Sweet Potatoes and Diabetes: A Sweet Treat You Can Eat

Baked or roasted sweet potatoes can be part of a nutritious, diabetes-friendly diet.
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If you have diabetes, you might wonder if you can eat sweet potatoes, given that you've likely heard you need to eat less sugar — and "sweet" is right in the name. But fret not: sweet potatoes can be part of your diet if you know how to cook sweet potatoes for diabetes-friendly meals.

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Read more:The Best Ways to Prep a Sweet Potato to Reap All the Healthy Benefits

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Carbs in a Sweet Potato

According to the USDA, one 5-inch sweet potato contains:

  • 112 calories.
  • 2 g protein.
  • 0.1 g fat.
  • 26 g carbs.
  • 4 g fiber.

Sweet potatoes have a fair amount of carbs, and according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), carb-dense foods can increase your blood sugar levels quickly. However, the sweet spuds also have protein and fiber, which may help to reduce how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating carb-dense foods, according to a January 2016 study in ​Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism​.

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Per the ADA, starches, sugar and fiber are the three main types of carbs in food, and your healthy eating goal is to choose nutrient-dense carbs that are packed with fiber plus vitamins and minerals, while limiting added sugars, sodium and unhealthy fats as well. As such, the ADA lists sweet potatoes as one of the "starchy" carbs you can eat.

And, per the ADA, sweet potatoes are rich in potassium and vitamins A and C, making them an all-around solid food choice.

Sweet Potato Serving Size

But before you go filling your plate with sweet potatoes, note that serving size is crucial to enjoying them with diabetes. "Too much of any type of carbohydrate can lead to unwanted blood sugar spikes," says Blake Metcalf, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and the clinical nutrition manager for Morrison Healthcare in Fort Smith, Arkansas, "so be mindful of serving sizes."

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Per the ADA, with a manageable serving size, the increase in your blood sugar levels should also remain manageable. The ADA refers to the Plate Method (aka dividing your plate as: 1/2 non-starchy vegetables, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 carbohydrate), and notes that foods in the carb category — like sweet potatoes — should take up about a quarter of your plate.

But if you're counting carbs, the ADA also notes that several factors influence your personal carb needs — including your size, your appetite and your activity levels, and there is no magic number of carbs for everyone. As such, the ADA recommends talking to a dietitian or a certified diabetes educator to help determine the ideal amount for you.

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Preparing Diabetes-Friendly Sweet Potatoes

Beyond serving size, if you have diabetes and are craving a sweet potato, you'll need to consider the best way to prepare it in a diabetes-friendly way. Some sweet potato dishes can be loaded with sugar, like the traditional holiday-favorites candied sweet potatoes and sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows.

Notably, these added sugars increase the total carb count of the dish and have a big effect on how much and how quickly your blood sugar levels rise, according to the ADA.

And if you don't want to remove sweetened sweet potato dishes from your diet, Metcalf says to "be mindful of serving sizes."

For a healthier take on a sweetened treat, the ADA suggests enjoying a plain sweet potato with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Otherwise, some other creative ways to prepare sweet potatoes that limit added sugars, per the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), include:

  • Bake, roast or steam whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes as a side dish.
  • Eat them mashed like you would regular potatoes.
  • Add diced sweet potatoes to homemade salads.
  • Turn them into homemade fries. (Quarter and drizzle with olive oil, then bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 60 minutes.)
  • Swap a thin round in place of a tomato in sandwiches.

The takeaway: Whatever you choose, just remember to limit added sugars and watch your portion sizes.

Read more:10 Surprising Sweet Potato Recipes, From Fries to Cookies

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