Nutritional Support In Diabetes: Healthy and Unhealthy Carbohydrates

healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates

Diabetes is becoming a major health problem in developed countries. Almost half of the young adults in America are pre-diabetic or diabetic. And the key culprit is usually over-consumption of carbohydrates. This is a problem, as the consumption of carbohydrates is the major contributor to the rise in blood sugar levels, inducing diabetes. Such elevated blood sugar levels in diabetic patients is associated with complications such as oedema. This is the reason that almost every physician along with prescribing medicine also recommends lowering carbohydrate consumption. Alternatively, they would suggest consuming healthier choices of carbohydrates. Therefore, it is important to know what are healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates.

Research has proven that diabetic patients who lower their carbohydrate intake are in much better condition to prevent diabetic complications. Now the main thing to clarify is that not all carbohydrates are bad for diabetics. An interesting fact is that some carbohydrates work the opposite and assist in maintaining blood sugar levels. What we have to do is to find the right combination of carbohydrates that balances the overall sugar intake of the human body so that blood glucose can be sustained at a healthy level.

In this article, we will explore the difference between healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates, what is safe to consume in diabetes and what is the optimal quantity of those carbohydrates that is beneficial for maintaining and prolonging health.


First of, let us understand what the experts say about choosing the right carbohydrates.

Meredith Nguyen is a top-of-the-line diabetes educator. She strongly stresses the role of choosing good carbohydrates to add to patients’ eating regimens so that a diabetic person can enjoy an excellent diet to promote overall health and halt the disease progression as much as possible. She is also against removing all carbohydrates from the diet as carbohydrates are a major constituent of the body and depriving the human body of such a valuable asset will have dire consequences in the long term.
Meredith believes that it is not carbohydrates that are the real enemies of diabetic patients. She is of the view that people know less about carbohydrates. Most people think that carbohydrates are composed of sugars only but it is not the complete truth. Carbohydrates may also contain fibres. Fibres are essential for diabetic patients as it helps to regulate blood sugar levels thus preventing the peaks and troughs of sugar levels inside the blood.

Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, is a nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert in his book “2- Day Diabetes” has recommended that fibres are very necessary for a diabetic patient which is why they must be provided through the diet. He is also against the complete removal of all carbohydrates from the diet and is in favour of selecting carbohydrates that are rich in fibre and low in sugar content. For him, choosing the right carbohydrates that are not refined is the key to providing fibre and energy to a diabetic patient. He also stressed that a fibre-rich carbohydrate is a key to attaining a healthy functioning heart, optimum body weight and a cancer-free body.

Understanding Healthy and Unhealthy Carbohydrates

In general, carbohydrates are divided into three principal categories:
– Sugar
– Starch
– Fibres

Common sources of sugar carbohydrates include: lactose-containing dairy foods, sweet treats like chocolate, sweets, candies, soft drinks, and desserts.

Common sources of starch carbohydrates include: major meals like white bread, starchy vegetables, pasta, rice, yams, sweet potatoes, plantains, couscous, and breakfast cereals.

Lastly, the most beneficial constituent category is fibre carbohydrates.
Common sources of fibre carbohydrates include: foods like oats and barley peanuts, pulses, brown rice, potatoes, and whole-meal bread.

Unhealthy Carbohydrates

Those carbohydrates that are rich in sugars and starch are considered unhealthy and bad for diabetic patients. The reason behind this is that they serve to increase the blood sugar levels in the human body. In a type 2 diabetes patient where blood glucose tends to rise, consumption of such carbohydrates produces significant health hazards.

Foods that are rich in starch have a high glycemic load and glycemic index which enables the stomach to break down these foods very easily. Such foods release a much higher quantity of glucose than regular food, thus causing a spike in blood glucose level. This creates complications for diabetic patients. While non-diabetic individuals can control this peak easily as they have enough insulin sensitivity to decrease their blood glucose levels by increasing its absorption inside the cells, the same cannot be said for diabetic individuals.

Foods rich in sugars also mimic the same effects that are produced by starchy foods for diabetic patients. Additionally, sugary carbohydrates also have some extra sugars added to the whole food content making it more unsuitable for diabetic patients.

Healthy Carbohydrates

Fibre carbohydrates are now considered healthy carbohydrates. Research has proven that fibres not only serve as food but also clean our digestive system.

Their special property is that they have a very low glycemic index and they are not also digestible inside the human digestive tract which means that they cannot be converted into glucose which is the main problem for diabetic patients. Plus they provide an additional benefit that inside our gut they are converted into a thick liquid by imbibing water which cleans the whole gastrointestinal tract.

Fibres also make a person full after eating them. This helps diabetic patients to dodge their hunger and enables them to restrain from eating from time to time. This helps to further lower the glucose intake of those patients who otherwise do not restrain from eating.

Fibres are known to aid in digestion and help reduce the cholesterol index of the human body also. While for diabetic patients the sole important benefit they offer is that ensures zero to minimal rise and fall in blood sugar levels especially in between the meals and after medication.

Recommended Dietary Intake of Fibres

“So, what is the right amount of dietary fibre intake for a diabetic patient?”. Experts also suggest that the body requires a minimum quantity of carbohydrates. Therefore, it should be added in small quantities along with fibres for diabetic patients.

Now the recommended dietary amount for carbohydrates is different for every individual as every individual has a different bodyweight and depending on weight, every individual has different body requirements. Some of the factors that influence the dietary intake of fibres are:
– Sex
– Age
– Body size
– Level of exercise

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), the recommended amount of fibre per 1,000 calories is 14 grams at the minimum. The benefit of these guidelines is that it is quite easy to maintain and most of these calories are obtained from fibres. While a smaller portion of calories is added from fats and proteins.

The American Diabetic Association (ADA) has also recommended that if any person is looking to shift from a non-diabetic diet plan to a low carbohydrate diet, then they must integrate fibres step-by-step into the diet plan so that their body can adapt to the new diet change. If an individual abruptly increases fibre intake, they might experience an abrupt occurrence of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, the change of diet must be adopted slowly.

The ADA has recommended these sources to obtain fibres:
– Pulses
– Fruits and vegetables
– Whole grains
– Nuts

Some other important inclusions to control blood sugar are:
– Daily exercise
– Adequate rest
– Intermittent fasting if permitted by your healthcare professional


In conclusion, a carbohydrates consisting of fibres is a great option that can be added to other diabetic management plans. However, it is still recommended to be done only at the advice of a medical professional that is treating your diabetes. Because your physician is the only eligible person to suggest a diet that is suitable for you. Also, during your diet, it is important to continue your routine blood glucose monitoring. This is so as to ensure that the diet is going smoothly and as intended.

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– Zalnieraite. C, (2021), A Look Into Healthy Carbs for Diabetes: What You Should Know. Retrieved from:
– FDA: “Talking About Trans Fat: What You Need to Know.”
– American Diabetes Association: “Type 2,” “What Can I Eat?” “Diabetes and Heart Health — What’s the Connection?” “What About Protein?”
– Joslin Diabetes Center: “Carb Counting 101.”
– University of New Hampshire: “Plant Stanols and Sterols.”
– UpToDate: “Patient information: High-fiber diet (Beyond the Basics).”
– American Diabetes Association: “People Will Lose More Weight With a Modified Low-Carbohydrate Diet Than a Low-Fat Diet.”
– American Heart Association: “Whole Grains and Fiber.”
– National Diabetes Education Program: “Recipe and Meal Planner Guide.”
– National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health: “Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes.”
– UpToDate: “Patient information: High-fiber diet (Beyond the Basics).”