All vegetables are pretty darn healthy, but eating a bowlful of corn or sweet potato is going to impact your blood sugar far more than a bowlful of broccoli or green beans.
In this article, we’ll look at the top 10 low-carb vegetables that won’t spike your blood sugar and the ones that will raise your blood sugar the most (but again, I’ve gotta say: there’s no such thing as a bad vegetable!)
Table of Contents
“Total” carbohydrates vs. “Net” carbohydrates
When talking about the carb-quantities of different foods, it’s critical to understanding the difference between “total” carbohydrates and “net” carbohydrates.
Total carbohydrates are the absolute total number of carbohydrates in a food item. This will include added sugars (ex: in candy, soda, cake), naturally-occurring sugars (ex: in fruit) or starch (ex: in a potato, wheat, oats), sugar alcohols used in “sugar-free” candy, and all types of dietary fiber.
Net carbohydrates are the total number of carbohydrates after you subtract dietary fiber and some sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrates. Dietary fiber is not broken down into glucose like other types of carbohydrate, which means it doesn’t impact your blood sugar.
If you’re eating a meal containing 20 grams of total carbohydrate and 10 grams of fiber, the meal would have 10 grams of net carbs. If you’re counting carbs and dosing insulin based on carbs, it’s important to know how many actual impact carbohydrates you’re eating.
When it comes to low-carb vegetables, identifying carb-quantities by “net” carbohydrates is important when comparing one item to another because some vegetables contain far more dietary fiber than others. By subtracting that fiber amount from the total carbohydrates, it makes for a more accurate comparison.
Does the glycemic index still matter?
The glycemic index was created to rank every food based on the number of carbohydrates and the rate at which those carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels.
While it was very popular in the 80s after being introduced in 1981 as the decider of which carbohydrates are healthy and which are not, it can be a little misleading for those of us with diabetes.
For instance, while grapes are a wholesome source of nutrition, they also contain a lot of sucrose compared to other fruits. Grapes are notorious in the diabetes community for their rapid impact on blood sugar levels. A mere handful of grapes can raise your blood sugar 200 mg/dL if not matched well with an insulin dose.
And yet, based on the glycemic index, grapes are considered ideal for people with diabetes because they rank in the 40s. Anything under 50 is considered a good choice for your diabetes goals.
Another example is spaghetti. According to the glycemic index, white spaghetti ranks under 50, making it an ideal choice for people with diabetes. If you’ve ever eaten a bowl of spaghetti as a person with diabetes, you know it’s anything but kind to your blood sugar and insulin needs.
The glycemic index can also be difficult to work with because the glycemic value of vegetables change depending on how they are cooked. For example, roasted potatoes have a glycemic value around 69 while mashed potatoes are around 78.
In this article, we did not include the glycemic index on different vegetables, because when it comes to counting carbohydrates and measuring insulin, we don’t find it is a helpful tool.
10 low-carb vegetable choices for people with diabetes
A diet full of vegetables is a healthy diet. Are you stuck in a rut of only including vegetables at dinnertime? Getting vegetables into your diet as part of a snack, lunch, and dinner is a worthy goal. Here are 10 low-carb vegetable options that’ll be a great addition to your nutrition as a person with diabetes.
Leafy Greens (spinach, romaine, swiss chard, kale, iceberg, etc.)
You can’t eat too many leafy greens. Loaded with vitamins and minerals (and a surprisingly great source of calcium for bone health), these should inarguably be a part of any healthy diet — especially for people with diabetes. The darker the green in those leaves, the more nutrition. 1 cup of raw spinach, for example, contains 1.7 grams of total carbohydrate and less than 1 gram of net carbs!
Broccoli is a great way to fill your belly without many carbs or calories. 1 cup of raw broccoli contains a mere 6 grams of total carbohydrate and 2 grams of net carbs. A great replacement for pasta, you can fill your plate with broccoli, meat, and other low-carb veggies and you’ll be pretty satisfied!
There’s a reason everybody keeps substituting rice for “riced cauliflower” — it’s extremely low-carb and very filling. 1 cup of raw cauliflower contains 6 grams of total carbohydrate and 3 grams of net carbs. Whether you eat it steamed, sauteed, or “riced,” it can be pretty tasty with herbs, spices, salt, and pepper!
Cabbage — red or green — is a great way to fill up your plate with a lot of nutrition but without many carbs. Sauteed with onions and chopped up green beans, you’ll find that what looks just like lettuce actually has a great deal of flavor — it’s great with a little meat, too! 1 cup of chopped cabbage contains 5 grams of total carbohydrate and 3 grams of net carbs. Mix it up between red and green for variety!
