Certain foods can send your blood sugar level on a roller coaster, with insulin rushing to keep up. The good news is, while there are some surprises, most of these foods fall under the same category: processed food, such as white flour and sugar. "Refined flours and sugar cause huge spikes in insulin and get absorbed quickly, which causes problems," says Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution (Little, Brown and Company). Look at the whole meal instead of just individual ingredients, adds Jackie Mills, MS, RD. Pairing carbohydrates with protein, fat, or fiber helps slow down the absorption process. Watch out for these 10 blood-sugar saboteurs.
White rice is a whole rice grain that has been polished until just the endosperm—essentially an easily digestible starch bomb—is left. Not surprisingly, recent studies have shown that eating white rice can raise blood glucose significantly, especially if eaten often or in large quantities. One study showed an 11% increase in diabetes risk with each daily serving of white rice. If you love rice with your stir-fries, switch to brown rice. Your blood sugar will thank you.
Potatoes may be a whole, natural root veggie, but they’re also notorious for causing blood sugar to spike because they're digested into the bloodstream quickly. To mitigate this negative effect, cook potatoes with a healthy fat, such as olive oil, and bump up the fiber by adding hearty leafy greens or another vegetable to the mix. Or, make potato salad with plenty of lemon juice and chill it in the fridge. The acid and cold alter the starch molecules in the spuds to slow digestion.
We tend to think of ketchup as a salty condiment, but many brands list some sort of sweetener as the second ingredient, which can have a disastrous effect on your blood sugar level. "It doesn’t matter if it’s called sugar, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, or malt syrup," Mills says. "They’re all sugar, and all of them will elevate blood glucose."
White pasta is made from refined white flour, which is an easily digestible starch. That raises your blood sugar level. It also tends to provoke overeating because it's quickly digested, so you want to eat again, according to Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of coaching at Cleveland Clinic. As if that's not bad enough, overcooking the pasta worsens the blood sugar impact.
Back during the low-fat diet craze, bagels were darlings because of their "no-fat/low-fat" label, but that’s one of the very reasons they wreak such havoc on blood sugar. "Refined flours cause huge spikes in insulin and get absorbed quickly, which causes problems," Hyman says. If you must get your bagel fix, pair it with a smear of avocado, which is loaded with healthy unsaturated fat, and a few slices of smoked salmon (a great source of both protein and omega-3 fatty acids) to help slow down digestion and regulate your blood sugar. You get extra points if you have a whole-grain bagel.
Many people think artificial sweeteners are harmless additives and a good choice if you have diabetes. Not so, Hyman says. "Artificial sweeteners slow metabolism and increase fat deposition, and can increase the risk of diabetes by 67%." If you need to satisfy a sweet tooth, Mills says, you're better off enjoying foods made with real sweeteners on occasion and in moderation.
"If your blood sugar is extremely low and you need to bring it up quickly, juice is your thing," Jamieson-Petonic says. But that’s not an effect you want when you’re looking to keep your blood sugar level the rest of the time. "The concentration of carbohydrates is very high and tends to cause severe spikes and drops,” she adds. Keep fruit juice on hand to counteract hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), but make water your go-to beverage as part of your everyday diabetes diet.
Because of all the added sugar, "some energy bars may as well be labeled candy bars," Mills says. Indeed, a single bar can carry a glycemic load over 49 (anything over 20 is considered "high"). That's more than a king-size Snickers bar! Bars made from refined flours and sugars are the worst culprits, since these have the harshest impact on blood sugar. If you like the convenience of energy bars, read labels carefully and choose bars made with nuts, whole grains, and few added natural sweeteners. Don't forget to account for the carbs in your daily tally.
Low-Fat Sweetened Yogurt
It's obvious that low-fat yogurt has had fat removed, and that seems like a good choice if you have diabetes. While low-fat yogurt has a (small) positive impact on calorie count, it’s not so great for your blood sugar. Manufacturers compensate for that loss of fat by adding stabilizers, thickeners, and sugars that can have a detrimental impact on blood glucose. A better approach is to skip the fruit-flavored yogurt and choose plain yogurt sweetened with real, whole fruit.
Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks
Energy drinks and sports drinks carry all the woes of fruit juice with the added no-no of more sugars. "They’re basically lots of sugar and very low nutrition," Jamieson-Petonic warns. If you're trying to stabilize blood sugar, steer clear of energy drinks and sports drinks. Go for water flavored with a spritz of citrus instead.
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