Slow-Digesting Carbs and Blood Sugar Control

If you’re unsure about the type of carbs to eat on a blood sugar friendly diet you are not alone. Julia Zakrzewski, RD, helps us understand slow carbs and if they are a good choice to promote stable blood sugar.

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Slow-carb foods (also called slow-digesting carbs) function in the body exactly as they sound: they are digested slowly which aids in keeping your glucose stable. These foods are high in fiber and are broken down over a longer period of time. From a glucose perspective, a slow breakdown of carbohydrate foods is always preferred3.

Why? The slow breakdown of carbohydrates results in a delayed impact on blood glucose. Slow changes within your bloodstream offer you a greater opportunity for tighter management of your glucose levels.

Another method of identifying slow-carbs is to follow the glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods are considered slow-carb-release foods and should have minimal impact on your blood glucose2

To strengthen your efforts, pair low GI foods with lean proteins and generous portions of vegetables. The protein and fiber will further delay the breakdown of food, and promote a slow uptake of glucose into the blood. 

What are Slow-Carb Foods?

  • Slow carbs digest slowly
  • Slow carbs are better for blood sugar control than simple carbs
  • Slow-carb foods are low-glycemic foods
  • Slow-release carbs are complex carbs

What is The Slow-Carb Diet? 

The slow-carb diet was developed by author and self-proclaimed health influencer Timothy Ferris. He published the slow carb diet in 2010, which promotes a very restrictive diet with little to no intake of processed foods or carbohydrates.

The dietary restrictions within the slow-carb diet are stringent, and they are not supported by high-quality evidence or scientific research. The slow-carb diet suggests only eating animal protein, vegetables, fats, spices, and legumes. It promotes using supplements to satisfy any gaps in your nutrition while following the diet.

However, some broader recommendations within the slow-carb diet are suitable for daily life and the management of blood glucose. To stay on top of your health goals, choose nutrient dense foods and complex carbs (slow-release carbs) over simple carbs. 

Simple Carbs vs. Complex Carbs

A simple carb has a simple structure with one or two sugar molecules called monosaccharides and disaccharides4. Simple carbs offer few nutritional benefits and are less favorable for blood sugar management. 

The simple sugars rapidly enter the bloodstream and increase the chances of blood glucose spikes. 

Examples of Simple Carbs to Avoid: 

  • White flour products
  • Flavored yogurts
  • Fruit juices, sodas, specialty coffee beverages  
Simple Carbs to Avoid (Infographic): Flavored yogurt, white flour, sugary beverages

On the other end of the carbohydrate spectrum are complex carbs. These foods are rich in fiber, nutrients, minerals, and the sugars are bound in long chains called polysaccharides6

The long chains take time to break down before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. In your diet, prioritize complex carbs over simple ones because of the delayed effect on your blood glucose. 

Examples of Complex Carbs to Eat:

  • Whole-grain products
  • Legumes
  • Fruits
  • Starchy vegetables including squash and sweet potatoes
Complex Carbs to Eat (Infographic): Fruits, Whole Grains, Starchy Vegetables

How Do Slow-Carb Foods Affect Blood Sugar Levels? 

Choosing slow-carb foods, or foods with a low glycemic index, will have a delayed impact on your blood glucose. These foods are also rich in fiber, minerals, and nutrients, and promote stable blood sugars and health overall. 

How Are Sugars Metabolized In The Body?

Whenever you eat a carbohydrate, your pancreas is signaled to release insulin hormone into your bloodstream. Insulin actively transports sugar molecules out of your bloodstream and into its target destination3. Any sugar that is not used for fuel will be stored for later use. 

As the sugar is cleared out of the bloodstream, insulin production wanes. If the sugar starts to drop below your body’s ideal threshold, the liver will release glucagon to release stored sugars into your blood. 

The mechanism operates like a thermostat, which activates when the number falls outside of the desired range. Carbohydrates, insulin, and glucagon all work together to ensure your blood levels remain stable, and fuel is available for your muscles and brain3

How Many Daily Carbs Should You Eat? 