My favorite way to eat eggplant is by slicing it up, brushing it with a little oil, sprinkled with paprika and salt, and then set it in an air-fryer for 24 hours! Eggplant chips are extremely low-carb. You can also just cube it and bake it with a little salt and pepper! 1 cup of cubed eggplant contains about 5 grams of total carbohydrate and 3 grams of net carbs.
A little starchier than other veggies on this list, green beans are still worth their place in your diet. 1 cup of green beans contains about 10 grams of total carbohydrate and 6 grams of net carbs, but you’ll likely find the impact on your blood sugar to be far less than what the carb-count implies.
It’s hard to report the number of carbs in an onion because you generally only eat a few slices at a time in your sandwich or in a stir-fry. Sure, 1 cup contains “16 grams of carbs” but who eats 1 cup of onions in a sitting? Nobody! A few slices of onion, on the other hand, contain fewer than 2 or 3 grams of carbohydrate.
Celery is light, crunchy, flavorful, and a really delicious boat for peanut butter. You can use it soups, veggie salads, and more as a low-carb, whole-food filler! 1 medium-stalk of celery contains 1.7 grams of total carbohydrates and fewer than 1 gram of net carbs.
There are a variety of tasty bell pepper colors, but the lowest in carbs are the green ones. That being said, don’t shy away from red, orange and yellow — their carb count is still relatively low and they offer a great variety of vitamins and minerals. 1 cup of chopped green bell pepper contains 7 grams of total carbohydrate and 4.5 grams of net carbs.
These delicious sprouts are so nutritious but do require a bit of chopping. They have a pretty strong scent and flavor when cooked, too, which can steer some folks from trying them. I recommend chopping each sprout in half, drizzling with olive oil and salt, and roasting them in the oven! 1 cup of cooked Brussel’s sprouts contains 11 grams of total carbohydrate and 4 grams of net carbs.
What about all of the other veggies we didn’t include on this list? You should feel free to eat those, too! Aside from keeping an eye on how much of the starchy ones you eat, you can’t go wrong with vegetables. Look-up the carb-count before trying something new, and check your blood sugar within 2 hours after eating to see the impact on your blood sugar.
And remember, learning how to cook and season veggies with herbs, spices, and sea salt can make any veggie remarkably delicious! Embrace your kitchen!
6 vegetables that will raise your blood sugar
Just because a vegetable is on this list does not mean you can’t eat it. However, when choosing the foods on this list, it’s important to keep an eye on just how much you’re eating. If we’re going to eat carbs, certainly choosing whole-food carbs like starchy vegetables is better for our overall health than a cupcake.
But whether you’re on insulin or not, you’ll want to make sure you account for those extra carbs, check your blood sugar two hours after eating to see how your body is handling it and reduce your carb-intake at other meals to stay within your goal carbohydrate range.
Potatoes are nearly pure starch, and while they’re certainly delicious covered in butter and salt, they can raise your blood sugar significantly. According to CalorieKing, 1 medium-sized potato (or 6 oz) packs in about 37 grams of total carbohydrate and 33 grams of net carbs.
Corn on the cob is delicious, but you may find it spikes your blood sugar as quickly as a glass of juice! Very high in starch, 1 medium-sized ear of corn can pack 46 grams of total carbohydrate and 42 grams of net carbs.
Sweet Potatoes / Yams
While sweet potatoes offer more vitamins and minerals compared to white potatoes, their carb-content is nearly identical. 1 large-sized sweet potato (or 6 oz) contains about 37 grams of total carbohydrate and 31 grams of net carbs.
Probably not an option you encounter as often, parsnips are very similar to white potatoes in texture and appearance when cooked. 1 cup of boiled parsnip contains 26 grams of total carbohydrate and 21 grams of net carbs.
Often considered a healthy alternative to mashed potatoes, it’s important to note that butternut squash still contains a decent amount of starch that’ll easily raise your blood sugar. 1 cup of boiled butternut squash contains 21.5 grams of total carbohydrate and 19 grams of net carbs.
There are so many delicious beans out there but they are rather starchy. Fortunately, beans do have a lot of dietary fiber to offset some of the carb-content, but they should still be eaten carefully. 1 cup of cooked black beans, for example, contains 40 grams of total carbohydrate and 25 grams of net carbs.
Remember, you can enjoy any of these vegetables but the starch quantity in them will impact your blood sugar even though they are healthy overall! If you choose to include these options in your diet, do so with moderation and careful attention to your medications and blood sugar levels.
Read more from DiabetesStrong on carbohydrates:
- No-Carb, Low-Carb…Which is the Best Diet for Diabetes?
- Why Diabetics Also Need Carbs
- Total vs. Net Carbohydrates
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