Yes, carbs do raise blood sugar. But cutting them out isn’t the answer, for many good reasons. The trick is controlling the types of carbs you eat and how much of them you consume. You’ll definitely want to up your intake of whole grains, not only for their fiber but also for their antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
1. Choose cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Among other benefits, fiber helps you feel full so you can get through the morning with only a small snack, if anything, before lunch. Fiber from bran cereal is also associated with less inflammation in women with type 2 diabetes. That’s important because experts believe inflammation plays a major role in diabetes as well as the development of heart disease. The Physicians’ Health Study found that doctors who ate whole-grain cereal every day were 28 percent less likely to have heart failure over 24 years.
2. Buy old-fashioned oats instead of instant-cereal packets. If you’re debating between oatmeal and cold cereal, choose oatmeal. It has fewer calories than most cold cereals, and, unlike most cold cereals, oatmeal is high in sugar-stabilizing soluble fiber. In fact, research has found that eating one cup of oatmeal five or six times a week can reduce the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 39 percent. It also helps lower cholesterol. But the instant breakfast packets usually contain added sugar, not to mention sodium, which can raise blood pressure. Apple-flavored instant oatmeal from a packet has 229 milligrams of sodium. A cup of rolled oats has only 3 milligrams of sodium—and its hearty, chewy texture just can’t be beat.
3. Choose bread with the word “whole” in the first ingredient. Looking at the bread’s color won’t tell you if it’s really whole grain—you have to read the ingredients list. Breads that list “enriched wheat flour” as the primary ingredient have been stripped of most of their nutrients—in fact, about 11 vitamins and minerals are lost in the process. Breads that are enriched also contain added sugar and fat.
4. Embrace chewy, dense loaves with visible kernels. Even if you choose a bread that’s 100 percent whole wheat, it may not be as friendly to your blood sugar as it could be. If the wheat has been finely ground to the point that the bread has the texture of white bread, it will be digested nearly as fast as white bread and have similar effects on your blood sugar. Coarser grains take longer to digest and will raise blood sugar more slowly. Health-food stores will have this kind of bread if your local supermarket does not.
5. Look for extra-fiber breads. Some companies are selling bread with increased fiber and fewer carbs; two slices contain the same amount of carbohydrates that are in one slice of regular bread. You can also find English muffins that have 8 grams of fiber per serving for 100 calories—that’s 35 percent of your daily fiber target. Consuming 25 grams of fiber a day helps lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels.
6. Bulk up your stock of canned beans and lentils. These are “complex carbs” that also supply a load of protein without a lot of calories or fat, making them nearly perfect foods. Keep black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, white beans, and lentils on hand to add to your soups, salads, and pasta dishes. Tossing just half a cup of canned chickpeas into tonight’s salad will add 6 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein.
7. Upgrade your pasta to whole wheat. You might think there’s nothing worse for your blood sugar than pasta, but thanks to the durum wheat it’s made from and the structure of the protein in pasta dough, that’s not true. As it turns out, pasta has only a moderate effect on blood sugar levels — much more modest than that of the white Italian bread you might eat with your meal. But you’ll get about three times the fiber per serving if you choose whole wheat. Not all brands and shapes taste as good in whole wheat; experiment to find one you like.
8. Also look for powered-up pastas. They contain extra protein and even more fiber. Some are made from grains such as oats, spelt, and barley, in addition to durum wheat, and since these grains are higher in soluble fiber than wheat, these pastas should be friendlier to your blood sugar.
9. Reach for brown rice instead of white. White rice is a refined carbohydrate, which will quickly convert to glucose in the body and send your blood sugar soaring. Brown rice, on the other hand, is a whole grain; a cup of cooked brown rice has 4 grams of fiber, compared to just 1 gram in white rice. Even brown rice raises blood sugar more than oatmeal or barley, but still, it offers the benefits of a whole-grain food.
10. When you don’t want brown rice, choose converted rice. The rice is steamed before it’s husked, allowing the individual grains to absorb more nutrients. It raises blood sugar slightly less than brown rice does, though it doesn’t contain as much good-for-you fiber or as many nutrients as brown rice does.
11. Buy a bag of barley. One of the most underappreciated cereal grains, barley can be used instead of rice or noodles in soups, stews, and bean salads. Thanks to its impressive stash of soluble fiber, which slows the digestion of food and therefore the rise of blood sugar, it’s much friendlier to blood sugar than rice for most people. And it lowers cholesterol to boot.