When it comes to food myths, diabetes and prediabetes are fertile ground for outdated ideas and misinformation – or rather misunderstood information.
The good news is, most of these myths are either entirely wrong or completely blown out of proportion. The bad news is, people still believe them and are missing out on the vibrant and enjoyable food that can be part of a healthy, carb-conscious lifestyle.
Today I am going to tackle 4 foods that might have some of the most imposing and inaccurate myths when it comes to eating them when you’re insulin resistant. They are the 4 foods you should reconsider and they are of course – fruit, bread, potatoes, and pasta!
So let’s get to it…food myths we’re coming for you!
Food Myth #1: No Fruit…Ever
Yes Virginia, you can eat fruit if you have prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. But you have to be smart about your fruit choices, your serving sizes, and your timing.
Think fresh, high in fiber, and whole.
As in not fruit juice.
While fruit juice has a reputation for being a healthy choice (it’s not!) it takes what can be a relatively healthy food choice and turns into liquid sugar. Juicing a fruit removes almost all the natural fiber and leaves you only with the sugar and some depleted nutrients. You might as well be chugging a bottle of honey! So let’s put this particular food myth to bed.
So when it comes to eating fruit, say no to juice and remember the higher the fiber, the better. Think berries, apples, pears, and avocados (yes, avocado is a fruit).
Pay attention to portions when it comes to eating your fruits. Especially with fruits that are higher in natural sugars such as bananas and grapes. A single serving of banana is usually only half the banana – and a medium-sized one at that!
Eat your fruit with a meal and preferably toward the end of your meal when you’ve already filled your stomach with healthy fats, lean protein, and fiber. This will slow down the absorption of sugar (fructose) that’s found in all fruits. Pair your fruit choice with a meal and reduce the blood sugar spike that occurs when a high-carbohydrate food is eaten on its own.
Outside of mealtimes, focus on portion size and carb count. You can have a small serving of whole fruit (think 15 grams of carbs) for a small snack or dessert.
Food Myth #2: Pass On The Bread
Say it with me now – bread is not the enemy!
But highly refined and processed grains (foods!) are.
Because white bread is made with refined white flour, it’s actually a highly processed food! Stripped of its fiber and nutrients, white flour really has no positive nutritional value beyond its carbohydrate content. When ingested, the body converts it to sugar quickly and many people with insulin resistance can see the effect when they test their blood sugars after having bread.
So why is bread on this list? What food myth are we debunking for bread?
In the simplest of terms, not all bread is made with refined white flour. Almost all bread is made with some sort of processed grain, but the degree to which that grain is refined and processed can vary greatly.
Look for whole or stone-ground grain and high fiber breads. The higher the fiber the better (again)! You can also experiment with sprouted grain breads which are usually found in the freezer section of your grocery store – because like the healthiest of foods, they go bad quickly if left at room temperature.
Breads made from sprouted grains tend to have lower carbs and less starch as well as higher levels of protein and fiber. These attributes can make them a better choice for people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
Another option to consider is sourdough or pumpernickel bread. Non-commercial sourdough (bakery or homemade) uses a slow fermentation process to produce wild yeast without the use of sugar as a feeding agent. Because the dough is fermented, it has a lower carbohydrate profile making it a good option for people with diabetes.
Pumpernickel bread is made with sourdough starter (that fermented yeast mixture) and depending on the recipe can also be a nice choice. Your best bet when it comes to sourdough or pumpernickel is to source it from a local bakery where you can ask about the ingredients (do they use sugar or other sweeteners?) or make it yourself at home so you control exactly what goes into your bread.
And for those of you who don’t eat gluten, you can find gluten-free breads – sometimes in the freezer section – and as always, check the nutrition facts label. They still have yummy carbs!
Food Myth #3: Spuds Are Duds
Well, potatoes are definitely a no-no, no?
Not all potatoes and especially not in smaller amounts.
Potatoes are a starchy vegetable and are quickly digested by the body when eaten alone. The trick to eating potatoes when you’re trying to keep your blood sugars stable is to choose waxier potatoes like fingerling and red potatoes and to keep your portions small.
In addition, did you know that how you cook your potato can actually affect where it falls on the Glycemic Index?
In many cases, boiling your potatoes produces the lowest GI number, but steamed is also a good alternative. Be sure to eat the skin as well since most of the vitamins and minerals are found in the skin!
And generally speaking, despite their name, sweet potatoes tend to have less sugar than russets and other white potatoes. The same goes for yams. Just make sure you aren’t smothering them under a pile of marshmallow fluff…
As with the other carb-heavy foods we’ve mentioned so far, having a modest portion of potato with a balanced meal is your wisest choice. And never substitute a potato for your daily servings of fruits and veggies. Treat your potatoes as a starch and limit them to one-quarter of your dinner plate if you’re using The Plate Method.
Food Myth #4: Hasta La Pasta
As someone with Italian roots, this myth hurts my heart.
The true problem with pasta is that almost everyone eats too much of it.
Most people pile their plates high with penne or spaghetti not realizing that they could be having 3, 4, or even more servings of pasta in one single meal. No wonder their blood sugar spikes! Imagine eating equal servings of potatoes…
So step one if you’ve got prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and want to add pasta back to your menu is to measure. A healthy serving of pasta should be about the size of your fist. Not 5-6 fists a la Olive Garden. One single fist…start there.
Next, try whole-grain pasta. If you’ve tried whole grain or whole wheat pasta before and didn’t care for it – it can have a different texture – try different cuts of pasta. I have a friend who prefers whole wheat pasta, except for spaghetti and linguine. For some reason when it comes to “string” pasta, she doesn’t care for the texture. But elbows, shells, penne, and tortellini are good for her. Go figure! You can also try pastas made from quinoa or alternative flours like rice and soy.
If whole wheat or whole grain pasta isn’t to your taste, look for pastas with extra fiber. Start with those and get your taste buds adjusted and see if you can then transition to whole-grain after a while.
Another consideration is cooking time. Try and serve your pasta al dente or firm. The more you cook pasta, the quicker it’s digested and the more potential for raising your blood sugars.
Lastly, eat your pasta with protein. The protein will help slow down the digestion of the quick carbs in pasta and also extend feelings of satiety after your meal.
Everyone is different
Now in spite of what I’ve just written above, I want to remind you that everyone is different.
Every BODY reacts a bit differently to food. Type 2 diabetes is not the same for Mary as it is for Joe. There are so many variables for each of us that blanket statements about “good food” and “bad food” should be given careful consideration.
When in doubt, check your blood sugar if you can.
Some people may not be able to tolerate potatoes despite combining them with a meal, reducing their portion, or changing the method of cooking. But never assume that’s true. Let your body tell you what works for it and what doesn’t. Because sometimes bread is a no-go but pasta is fine.
Our bodies and our metabolisms are complex and unique. What works for one person may not work for another. Age, medications, pancreatic health, and a plethora of other factors can affect how your body responds to certain foods.
Work with your primary care provider, or registered dietitian, to experiment with different foods and combinations. And take note of what works and what doesn’t and what’s acceptable to you and your diabetes care team.
And don’t forget – our bodies change over time and what we could or couldn’t tolerate a few years ago may be different today. That’s why there’s no one right way or wrong way to eat when you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Like almost everything else in life, it’s about moderation and informed, healthy choices for everyone.