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White Foods and Diabetes: Myths and Facts

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White Foods and Diabetes
White Foods and Diabetes

Several of my clients have mentioned that their doctor told them to avoid “white foods”—and so now they don’t know what to eat. This rule is not helpful because it overgeneralizes about one group of foods based on their color, and because it doesn’t explain the reason behind the restriction.

So what is the truth?

The reason behind this rule has to do with the low nutrient value of some commonly eaten foods that happen to be white. I’m talking particularly about white sugar and white flour, which are ingredients in a variety of questionable foods like sweet beverages, breads, rolls, pastries, cakes, and cookies.

These foods also contain carbohydrates and since carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels, eating large quantities of them can result in high blood glucose levels. However, instead of merely telling people with diabetes to avoid them, I like to teach them how they can work reasonable portions into their overall daily intake.

Other white foods

White potatoeswhite rice, and white pasta are also included in this category of “bad white foods.” These foods are examples of common starches that contain carbohydrate, a little protein, and usually, some fat. I looked at some carbohydrate counting lists printed by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and found that the recommended portions for one serving of such carbohydrates are:

  • 1/2 cup of potatoes
  • 1/3 cup of cooked rice
  • 1/3 cup of cooked pasta

They can be eaten as part of a healthy eating plan that includes reasonable portions of starchy foods, lean meats, and lots of non-starchy vegetables.

It is true that processed foods may not be as healthy as whole grains, which have undergone less processing. Processed foods also may have less fiber and more sodium, and because they are processed, they are digested more quickly than whole grains and so may raise blood glucose levels more.

But how much you eat of these white foods, how often you eat them, and what else you eat is more important than avoiding them completely.

Not all white foods are bad

Following the rule of avoiding “white foods” would also mean you’d miss out on some white foods that are actually healthy, such as low-fat milk and yogurt, which are high in calcium; white beans, which are high in fiber and vegetable protein; and cauliflower, turnips, and cabbage, which are non-starchy vegetables low in carbohydrates and calories.

If you have questions about these recommendations, please check with your dietitian. If we use moderation, variety, and balance, we can fit almost all foods into a healthy eating plan.

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