People with diabetes may find themselves wondering what the best dietary recommendations are. One common question that pops up is, can people with diabetes eat carrots?
The short and simple answer is, yes. Carrots, as well as other vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, are a non-starchy vegetable. For people with diabetes (and everyone else, for that matter), non-starchy vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet.
It’s important to pay attention to the carbohydrate content in food when you have diabetes. However, many foods that contain carbs also contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, and even fiber.
Some of these foods, especially non-starchy vegetables, have less of an impact on blood glucose levels. In this article, we’ll explore how carrots impact diabetes, and offer some helpful information about carbohydrates and diabetes.
Carrots and diabetes
There’s truth behind the saying, “eat the rainbow.” Colorful fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients for a healthy diet. Carrots are well-known for containing beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. They also contain antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients.
A medium carrot contains only 4 grams of net (digestible) carbs and is a low-glycemic food. Foods that are low in carbs and low on the glycemic index tend not to have a very large impact on blood sugar levels.
Research also suggests that the nutrients in carrots may be beneficial to people with diabetes.
- Vitamin A. In one animal study, researchers investigated the importance of vitamin A in blood glucose control. They found that mice with vitamin A deficiency experienced dysfunction in pancreatic β-cells. They also noticed a decrease in insulin secretion and subsequent hyperglycemia. These results indicate that vitamin A might play a role in blood sugar control for people with diabetes.
- Vitamin B-6. B vitamins play an important role in many different areas of metabolism. One study found that a deficiency in vitamins B-1 and B-6 was common in people with type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the initial development of diabetic nephropathy was more common if vitamin B-6 levels were low. This research suggests that low vitamin B-6 levels may negatively affect diabetes outcomes.
- Fiber. Dietary fiber intake is an essential part of blood sugar management in diabetes. A recent review of 16 meta-analyses shows strong evidence that dietary fiber intake may help reduce the prevalence of type 2 diabetes. In addition, for people with diabetes, fiber intake can help reduce both long-term and fasting blood glucose levels.
A healthy diet
For people with diabetes, following a healthy diet is important in managing your condition. The National Institute of Health (NIH) emphasizes that the healthiest diet for diabetes contains foods from all of the food groups. This includes:
- nonfat or low-fat dairy
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the best way to improve blood glucose levels is through diet and exercise. Eating a healthy diet can also help with weight loss. Even a 5 percent reduction in body weight can help improve blood sugar levels.
To expand on the NIH’s recommendations above, the ADA recommends the following tips for eating healthy with diabetes.
- Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, and zucchini. At least half of your plate should be filled with these types of nutritious vegetables.
- The best type of protein for a healthy diet is lean protein. Roughly a quarter of your plate should be a lean protein source, such as chicken or fish. Avoid deep frying and charring your protein, try baking or lightly grilling instead.
- Limit your carb intake per meal to roughly 1 cup or less. Try to eat carbs with high fiber content, as fiber helps improve blood sugar levels. Great sources of high-fiber carbs include beans, whole-grain breads, brown rice, and other whole-grain food products.
- Fruits and low-fat dairy can make a great addition to a healthy meal. Be mindful to not overdo it on the portion size. A small handful of fresh berries or half a glass of low-fat milk can be a delicious after-dinner treat. Limit dried fruit and fruit juices as their carbs are more concentrated.
Sometimes you may have a craving for a treat, and the occasional sweet treat is fine. However, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re eating, and how much of it you’re eating.
Eating too many processed, sugary foods can negatively impact your blood sugar levels. These foods may also lead to weight gain and can have a poor impact on your overall health. Choosing lower-carbohydrate options in small amounts, and only occasionally, is the best way to treat yourself.
Is low-carb best?
In recent years, low-carb diets have been a popular dietary choice. In the health and wellness community, a low-carb diet has been recommended for diabetes.
There’s some truth to this suggestion. A 2018 consensus report from the ADA and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) states that a handful of diets — low-carb included — show benefits for those with diabetes.
According to the research, a low-carbohydrate diet (less than 26 percent of total energy) produced substantial reductions in HbA1c at 3 and 6 months, with diminishing effects at 12 and 24 months. This means that more extreme diets (like the ketogenic diet, which typically limits carbs to only 5 percent total intake), are not necessary to follow in order to see health benefits.
In addition, lowering carbohydrate intake too much can cause you to miss out on many important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Ultimately, a low-carbohydrate diet may work for some people with diabetes, but it does not work for everyone. Both the ADA and EASD recommend that treatments for glycemic control, including dietary interventions, should always be individualized to the person.
People with diabetes who are required to take mealtime insulin must also engage in carb counting. This is done to match the amount of carbohydrates in your meal with the amount of insulin you’re injecting. Doing this will help you maintain your blood glucose levels.
Other people may count carbohydrates to have more control over how many carbs they’re eating per day.
When counting carbs, learning to read nutrition labels is key. It’s important to remember that not all carbs have the same effect on blood sugar levels. Therefore, calculating net carbs is a better way to count your carbs. To find the net carbs of a food, simply subtract the fiber content from the total carbohydrate content.
If you’re interested in counting carbs to help manage your blood sugar levels, a nutrition professional or diabetes educator can teach you how.
Two of the most common diet myths for people with diabetes are that they can’t have any sugar, and that they must follow an extremely low-carb diet. As it turns out, this advice is outdated and untrue.
Sugar as a catchall term is more than just sweets and baked goods — fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all “sugars” too. Therefore, the myth that people with diabetes can’t eat sugar is false. Processed and added sugars should be limited, but the ADA recommends continuing to eat both fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.
An extremely low-carb diet is not necessary in blood sugar management, either. Extremely low-carb diets like the keto diet eliminate almost all carbohydrate intake.
However, even a low-carb Mediterranean diet has shown benefits for glycemic control. An extremely low-carb diet is neither necessary nor safe for every person that has diabetes. It’s important to see a dietitian or nutritionist before making these types of changes to your diet.
When to see a dietitian
If you have diabetes and are interested in eating a healthier diet, a trained nutrition professional can help. Dietitians and nutritionists can offer evidence-based suggestions on how to eat a healthier diet for your condition. If you want to dig even deeper, some nutrition professionals even specialize in nutrition for people with diabetes.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Find an Expert tool is a great way to find a nutrition professional in your area. The tool even allows you to search by specialty, which can help you find a diabetes specialist near you.
The bottom line
Carrots, among other non-starchy vegetables, are a great addition to a healthy diet for people with diabetes. They contain plenty of important nutrients that benefit blood sugar levels, such as vitamin A and fiber.
If you have diabetes, you should continue to incorporate vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein into your diet. For other suggestions on how to manage your blood glucose levels through diet, reach out to a nutrition professional near you.