Potatoes have gotten a bad rep for being “high in sugar,” but how about their orange counterpart, the sweet potato? These root vegetables are nutritious but starchy, leaving some people wary about eating them too. Although it’s important to monitor your intake of high-carb foods while living with type 2 diabetes, it’s possible to enjoy sweet potatoes as part of a balanced diet. Making sure your portions are right for you, keeping an eye on your blood glucose response, and preparing sweet potatoes without added sugar are some tips that can help.
Sweet potatoes have a high nutritional value. They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Orange sweet potatoes are particularly rich in beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A and helps prevent certain diseases and some types of cancer. Sweet potatoes have a higher amount of potassium than a banana, and this nutrient can help reduce blood pressure. They also contain cell-protecting antioxidants (including vitamin C) and are free of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder, which means it affects how your body handles energy from food, leading to changes in blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates are nutrients found in food that provide energy for your body. Because carbohydrates directly influence blood sugar, people with diabetes must be mindful of how much and which types of carbs they consume.
Sweet potatoes are lower in carbohydrates than white potatoes. A medium-sized white potato has about 37 grams of carbs, and a sweet potato has about 24 grams. Both have 4 grams of diabetes-friendly fiber if you include the skin.
When it comes to incorporating sweet potatoes into a diabetes-friendly diet, portion control is key. The American Diabetes Association recommends that you tailor your carbohydrate intake to what makes the most sense for you and your treatment goals. Some people with diabetes do better when limiting their carbohydrate intake to 26 percent to 45 percent of their total calorie intake. Individualized meal planning with a registered dietitian can help you determine the appropriate serving size of sweet potatoes based on your nutritional needs, activity level, blood sugar control, medications, and overall health.
Sweet potatoes can be a valuable addition to a diabetes-friendly diet, but remember that balance is key. Include a variety of nonstarchy veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats to avoid having too many carbohydrates in one sitting or one day.
You can use the “plate method” to visualize how to fit sweet potatoes into your meal plan. This strategy includes filling half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, 25 percent with protein, and the remaining 25 percent with whole and natural carbohydrate foods, like sweet potatoes.
Examples of nonstarchy vegetables include:
Nonstarchy vegetables have naturally high fiber content and are low in sugar, which helps control your blood sugar levels. Foods rich in protein can help fill you up and give your muscles the fuel they need to stay strong. You can find protein in animal- and plant-based foods, such as chicken, fish, cottage cheese, lentils, and tofu. Because only a quarter of your plate is left for starchy foods, that includes sweet potatoes along with any other carbohydrates, like rice, bread, or fruit. Measuring your blood sugar and keeping a log in a diary can help you identify patterns and find out what works best for you.
Avoiding fried foods is a common recommendation for diabetes and heart health, so sweet potato fries from the deep fryer aren’t your best bet. Instead, one of the healthiest cooking methods for sweet potatoes is boiling them. Boiled sweet potatoes don’t raise blood sugar levels as quickly as roasted sweet potatoes. Boiling also helps preserve the beneficial beta-carotene in sweet potatoes. Retain the most nutrition by boiling sweet potatoes with the skin in a covered pot for a short amount of time.
At least half the fiber in sweet potatoes is found in the skin, so be sure to wash them well and don’t peel them before eating. Instead of adding brown sugar or other sweeteners to your sweet potatoes, flavor them with cinnamon. You might be surprised by how much their natural sweetness shines through. You can also opt for savory seasonings like curry powder or other savory blends.
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