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Blood Sugar Control: Does Cutting Out White Foods Really Help?

Q: I have cut out all “white” foods from my diet, but my blood sugar levels are still running high after meals. What else can I do at mealtimes to improve my readings?

white bread and diabetesA: Although “white” foods can contain excess sugar and refined carbohydrates that spike blood sugar levels, these are not the only foods that impact blood sugar. In addition, not all “white foods” are going to significantly raise your levels either.

First, let's take a look at what actually impacts blood sugar. Any carbohydrate-based food will break down into glucose, or sugar, and enter your bloodstream. Depending on the type of carbohydrate contained in the food, this will either happen rapidly or slowly over time. Although “white foods” like table sugar will elevate blood sugar levels quickly, there are plenty of non-white foods that will do this as well.

The key to managing healthy blood sugar levels: Eat  mostly complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates — but make sure not to consume excess amounts of any kind of carbohydrate at any one time. A simple carbohydrate is one that converts into sugar rapidly. In addition to table sugar, these include white flour pasta, white bread, and white rice. Then there are non-white simple refined carbohydrates such as wheat bread (that is not 100% whole grain), honey, fruit drinks, sugary desserts and snacks, such as milk chocolate and pie, condiments such as jelly, ketchup, barbeque sauce, and even many granola bars.

Consuming any refined carbohydrate, regardless of its color, will result in a rise in blood sugar levels. To prevent this, you want to choose complex, or whole grain carbohydrates, instead. These are carbohydrate-rich foods that are still in their whole, unprocessed form. Think whole fruits, 100% whole grain bread, brown rice, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Because these foods are rich in fiber, they are converted into glucose much more slowly, leading to a much smaller rise and fall in blood sugar levels. In addition, non-starchy “white” vegetables such as onions and cauliflower contain small amount of carbohydrates, but will have only a very slight impact on glucose levels.

When choosing any grain, you can ensure you are selecting a complex carbohydrate (or whole grain) but analyzing the nutrition label. Be sure to check the ingredient list and look for the word “whole” in the first ingredient. If you are choosing wheat bread and the first ingredient lists “wheat” instead of “whole wheat” flour, chances are, this really isn’t a complex carbohydrate. The rise in your blood sugar will reflect this after you eat it. In addition, be on the lookout for added sugars in processed and prepared foods. Words such as molasses, agave, cane syrup, or any word that ends in "ose", such as maltose or fructose are signs of added sugars. The higher up on the ingredient list these words appear, the more likely the food will raise your blood sugar level.

And even when you choose the most complex carbohydrates possible, you still may find blood sugar levels rising too high after meals. This occurs simply because you consumed too many carbohydrates at one time. Even the healthiest carbohydrate options can elevate blood sugar to unhealthy levels when consumed in excess. To prevent this, aim to balance all of your meals and snacks with non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. A good rule of thumb is to keep total grams of carbohydrate to 45-60 grams per meal and between 15-30 grams per snack. Balancing your carbohydrate intake throughout the day and choosing complex carbohydrates over simple sugars will help to regulate blood sugar levels much more than just trying to avoid foods that are white in color.

First published on: August 13, 2015
Updated on: March 30, 2017
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