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7 Carbs People With Diabetes Should Be Eating, According to a Dietitian

When you have diabetes, choosing complex carbs can help keep your blood sugar stable to stay energized all day long. Here's what a dietitian and certified diabetes educator says.

If you have diabetes, you probably know to watch your carbohydrates. Carbs, especially simple carbs, can cause spikes in blood sugar which, over time, can lead to dangerous diabetes complications. But that doesn't mean you have to give up carbs altogether.

Here are seven complex carbs—plus some tasty, diabetes-friendly foods—to add to your menu planning. When you have diabetes, it's important to spread your carbs throughout the day to be consistent with your intake.

1. Lentils

Research shows that eating more plant-based foods is good for your heart health—and that's especially important if you have diabetes. Lentils deliver protein, carbs, fiber and iron all in one tasty package.

2. Apples

High in fiber and sweet, crunchy goodness, apples are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar than some other fruits. A 2021 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that eating more whole fruits—including apples, grapes and blueberries—may be associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

3. Sweet Potatoes

We're sweet on sweet potatoes for plenty of reasons. They're tasty, versatile, loaded with complex carbs, fiber and vitamin A—and easy on your blood sugar. Leave the skin on for extra fiber and nutrients.

4. Papaya

This tropical fruit is loaded with fiber and water, so it aids in digestion and helps prevent constipation. It's also high in potassium, which protects the heart and helps keep blood pressure under control. One caveat: Some people with kidney issues may have problems with high-potassium foods, so check with your healthcare provider if you're not sure.

5. Barley

This often-overlooked whole grain contains beta-glucan fiber, a secret weapon in the battle against high blood sugar (oats are another great source). During digestion, beta-glucan forms a thick, viscous slurry that slows digestion, says Nicolas Bordenave, Ph.D., an assistant professor of food biochemistry at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. As a result, glucose is released gradually, preventing your blood glucose levels from rising. Go with whole-grain barley when possible, since it's less refined and thus is digested even more slowly than the pearled kind.

6. Pumpkin

Starchy veggies are great options if you have diabetes. Pumpkin has fewer carbs than other starchy vegetables, plus it's packed with vitamin A and antioxidants. 

7. Quinoa

High in complex carbs, protein, fiber and other nutrients, quinoa has a low impact on blood sugar, making it a perfect choice if you have diabetes. It's versatile, too—try swapping it in for your regular rice or pasta.

The trick is choosing complex carbs: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other foods with low glucose impact—meaning they're less likely to cause those blood-sugar peaks and lows.


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