If you monitor your blood glucose levels regularly, you’ve probably noticed that certain foods, especially those high in refined carbohydrates, send blood sugars soaring. While I am a firm believer that, with a mindful approach, all foods can have at least a small place in a balanced, diabetes-friendly diet, there are some foods that can be a bit riskier than the rest when it comes to keeping your blood glucose stabilized.
Here are five “red flag” foods that you should be extra careful of if you are trying to stay on top of your blood glucose control:
1. Pasta - This comfort food is a fan-favorite – but it’s also notorious for sending blood sugars surging off the charts, thanks to its refined carbohydrates and low protein and fat content.
The good news is you don’t have to completely eliminate pasta to maintain healthy blood sugars. Avoid eating large amounts of pasta at once, and make it just a small course of a larger meal—this is how they eat it in Italy, too! Stick to a serving about the size of a closed fist and round out the meal with high-protein pairings like organic, grass-fed ground beef, ground turkey, or chicken and add a large serving of high-fiber, low-starchy vegetables like green salad or roasted broccoli. Limiting your pasta intake to a smaller amount and pairing with high-protein and fibrous foods can help mitigate some of the ill effects of high carbohydrates on your blood sugars.
Also, be mindful of the types of sauces you are choosing for heart health—creamy choices like vodka sauce or Alfredo tend to be loaded with butter and cheese, which contains high amounts of saturated animal fats, known to impact LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Opt for sauces made from plant-based foods like marinara, Pomodoro, or a garlic and olive oil sauce, which is high in unsaturated fat and improves heart health (extra important for those living with diabetes).
2. Candy - It may seem like a no-brainer, but eating straight sugar when you have type 2 diabetes is a recipe for a high glucose disaster. Candies that are basically 100% simple sugar (or corn syrup), like gummy bears, hard candies, or Skittles, have essentially zero nutritional value and are sure to shoot blood glucose levels sky-high. While the occasional sugary treat is likely okay, choosing candy as a regular snack can be detrimental to a diabetes management plan.
When a sweet tooth hits, try snacking on a piece of high-fiber fruit like apple slices, pears, or berries. If fruit won’t cut it, try a piece of dark chocolate, which is high in anti-oxidants and contains some fat to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
3. Chips - There are many different kinds of chips on the market these days, so the nutritional content of chips days does vary. Even so, most chips are made from either highly-processed, starchy potatoes or corn and then deep-fried in a hydrogenated oil, containing large amounts of artery-clogging trans fats.
Choose a healthier, diabetes-friendly chip by looking for options made from whole grains like brown rice, lentils or quinoa—they do exist! Avoid eating chips by themselves and try pairing with a high-protein or fibrous dip like Greek yogurt chip dip or bean dip for a more a balanced snack choice.
4. Soda - There are few foods or beverages I advise my clients to avoid completely but, if I had to choose one, it would like be soda pop. Drinking soda when you are living with diabetes is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Similar to candy, soda provides zero nutritional benefit and can be derail healthy blood sugar levels even when following an otherwise healthy diet.
Diet sodas may seem like a healthier alternative because they do not affect blood glucose directly like their sugary counterparts but studies have shown that individuals who drink diet sodas do not have any advantage to soda drinkers when it comes to a healthy waistline—a big indicator for heart health risks. Couple this with the research suggesting that diet sodas alter healthy gut microbes—which play a large role in preventing insulin resistance—and you are likely better off nixing diet soda too.
Low-sugar coffee or black and green tea are great alternatives for caffeinated beverages. If it’s the bubbles you like, try an unsweetened sparkling water in different natural flavors. For optimal hydration, water is always your best bet.
5. White rice - Yet another highly-popular, starchy food is white rice, which can be found in so many different dishes and cultures from around the world that it may seem impossible to avoid. The issue with white rice, in particular, is that it is a processed form of the grain that has been essentially stripped of its fibrous and protein-rich parts that made it otherwise a healthy option. Similar to pasta, white rice should be eaten only in modest portion sizes and paired with other foods that help to lessen the effects of simple carbohydrate on blood glucose.
Also note that not all rice is created equal. Wild rice and brown rice are higher in fiber, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels, and contains several valuable nutrients that should be a part of a balanced diet. This can be a great alternative to white rice when cooking at home and is sometimes available at restaurants too.
Eliminating any “red flag” food completely from your diet may be unnecessary if you are mindful of portion sizes and diligent about monitoring the effects of these foods on your own individual blood sugar levels. Ultimately, good diabetes management through diet is about being mindful of the types of foods you most often consume and understanding how different nutrients work together to stabilize blood sugars.
For more support with meal planning or information about which foods to consume more or less often, try working with a Registered Dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator that can help to build a more tailored program to fit your needs.