Diabetes is a chronic disease that can get worse depending on what you eat.
When it comes to eating carbohydrates, people with diabetes need to be cautious around potatoes and other starchy vegetables that could possibly spike their blood sugar levels.
Sweet Potatoes and Diabetes
Sweet potatoes are a good choice for people with diabetes because they have a lower glycaemic index (GI) than white potatoes.2 This means that the sugars in a sweet potato do not spike blood sugar levels as rapidly as other starchy carbohydrates.
Sweet potatoes have many other nutritional benefits, and are excellent sources of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins A, B6, and C, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, potassium, selenium, and zinc. Sweet potatoes also contain thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folate which are important for maintaining good health.2 They also more fibre than white potatoes, which is important for controlling blood sugar levels and weight management as the fibre keeps you fuller for longer.
About Glycaemic Index (GI)
Foods with a low GI tend to be digested and absorbed more slowly which means that blood glucose rises gradually, while high GI foods tend to be digested and absorbed quickly and release glucose more rapidly into the bloodstream.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the glycaemic index of sweet potatoes averages at around 54, but reports of GI’s of between 44 and 94 have been noted.3 It is suggested by the ADA that instead of solely using the GI index as an indicator of the types of foods to eat, counting carbohydrates could be more reliable.
Blood Glucose Level
A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences has suggested that sweet potatoes contain a particular compound which has significant glucose-reducing effects:
"We had been studying this matter for a long time and the importance of an emerging compound extracted from this root vegetable was discovered," said lead author Oscar Yépez-Barreto, Ph.D.
"We know that sweet potatoes contain a lot of different bioactive molecules. But we were particularly interested in this compound because it is considered one of the most promising agents for being used in diabetes and stomach ulcers."
The researchers found that this compound effectively reduced blood glucose levels in rats with induced diabetes.
When eaten in moderation, certain varieties of sweet potatoes may reduce blood sugar levels that are above the average reading. They may also help control insulin levels so that diabetes is less severe.4
The Top 5 Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes for People with Diabetes
The following is a list of the top 5 health benefits of sweet potatoes for people with diabetes:
1. The carbohydrates provide energy and help to regulate blood sugar levels. Very few foods have an equally high amount of carbs, making sweet potatoes a good choice for managing blood sugar levels and controlling hunger.
2. The high levels of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) can also help to control blood sugar levels. This vitamin helps convert carbohydrates into glucose, which can be used for energy production within cells and the body. The high levels of this vitamin found in sweet potatoes make them an excellent choice for people with diabetes due to the need to maintain healthy glucose levels.
3. They contain many minerals like magnesium and chromium, which work together to regulate blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.
4. The vitamin E content in sweet can act as an antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and help to protect the body.
5. They also contain very high levels of vitamin B6 and fibre, which can help you to feel fuller for longer, reducing hunger pangs associated with food cravings that will cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate.
How Much Sweet Potato Should A Person with Diabetes Eat?
The amount of sweet potatoes you can eat depends on many factors, including the type of diabetes you have and how your body reacts to the food.
Type I Diabetes and Sweet Potatoes
For people with type 1 diabetes, sweet potatoes can be eaten at any time during the day. However, it is advised to keep an eye on your blood sugar level to make sure it does not rise too much,as eating sweet potatoes may lead to a temporary increase in your blood sugar levels.
Type 2 Diabetes and Sweet Potatoes
There are many people with type 2 diabetes who prefer sweet potatoes to white potatoes. For these people sweet potatoes should be safe to eat without any concerns about blood sugar levels spiking. However, if you have concerns about your blood sugar levels when eating sweet potatoes it is best to consult with your doctor before eating them.
In general, there is no definitive amount of sweet potato that a person with diabetes can eat.
However, it is recommended that people with diabetes consume an amount that corresponds to 20 percent of their daily caloric intake.
Sweet potatoes include many health benefits for people with diabetes as they are an excellent source of nutrients and have beneficial effects in controlling blood sugar levels.They can still be part of your diabetes diet plan if eaten in moderation.
- Ooi CP, Loke SC. Sweet potato for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013:CD009128.
- Shinde, Dnyaneshwar Babasaheb et al. A review on benefits of sweet potato for the management of diabetes mellitus. Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research. May 2019, Volume 6, Issue 5.
- Made Astawana & Sri Widowatib. Evaluation of Nutrition Aand Glycemic Index of Sweet Potatoes and its Appropriate Processing To Hypoglycemic Foods. Indonesian Journal of Agricultural Science 201;12(1):40-46.
- Bahado-Singh PS, Wheatley AO, Ahmad MH, Morrison EYSA, Asemota HN. Food processing methods influence the glycaemic indices of some commonly eaten West Indian carbohydrate-rich foods. Br J Nutr 2006;96:476-81.