Better Carbs: A guide to low glycemic carbs

low glycemic diet
low glycemic carbs

Low glycemic carbs include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. These foods are often recommended for people with diabetes because they tend to cause less fluctuation in blood glucose levels.

What are carbs? 

A carbohydrate is any food that contains sugar. Carbohydrates provide fuel for our bodies. There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates include sugars like glucose and fructose. Complex carbohydrates contain long chains of sugar molecules called polysaccharides. Examples of complex carbohydrates include breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, beans, and oats. Keep reading for a full breakdown of each.

What are low glycemic carbs? 

Low Glycemic Carbs are (complex) carbohydrates that break down into glucose slowly, which means they can curb a spike in blood sugar levels. This type of carbohydrate includes whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, sorghum, and wild rice.

Recommended reading: Naturally lower blood sugar with food

Simple carbs

Simple carbohydrates are monosaccharides (single sugar molecules) that are easily absorbed by the body. These include glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, and dextrins. Simple carbohydrates are often referred to as “simple” because they are not complexed with any other substances. In fact, they are just single sugar molecules.

Simple carbs are sugar. Some occur naturally in foods like milk, but most are added to food.

List of simple carbs


Glucose is the simplest carbohydrate molecule. Glucose is the primary source of energy for our bodies. It is the only type of carbohydrate that we produce naturally in our own bodies. Glucose is present in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, milk, and honey.


Fructose is a simple sugar that occurs naturally in fruit. Fructose is sweeter than glucose and is commonly used in processed foods and beverages.


Galactose is a simple sugar that is found in dairy products. Galactose is sweeter than glucose.


Sucrose is a combination of two simple sugars: glucose and fructose. Sucrose is found in many fruits and vegetables.


Lactose is a simple carbohydrate that is found in milk. Lactose is sweeter and less digestible than other types of carbohydrates.


Maltose is a simple sugar found in barley, oats, and wheat. Maltose is sweeter than other simple carbohydrates.


Dextrin is a mixture of several different simple carbohydrates. Dextrin is found in corn syrup and molasses.


Complex carbs - the better carbs

Complex carbohydrates are a type of carbohydrate that contains two or more simple carbohydrates bonded together. These types of carbohydrates are not digested as fast as simple carbohydrates, making them ideal for long-term storage. Examples of complex carbohydrates include starches, cellulose, and hemicellulose.

Complex carbs are fiber and starch. 

Best low glycemic carbs to add to your diet

These are the best carbs to add to your diet, however, you'll want to combine them with fat and protein to make a whole low glycemic meal. Get some low glycemic recipes and a sample meal plan by downloading our free Starter Kit here.

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes are excellent sources of protein and fiber. They also contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that help protect against cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least two servings of legumes each week. One serving equals one cup of cooked dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, split peas, soybeans, or other legumes. You can eat them plain or add them to soups, salads, sandwiches, casseroles, stir-fries, curries, stews, chili, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are rich in nutrients and fiber. They are also high in B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, refined carbohydrates are made by removing some of the bran and germ from whole grains. This process removes much of the nutrition found in whole grains.

The American Heart Association recommends eating at least three servings of whole grains each day. These include brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, sorghum, wheat berries, and wild rice. You should try to eat them every day because they provide many health benefits. For example, whole grains help lower cholesterol levels, reduce risk of diabetes, and protect against cancer.

Recommended reading: 30 foods with a low glycemic index


If you eat oatmeal every morning, you will likely feel better throughout the day because it has a slower effect on blood sugar levels. On the other hand, bread has a faster effect on blood sugar levels, so eating it regularly might make you feel tired and sluggish.

The best thing about oatmeal is that it curbs fluctuating blood sugar levels. In fact, it lowers it. That means you won’t get hungry after eating it, and you won’t be tempted to snack on something unhealthy. Plus, it’s filling and satisfying, which makes it easier to stick to a diet plan.

Sweet Potatoes

You should also consider how much fiber each food contains. Fiber helps keep your digestive system healthy by helping with digestion and preventing constipation. It also helps reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

Nutrition that is found in low glycemic carbs

Brown Rice

Brown rice is a whole grain food that contains many vitamins and minerals. It is high in fiber and low in calories. It is a good source of protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B-6, manganese, copper, niacin, thiamine, folate, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and selenium. Brown rice is often recommended for people who have diabetes or hypoglycemia.


Quinoa is a seed that is related to spinach and beets. It is gluten free and packed with protein. It is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids. It is also rich in dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc. It is a great alternative to brown rice.


Oatmeal is a delicious breakfast cereal that is full of fiber and protein. It is a good way to start your day off right. Oats are also a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They are high in beta carotene, folic acid, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin E.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable that is loaded with vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of vitamin A, C, D, K, and E. They are also a good source for fiber, potassium, and manganese.

Whole Grain Bread

Whole grain bread is a healthier option than white bread. It is higher in fiber and lower in sugar content. It is also a good source of protein and iron.


Beans are a legume that is a good source of fiber, protein, and iron. They are also a great source of folate, magnesium, and potassium.


Lentils are a small bean that is a good source for protein, iron, and fiber. They are also a rich source of folate, manganese, and potassium.



Frequently asked questions about low glycemic carbs

Are eggs a low glycemic food?

Eggs contain no carbohydrates, so they don't raise blood sugar levels like other high carbohydrate foods do. This means that if you eat eggs regularly, you won't experience any insulin spikes.

What are the best low glycemic carbs?

Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, sorghum, wild rice, and beans such as black beans, lentils, chickpeas, adzuki beans, navy beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans, soybeans, mung beans, and fava beans.

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