Frequently Asked Questions about Diabetes

Fruits, vegetables, grains and grain products, milk and milk products, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds all contain carbohydrates. Some contain more than others, for example, starchy veggies contain more carbohydrates than non-starchy veggies. Desserts and sweetened beverages also contain carbohydrates but provide very little nutrition. Choose carbohydrate foods that also provide vitamins, minerals and fiber more often, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, milk and milk products, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Naturally occurring sugars are sugars that are naturally present in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and unflavored milk. Added sugars are sugars that are added during the processing or preparation of foods, or at the table, like honey, agave nectar, maple syrup and table sugar. Sometimes foods have both, like blended fruit yogurt. Choose foods with naturally occurring sugars more often as they also provide vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

No! Carbohydrates provide fuel for the brain and body.

To avoid blood sugar spikes:

  • Eat meals and snacks that pair carbohydrate foods with protein and healthy fats (examples: apple with peanut butter, toast with avocado, olive oil on vegetables or salad).
  • Limit your intake of sweets and treats with added sugars and refined grains.
  • Swap favorite foods for similar ones with more fiber or lower total carbohydrates. For example, whole grain bread (more fiber) instead of white bread.
    More simple swaps:

    • Refined Cereal → Whole Grain Cereal
    • Blended Yogurt → Plain Greek Yogurt with Fresh Berries
    • White Rice → Brown Rice
    • Pasta → Fresh Cut Zucchini Noodles
    • Flour Tortilla → Lettuce Wrap
    • Potato Chips → Popcorn
    • Milk Chocolate → Dark Chocolate (70% or higher cacao)

Yes. There are two main types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber adds bulk and promotes digestive regularity. Soluble fiber absorbs water, so as it passes through the digestive tract it forms a gel-like substance and slows digestion rate, which may help slow the absorption of carbohydrates, prompting a slow and steady rise in blood sugar. Both support healthy bacteria in the gut which some research suggests may also influence blood sugar levels. The simplest way to include fiber in your diet is to take a plant-forward approach to eating.

Both are high in carbohydrates and provide protein. If beans and lentils are part of your main course, count them as a protein food. When they’re a side for an animal-based entrée (poultry, fish, beef), consider them a starchy veggie.

Yes! Fats & oils provide nutrients and help prevent blood sugar spikes when eaten with carbohydrate foods. They’re naturally present in foods like nuts, seeds, eggs, meats and seafood. When possible, choose liquid oils (examples: olive or avocado oils) more often than solid fats (examples: butter or coconut oil).

Yes. Your healthcare team can help you determine when and how much to eat for a snack. Snacks like potato chips, pretzels, crackers, cookies, and candy are high in carbohydrates and low in fiber and protein which could cause blood sugar spikes. To avoid blood sugar spikes, pair a carbohydrate food with a protein food, like 1 serving of whole grain crackers with 1 oz. of cheese.

Simple carbohydrates are easy for the body to digest and may cause blood sugar spikes. Examples of simple sugars are glucose, fructose (fruit sugar) and sucrose (table sugar). Candy, cakes, cookies, fruit juices and sweetened beverages are examples of items that have simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to digest which helps to prevent blood sugar spikes. Examples of complex carbohydrates include starches and fibers. Whole fruits, whole vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains are examples of foods that have complex carbohydrates.

Whole grains contain all three original parts of the grain: the bran, endosperm, and germ. Each part has different vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, such as fiber. Whole wheat flour, brown rice, quinoa and popcorn are examples of whole grains. Refined grains have been processed to remove the bran and germ and the nutrients they contain. White rice and enriched wheat flour are examples of refined grains. Choose whole grains more often as they tend to have more nutrients and raise blood sugar more gradually than refined grains.

Not always. Some “No Added Sugar” products, such as a no added sugar pie or muffin, use sugar alcohols (examples: sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol) and still have the same amount of total carbohydrates per serving as a regular pie or muffin. The Nutrition Facts label will list the total amount of carbohydrates that is in one serving of each product. The Nutrition Facts label can help you to compare and decide if a “No Sugar Added” product is a better choice.

The Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) are values assigned to foods based on how quickly those foods raise blood sugar levels. While GI and GL may sometimes be helpful for fine-tuning food choices, they have limitations. Your healthcare team can help you determine if these tools may be helpful for you.

Plant-based milks do not provide the same nutrients as cow’s milk. They vary in the amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals that they contain. For example, sweetened almond milk has the same amount of carbohydrates as cow’s milk with very little protein. Work with your healthcare team to determine if and how you might include plant-based milks into your meal plan.

Timing meals to keep your blood sugar levels balanced is the goal. While everyone’s needs are different, in general, it’s best to evenly space your meals throughout the day. Eating too many carbohydrate foods at one time can cause blood sugar spikes and not eating often enough can cause blood sugar levels to go too low. Work with your healthcare team to determine when and how much to eat to support your specific needs.

Drinking alcohol could cause blood sugar levels to rise or fall. Also, alcoholic beverages vary in the amounts of carbohydrates and calories they contain. Work with your healthcare team to determine if alcohol might be appropriate for you.