      Good information. My parents have diabetes and I learn a lot of things from your article.

    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 6 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      Very informative hub. I have type 2 diabetes and I am only finding out now that I should follow a low GI diet. Thanks for all the info.

    • saif113sb profile image

      saif113sb 6 years ago

      Tis is great and informative hub ,its really help a lot patient with diabetes , i will share with my friends.

      Thank you so much

    • profile image

      Bob 6 years ago

      Truly excellent hub. I think the impression is that a diabetic diet has to contain different foods than the rest of the family is eating. But a diabetic can eat the same meals as long the fats, carbs and portions are kept under control.

    • ImChemist profile image

      ImChemist 6 years ago

      this is great hub ,its really help a lot patient with diabetes , i will share with my friends.

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 7 years ago from USA

      Thanks Ron!

    • rongould profile image

      rongould 7 years ago

      Really great information! Thanks for doing the research!

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 7 years ago from USA

      @RM - I wasn't able to find spelt pasta on the internatinal GI database or in the National Cancer Institute's dbase. I do know that spelt, like other whole grains, has a mid-GI rating. Also, a study conducted in Belgium in 2005 showed that a person's response to spelt bread was pretty much the same as wheat bread. Hope that helps!

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 7 years ago from USA

      Thanks for the comments, Quuenie, Purple, Elayne and Sid!

    • rmcrayne profile image

      rmcrayne 7 years ago from San Antonio Texas

      Outstanding! Rated up.

      Do you happen to know how spelt pasta rates on the GI? It cooks up a much better texture than other wheat alternatives like rice or quinoa pasta.

    • sid_candid profile image

      sid_candid 7 years ago

      Great Hub. Well written and lots of useful information.

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Terrific hub. I am a borderline diabetic and my mother had diabetes, so I have to be very careful what I eat. Thanks for the valuable info.

    • purpleangel47 profile image

      purpleangel47 7 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      Excellent article lrohner! I'm thankful for your good carb, bad carb explanation. I spend a lot of time as a vegetarian explaining to people that the separation between the two actually exists. When they hear the news telling them to watch their carbs, the tendency is to lump all the carbs together. Very well put together piece!

    • quuenieproac profile image

      quuenieproac 7 years ago from Malaysia

      Thanks for the info. now I will be wiser and eat smart .

      Very useful for me.

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 7 years ago from USA

      @SpaceyGracey - My grandbaby was born with congenital hyperinsulinism. Different causes, similar end result. How do you manage?

      @authorfriendly - Thanks for the feedback!

    • authorfriendly profile image

      authorfriendly 7 years ago from Charleston, SC

      I used the Atkins diet and this type of information to control my diabetes for the fist couple years. Wish I had a handy web page like this to refer to back then!

    • Spacey Gracey profile image

      Spacey Gracey 7 years ago from Essex, UK

      Great hub - I have hyperinsulinemia and I have been really lax about managing it recently. I've read this hub, and now will look at the rest on the RSS as a timely reminder that I need to look after myself. Because I keep my weight down it is hard to remember that there are other hidden problems.

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 7 years ago from USA

      Thanks HH and Steveo. @Steveo-you're right. Most diabetic diets are also beneficial for those that don't have the disease.

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 7 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      This is very useful information and not just for diabetics. Diabetics are forced to eat right to protect their health. The rest of us have to choose to eat right to protect our health. I want to eat right and this gives me more information to make the great choices. Thanks so much.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      That is a wonderful help for diabetics which diets must be an awful job.

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 7 years ago from USA

      Thanks UW. I hope you never do either! :)

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 7 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Excellent hub. I don't have diabetes and hopefully never will :)