Whenever there is talk of a food and its effects on blood sugar in diabetes you are likely to see long lists of benefits that encourage consumption of said food. However, many of the listed benefits are general and not aimed at the metabolic condition specifically. Often times, the preventive action of certain plant foods against type 2 diabetes is passed for some form of healing property that actively contributes to its management; or the difference between the two is not very clearly stated. The truth is, however healthy, a good deal of plant foods do not hold much anti-diabetic activity against an existing disease and eating them is good for diabetes only to the extent that they don’t make the condition worse, given intake is sufficiently low so as to not exceed nutritional requirements.
Let’s consider carrots, a sweet root that walks the fine line between fruit and vegetable in terms of carbohydrate and sugar content. Most diabetics can eat carrots and do so safely as long as they only eat small amounts at once so that they don’t exceed their recommended intakes of carbohydrates per day and per meal. Despite providing significant amounts of carbohydrates and sugar in the form of fructose, glucose and sucrose, carrots are actually good for diabetes when eaten in moderation as part of an overall balanced and varied diet tailored to the nutritional requirements of the diabetic patient and the restrictions of their condition. But bad if intake is excessive.
What do carrots do for your body if you have diabetes? If we’re to talk about the real benefits of eating carrots for diabetes, then here is what you need to know:
1) Effects on blood glucose (sugar) metabolism can be kept minimal. Different sources say the sweet root vegetable has too much of a variable glycemic index, or GI – a scale that measures how fast the carbohydrates in a plant food raise blood sugar level. But even if the glycemic index ranges from low to moderate to high in some cases (example: dehydrated carrots or some canned options), you can still avoid fluctuations in blood glucose levels.
How? First of all, by eating small amounts at a time. How much or little you can eat depends on how severe your condition is – diabetic patients tolerate different intakes of carbohydrates which means some can eat more of some foods, while others less (but not too much anyway). Fortunately, if you pair carrots with a bit of animal protein (eggs, chicken, fish, butter, cheese or other dairy), the protein and small amounts of fat in these other foods will slow down digestion and the rate of sugar absorption into the bloodstream, contributing to a steadier rise in blood glucose levels which is a favorable outcome with diabetes. See more similarly helpful tips in the article Can You Eat Carrots With Diabetes?
2) Low in calories (41 kcal/100 g), low in fat (less than 0.3 g) but a good source of fiber (2.8 g) which helps diabetic patients not gain weight. In some cases it may even encourage weight loss by contributing to healthier eating habits. But keep in mind that effects are limited and one food that you may only eat in limited amounts before it becomes bad for you cannot make up for the rest of your diet.
3) Support weight loss while boosting energy. Carrots are a satiating food and help keep you full for longer thanks to their good fiber content. Moreover, they satisfy sweet cravings thanks to their sugar content and pleasantly sweet taste, contributing to better weight management and possibly even initiating weight loss. Their good B vitamin and mineral content makes them an energizing food.
4) Help prevent and delay diabetes-associated eye damage (retinopathy). Most varieties contain either beta-carotene or alpha-carotene as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants with vitamin A activity which actively promote eye health, including benefits for visual acuity, color and night vision.
Always eat carrots together with a source of fat (olive oil, some cheese, butter etc.). Fat helps make the alpha and beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin more available to your body and aids in their conversion into active vitamin A forms.
– Orange carrots are highest in beta-carotene;
100 g provides roughly the entire daily vitamin A intake for an average adult.
– Purple carrots that are orange inside are high in alpha and beta-carotene (the purple color is from anthocyanins which don’t have vitamin A activity);
– Yellow carrots are high in lutein and also contain zeaxanthin.
See more on the subject in the article on Different Carrot Colors Nutrition.
5) Minor benefits for skin thanks to excellent amounts of carotene antioxidants with vitamin A activity (alpha, beta-carotene especially) and small amounts of vitamin C (less than 10% of recommended intake for an average adult in 100 g of the vegetable). Vitamin C together with zinc and orange, purple, red and yellow antioxidants from different varieties hold modest immune-boosting properties which may provide minor benefits for wound healing.
6) Source of B vitamins for diabetes-associated neuropathy (nerve damage). On average, 100 g of the vegetable provides less than 10% of the recommended intake for an average adult. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9 help in the prevention of nervous system damage associated with the condition. It helps to get as much B group vitamins from food as you can, whether you have diabetes or not, as they help the nervous system function flawlessly, among other benefits.
7) Minor benefits for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Small amounts of magnesium and potassium (less than 5% and less than 10% of recommended intakes for an average adult per 100 g of the vegetable) help with diabetes-associated hypertension. Dietary fiber holds cholesterol-lowering properties.
Eating too much carrot is bad for diabetes primarily because it raises blood glucose levels. Other possible side effects and medicine interactions:
1) Red carrots are high in lycopene, an otherwise healthy antioxidant, but known to interact with anticoagulant medication and possibly other medication. If you are diabetic and receiving any form of treatment for cardiovascular disease, see your doctor for more information. See more Properties and Benefits of Red Carrots.
2) May promote blood clotting due to vitamin K (over 10% of the recommended intake for an average adult for every 100 g of the vegetable). See your doctor if you are receiving treatment for blood clots.
How much carrots can diabetics eat? It depends on the person and their individual tolerance to carbohydrates in food, but usually small amounts of the likes of 100-150 g per serving, one serving a day are well tolerated by most diabetes.
On a general note, here are some helpful pointers to guide you:
1) If you eat them with a source of animal protein or fat (chicken, butter, egg), then you may probably eat a bit more carrot than you usually would. This is because protein and fat take longer to be digested (compared to the carbohydrates in the carrot which provide fast energy). And their lengthier digestion time slows down the rate of absorption of sugar from the carbohydrates too, resulting in a steadier rise in blood glucose levels which is good for diabetics.
2) If you eat carrots by themselves, you may probably want to eat less. Aside from some fiber, there would be nothing else to slow down digestion and temper the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, so spikes in blood sugar levels are possible, depending on how much you eat. It’s also best to avoid them on an empty stomach.
3) If you feel sick, then stop eating. A good rule with diabetes is that if you feel sick after eating carrots or any other vegetable or fruit, then you should stop eating. Depending on a multitude of factors, you may want to stop eating that much and progressively reduce your intake until you find the right serving size for you or, in some cases, not eat certain foods at all.