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Do Carrots Have Too Much Sugar? Glycemic Index Woes

I had a ton of fun giving "The Truth About Carbs" talk these last two weeks. There's so much misinformation going around about about carbs; I hope hearing the current science on the subject was helpful to everyone who attended.

I had some great questions/comments at the end of each talk. I'd like to post one of them here, expounding on how I answered for more clarification:

My daughter's doctor told her carrots were a terrible snack and she should be making better food choices. Is this right?

First things first: I don't know much about the situation that led to this statement. If someone has a particular health concern that requires a specialized diet, they should always refer to their doctor or a registered dietician (R.D.). My role is to help the general public understand how to nourish their bodies; giving advice on specialized diets for chronic ailments like diabetes, low thyroid, or the like, would be stepping out of my lane.

That said, it's possible the doctor was referring to carrots' high glycemic index rating. For those of you familiar with the glycemic index, does it surprise you to know that carrots have a glycemic index rating of 71? (For reference, table sugar is 65.) Say what?!?! Here's the thing: The glycemic index is based on the blood glucose response after eating 50 g of carbohydrate of a particular food. One large carrot has 7 g of carbohydrate, and 100 g of baby carrots have 6 g of carbohydrates. You'd have to eat 7-12 times these amounts in one sitting to get to the quantities tested for glycemic index ratings! I couldn't do that if I tried.

Here are some other things that affect Glycemic Index ratings:

  1. The type of sugars in the food (e.g., fructose vs. glucose, branched-chain vs. straight chain complex carbs)

  2. Viscosity of food (liquid vs. solid)

  3. Degree of processing or cooking

  4. Presence of fats and proteins in the food

  5. Amount of the food ingested


Did you catch that last one? (I did make it all caps, after all). What we've found in recent studies is that the glycemic index, and its cousin, the glycemic load, may not be overly reliable measures. It's not uncommon for different people to have different blood sugar responses to the same food.

Where does that leave you? Again, if you have a chronic condition that requires a specialized diet, please seek the help of a medical professional that specializes in that condition. Otherwise, don't worry too much about the glycemic index. Focus instead on eating a diet mostly made of up whole foods that are minimally processed, and keeping your added sugar (any type of sugar that is added into a food, plus all fruit juices) intake to no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake. There are added benefits if you keep it to 5% or less.* Eat protein and a little fat with your carbs to slow down digestion and keep your blood sugar levels stable. And finally, enjoy! I had carrots with my lunch and fully plan to eat roasted potatoes with dinner tonight. Yum!

Have further questions? Contact me:

* In a 2,000 calorie diet, 5% of your daily caloric intake is equal to 25 g of added sugar.


NASM Nutrition Certification Content

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