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List of healthy carbohydrates suitable for diabetes

by Laurie Herr
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Photo recipe: Red lentil and cauliflower curry

If you have diabetes, you probably know that you need to watch your carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates, can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can lead to dangerous diabetic complications over time.But that doesn't mean you need to give up carbohydrates completely, says registered dietitian Marina Chaparro, MPH, RDCertified Diabetes Educator, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, and Founder of Nutricos.

“I'm never going to avoid carbohydrates,” says Chaparro, who has type 1 diabetes. But what exactly are the best carbohydrates for diabetes? The trick is to choose complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other foods with a low impact on glucose). This means they are less likely to cause blood sugar peaks and increases in blood sugar levels. Chaparro says smart carbohydrates “actually have a lot of positive effects on you and your diabetes control.”

If you have diabetes, it's important to consume carbohydrates throughout the day to stabilize blood sugar levels. There is some evidence that the actual timing of meals may also be important.2019 research published in diabetes, obesity, metabolism The Journal found that starting with non-carbohydrates like protein and vegetables first and saving carbohydrates for last may lower blood sugar levels.

Here are 11 complex carbohydrates you can add to your menu planning, along with some delicious diabetic-friendly recipes.

Do not miss it: Diabetic meal plan for beginners

1. Lentils

jason donnelly

Get the recipe: Lemon lentil salad with feta cheese

1/2 cup cooked lentils USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 20 grams
  • calorie: 115

why we love them

Research shows that eating more plant-based foods is good for your heart health, which is especially important if you have diabetes. Lentils provide protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and iron all in one delicious package.

see next: healthy lentil recipes

2. apple

Get the recipe: turkey apple brie sandwich

Makes 1 medium apple. USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 25 grams
  • calorie: 95

why we love them

Rich in fiber and with a sweet, crunchy texture, apples are less likely to cause blood sugar spikes than other fruits.2021 research published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism We found that eating whole fruits like apples, grapes, and blueberries may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Do not miss it: best fruits to eat if you have diabetes

3. Blueberry

Get the recipe: berry almond smoothie bowl

1 cup of blueberries USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 22 grams
  • calorie: 84

why we love them

If you have diabetes, all types of berries are great. It's low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in vitamin C and heart-healthy antioxidants.

4. Sweet potato

Get the recipe: Spinach salad with roasted sweet potatoes, white beans and basil

Contains 1 medium-sized cooked sweet potato (with skin). USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 24 grams
  • calorie: 103

why we love them

There are many reasons why we are so picky about sweet potatoes. It's delicious, versatile, and rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamin A. It is also kind to blood sugar levels. Leave the skin on for extra fiber and nutrients.

5. Yogurt

Get the recipe: strawberry chocolate greek yogurt bark

1 cup of plain low-fat yogurt; USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 17 grams
  • calorie: 154

Reason for being loved

Yogurt provides protein, carbohydrates, calcium, and vitamin D, nutrients that many people with diabetes need in higher amounts. Some research suggests that eating yogurt may help prevent diabetes. For example, in our 2019 review: Diabetes and metabolic syndrome It has been suggested that people who consume dairy products, especially yogurt (and cheese) three times a day, have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Stick to plain yogurt made without added sugar, and add natural sweetness with fruit.

6. Oats

Get the recipe: peanut butter energy balls

3/4 cup of cooked oats provides: USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 21 grams
  • calorie: 125

Reason for being loved

A must-have on the list, oats are rich in soluble fiber, which is slowly digested and absorbed and helps reduce blood sugar levels. It is also good for heart health as it lowers cholesterol. “Heart disease is the number one killer of people with diabetes, so it's important to keep this in mind,” Chaparro says.

7. Quinoa

Greg Dupree

Get the recipe: Quinoa salad with feta cheese, olives and tomatoes

1/2 cup cooked quinoa USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 20 grams
  • calorie: 111

Reason for being loved

Rich in complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and other nutrients, quinoa has a low impact on blood sugar levels, making it ideal for people with diabetes. It's also versatile. Try replacing it with your regular rice, pasta, or even your morning oatmeal bowl.


Get the recipe: green papaya salad

One cup of papaya USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 16 grams
  • calorie: 62

Reason for being loved

This tropical fruit is rich in fiber and water, which aids in digestion and helps prevent constipation. It's also rich in potassium, which protects the heart and controls blood pressure. There is one caveat. Some people with kidney problems may have problems with high-potassium foods, so check with your health care provider if you're unsure.

9. Whole wheat pasta

Get the recipe: quick meat sauce spaghetti

1 serving of whole wheat pasta (depending on type) per day USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 30-48 grams
  • calorie: 150-240

Reason for being loved

Check the nutrition label to make sure it contains at least 3 grams of fiber. A good rule of thumb when purchasing whole grains, advises Chaparro. Some other varieties use bean flour and contain additional protein to help avoid blood sugar spikes, which is the overall goal, Chaparro said. Mix pasta with vegetables and protein for a healthy dinner.

10. Barley

Get the recipe: vegetable barley soup

1 cup of cooked pearl barley USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 44 grams
  • calorie: 193

Reason for being loved

This often overlooked whole grain contains beta-glucan fiber, a secret weapon in fighting high blood sugar (oats are also a good source). During digestion, beta-glucan forms a thick, viscous slurry that slows down digestion. Dr. Nicholas Bordenabe, assistant professor of food biochemistry at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. As a result, glucose is gradually released and the rise in blood sugar levels is suppressed. Use whole barley if possible, as it is less refined and digests more slowly than white barley.

11. Pumpkin

Get the recipe: Pumpkin baked with cinnamon

1 cup cooked mashed pumpkin USDA:

  • carbohydrates: 12 grams
  • calorie: 49

Reason for being loved

If you have diabetes, starchy vegetables are a great option. Pumpkin is lower in carbohydrates than other starchy vegetables and is also rich in vitamin A and antioxidants. Do you have leftover canned pumpkin? There are so many delicious and creative ways to use up every last bit of nutritious ingredients.


Just because you have diabetes doesn't mean you have to give up carbohydrates or tasty foods. You should watch your carbohydrate intake, including smart carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy products, which add nutrition to your meal plan, keep you energized, and stabilize your blood sugar levels. Helpful.

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