Every person will have unique carbohydrate requirements to maintain a stable blood sugar range1. You and your health team should calculate your daily carbohydrate needs and then spread them evenly throughout your meals.

Current estimates and guidelines for carb intake will be the sum of 45-50% of your daily caloric intake2. That said, carbohydrates can affect people very differently so which carbs you consume matters as much as the total volume. Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you discover which carbs you are able to eat without spiking your glucose. 

<p class="pro-tip">Learn more about CGMs</p>

What Are The Benefits Of Eating Slow-Carb Foods? 

Slow-carb foods are rich in fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals that support overall health. The high fiber content is vital to support mealtime satiety, which ensures you’re satisfied at meals and reduces the chances of overeating. 

What Are Good Slow-Carb Foods To Eat?

The slow-carb foods listed in the slow-carb diet plan are limited to beans and pulses. 

Other great low GI options include: 

Despite best efforts, blood sugar spikes are bound to happen. Prioritize getting your blood sugar back in the normal range, and then assess the events that led to that moment. 

Refined starches or refined white flour products typically have the largest impact on your blood glucose. Do not be afraid of these foods; instead, find a way to balance your meals or choose alternatives that better align with your blood sugar management plan but still keep you satisfied. 

FAQs

Is Rice Allowed In The Slow-Carb Approach? 

White rice is considered a refined carbohydrate, or a simple carbohydrate. Although rice is a cultural staple ingredient for people across the globe, a reduced intake of rice is recommended for optimized blood sugar control. 

If you love rice and can not imagine your meals without it, serve smaller portion sizes. Add more vegetables and lean proteins to your rice to reduce the glycemic impact of the meal. 

Is The Slow-Carb Diet The Same As A Low-Carb Diet? 

Not necessarily. Choosing slow carbohydrate foods does not mean cutting back on your carbohydrate intake. 

Instead, you are opting to be more selective with your carb choices. You may eat the same volume of carbs as you did before, but now you may be choosing to eat higher quality carbs. 

Are Low-Carb Diets Good For Me? 

Low-carb diets may help you reach your goals faster, but the changes you make need to be sustainable for long-term results. 

<p class="pro-tip">Read more about low carb diets.</p>

Does The Slow Carb Diet Work With Signos? 

Slow carbs—or slow-release carbs—can be safely included in your eating routine. Signos promotes nutrient-dense diets rich in unprocessed foods, fiber, and vitamins, which are usually low-glycemic foods. 

Choose whole grain and complex carbohydrate options whenever possible, and don’t forget to monitor your beverage choices too! 

In the warmer months cocktails, beer, frozen slushies, and pops become more popular as people hit the patio. Liquid sources of sugar, like beverages, can rapidly shoot into your bloodstream and make it more difficult to manage your blood sugar.

<p class="pro-tip"> You can read more about how Signos works here.</p>



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References

  1. American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Carb Counting and Diabetes | ADA. American Diabetes Association. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/understanding-carbs/carb-counting-and-diabetes 
  2. Austin, G. L., Ogden, L. G., & Hill, J. O. (2011, February 10). Trends in carbohydrate, fat, and protein intakes and association with energy intake in normal-weight, overweight, and obese individuals: 1971–2006. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(4), 836-843. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/93/4/836/4597739?login=false 
  3. Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar | The Nutrition Source | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/ 
  4. Holesh., J. E., Aslam, S., & Martin, A. (2021, July 26). Physiology, Carbohydrates. Stat Pearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459280 /
  5. Mitchell, H. L. (2008, January). The Glycemic Index Concept In Action. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87(1), 244-246. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/87/1/244S/4633402?searchresult=1 
  6. UK, D. (2019, January 15). Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates - Difference Between Simple Sugars and Starches. Diabetes UK. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.diabetes.co.uk/nutrition/simple-carbs-vs-complex-carbs.html 
  7. Whole Grains Council. (n.d.). Whole Grains A to Z. Whole Grains 101. https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whole-grains-z

About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski Headshot
Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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