Can You Have Your Carbs and Eat Healthy, Too?

By Jenna Bell, PhD, RD | Published 1/15/2018 4

Healthy carbs on a wooden background

When you think about your health goals, any of these thoughts come to mind?

  • I want more energy.
  • I’m trying to avoid health issues related to my family history.
  • I need to control my blood sugar.
  • I should improve my blood cholesterol levels.
  • I’d like to manage my weight better.

Often, along with these thoughts, comes a fear or hesitation to consume carbohydrates. Starchy foods—breads, pasta, grains, baked goods, “treats”, or even fruits—often give people pause because of their impact on blood sugar and thus, body weight or disease risk. And what’s worse, avoiding these foods often leads to a disappointing or dissatisfying diet in the absence of our favorite foods.

But, science shows that there is a way to have your carbs and eat healthfully, too.

It turns out that carbohydrates, which were originally thought to all have the same effect on blood sugar, are quite different. Some carbs increase blood sugar quickly and dramatically; others produce a much slower and smaller rise. This slower, smaller rise helps reduce the concerns associated with eating carbs. Swings in your blood sugar levels can make you feel lousy. And the highs and lows can increase your risk for serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. By adopting a diet with more slow carbs to help avoid these swings, it’s easier to achieve blood-sugar control, manage your blood cholesterol, maintain higher energy levels, and feel better.


What makes a carb slow?

A slow carb does not raise the blood sugar as quickly or as much over time. The glycemic index (GI) is a value based on how fast or how slow a food increases blood sugar. A food that has a low GI can be considered a “slow carb”, while a high GI is a “fast carb”. Low GI foods are broken down slowly, releasing glucose into your bloodstream at a reduced rate over time. A low GI food provides a more steady supply of energy from glucose. A food’s GI depends on how much simple sugar it contains, the fiber content, amount of protein and fat, and how it’s prepared. It is determined in a clinically controlled setting where 50-gram portions of food are fed to people after an overnight fast. The rise in blood sugar is measured every 15 minutes for three hours and plotted on a graph. The area under the curve is measured and indexed against 100 (the highest possible GI) to determine the food’s GI. The higher the rise in blood sugar, the higher the glycemic index of that food. Over 2,500 foods have been clinically analyzed and ranked as low, moderate, or high. A listing of the GI values of food can be found here: Guide to a Low Glycemic Diet.


Start slow

Since the Low Glycemic Diet will work with your current lifestyle you can maintain the calorie and carbohydrate levels and still eat “low GI”. The only thing you will be doing that is different is focusing on lower GI foods, like choosing lower GI fruits and vegetables or whole grains. If you are living with diabetes, consult your doctor, Registered Dietitian, or Certified Diabetes Educator before starting a low glycemic diet.


Slow steps to get started

  1. Make a list of the carb-containing foods you usually eat—veggies, fruits, bread, grains, cereals, pasta, rice, juices, beans, soups, baked goods, etc.
  2. Look up the GI of your favorite foods – check out this Health Harvard Glycemic Index Listing.
  3. Highlight the high GI foods on your list and find low GI swaps on this list. Even if a food has a low GI, continue following your carb counting plan prescribed by your healthcare professional.
  4. Feel better. Do you have more energy? If you are living with diabetes, are your blood sugar levels improving?
  5. Keep up the good work!


Start slow for breakfast

Start your plan with a delicious, low GI breakfast!

These low GI Muffins were developed by Fifty50 Foods. which has an extensive variety of certified branded low GI foods. Their products range from peanut butters and fruit spreads to candies and cookies to breakfast items like syrup and oatmeal to baking items like pie crusts, crystalline fructose—with more items in the pipeline.


Oat Bran Applesauce Muffins

Make and store these muffins individually wrapped in the freezer and pull them out as needed. Dotted with some peanut butter and jelly, they are the perfect answer to any fast-paced person’s quest for a nourishing breakfast or snack.

Servings: 1 muffin
Yields: 24 muffins


1 cup Low Glycemic Hearty Cut Oatmeal, divided
4 cups oat bran
½ cup Low Glycemic Fructose Granulated Sweetener
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup Low Glycemic Maple Syrup
2 cups nonfat milk
2 eggs
½ cup egg substitute
ÂĽ cup canola oil
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup walnuts


  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Spray 24 muffin cups with cooking spray or line with paper cups.
  2. Place the oatmeal in a Cuisinart and pulse 15 times. Measure ÂĽ cup and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining oats, the oat bran, fructose and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, combine the remaining 7 ingredients (maple syrup through the walnuts).
  4. Add wet ingredients to the dry mixture and stir to combine. Fill the muffin cups until almost full. Sprinkle with saved oats.

Bake 17-20 minutes or until the muffin tops are browned. Cool before serving. These muffins freeze extremely well.

Disclosure: Fifty50 Foods is a current client of Pollock Communications.

Jenna Bell, PhD, RD


Jenna A. Bell, Ph.D, RD, Senior Vice President, Director of Food & Wellness, is a Registered Dietitian with a doctorate in Health & Human Performance specializing in food and nutrition communications. At Pollock, she provides input and oversight for all nutrition messaging and health & wellness consumer, healthcare and influencer programs. In behalf of clients, she analyzes research, develops scientific affairs position statements, and writes letters for submission to government regulatory organizations. Jenna is a national leader with the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. She is a contributing editor and blogger for Today's Dietitian, co-author of two consumer books and several textbook chapters, international presenter, and peer influencer.


  • Eating a lot of junk lately. The work I do requires a lot of carbs diet for me to function (labor-related work). Guess I will try to implement some of the tips you shared on my daily routine and see if that helps out.

  • Love the article. Always trying to find a way to keep the food tasty while keeping the micros leveled!

  • Glycemic index ( GI) assigns a statistical score to a food based on how rapidly it makes your blood sugar rise. Foods are rated on a scale of 0 to 100, with pure glucose ( sugar) given a rating of 100. The lower the Harvard Health glycemic index of the meal, the slower the spike in blood sugar after consuming the food.

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