Food & Nutrition

Conquer Your Carb Confusion

Woman eating a healthy salad

Forget what your friend’s cousin’s doctor said—you can have carbohydrates (carbs) if you’re living with diabetes.

Like a polarizing pop star, carbs are loved or shunned in equal measure, and a source of constant gossip and scrutiny. But carbs are also woefully misunderstood—especially when it comes to their relationship with diabetes.

Despite what people may think, people with diabetes can fit carbs into a healthy meal plan. Keep reading to learn how different carbs affect your blood glucose (blood sugar), the low-down on low-carb diets for people with diabetes, and how to include healthy portions of carbs in your meals to feel satisfied and not deprived.

Vegetable soup

Choose Complex Carbs as Often as Possible

As you digest carbs, they are turned into glucose, which is released into the bloodstream as your body’s primary source of energy. While carbs are often associated with grain-based products—bread, pasta, and rice—they are also found in fruit, starchy vegetables, dairy products, and veggie-based proteins like beans, peas, and lentils.

But not all carbs are created equal. Complex carbs contain both starch and fiber and are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. These nutrient-dense carbs help keep blood glucose balanced and steady. Fiber also helps you feel full, improves digestive health, and reduces risk of heart disease.

Simple carbs, on the other hand, are refined. They break down more quickly by your body and tend to have a greater impact on blood glucose (blood sugar). They can be highly processed and have fewer nutritional benefits. These include regular soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, and desserts.

Eat Minimally Processed Carbs Alongside Fiber, Protein, and Fat

Eating carbs can have a significant impact on your blood glucose (blood sugar)—especially if you have diabetes. When you have diabetes, the carbs you eat stay in your bloodstream, which causes your blood glucose to go high or low for a long period of time. The fiber in complex carbs, however, slows the digestion process—leading to more steady and balanced blood glucose compared to eating simple carbs. Foods containing healthy fats and lean protein sources are recommended to have with healthy carbs because, similar to fiber, they slow digestion and lead to a steady release of glucose into the blood.

Don’t Cut Carbs Completely

There is evidence to support that lowering overall carbohydrate intake for people with diabetes may improve blood glucose (blood sugar) management and can fit into many eating plans. Carbs do not need to be removed completely from the diet, but reducing them and choosing nutrient-dense, minimally processed carb sources can support blood glucose and weight-loss goals.

How to Eat Carbs in Moderation

Carbs should be eaten in moderation. It is recommended you consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist to find out the right amount of daily carbs you need. Here is a sample meal plan containing 130g of carbohydrates/day, as designed by WeightWatchers’ food director Sherry Rujikaren.

Learn more about WeightWatchers’ Diabetes-Tailored Plan.

Brought to you by WeightWatchers