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Slow Carbs: What Are They and How to Add Them To Your Diet

Payton Baker, RD, MS, LMNT

Published in Nutrition

7 min read

February 1, 2024
slow digesting carbs
slow digesting carbs

You have likely heard of a low-carb diet, but have you heard of a slow- carb diet? Unlike their fast-digesting counterparts, so-called “slow carbs'' are known for providing a sustained release of energy, promoting satiety, and supporting stable blood sugar levels.

But what exactly are slow carbs, and is a focus on eating these types of carbohydrates really an effective dietary strategy? In this article, we’ll dive into the science behind slow carbs, exploring their potential benefits and strategies for integrating them into your daily nutrition.

What Are Slow Carbs?

two women making a salad
Source: Pexels

Slow carbs are low glycemic-index, carbohydrate-rich foods that are gradually digested by the body, leading to a slower and more sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream. These carbs include whole foods such as whole grains, quinoa, lentils, leafy green veggies, and berries.

Unlike slow carbs, faster-digesting carbs, like white bread or white rice, have a high GI and are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, which can cause spikes in blood sugar. It’s important to emphasize that the impact of carbs on blood sugar levels is influenced by various factors, including:

  • How fast you eat
  • The amount you eat
  • Physical activity done close to meal time
  • Stress levels
  • The presence of other foods in the same meal

While the glycemic index offers insights into how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar, it is arguably more important to consider the glycemic load (GL). Glycemic load factors in the portion size of a given food and how it can affect your blood sugar. For example, even a low-GI food like berries can have an impact on blood sugar if eating larger servings.

What is the Slow-Carb Diet?

The Slow-Carb Diet was created by author Timothy Ferriss in his book The 4 Hour Body. The diet is aimed at optimizing weight loss and overall health, with five rules designed to control insulin levels, reduce body fat, and promote sustained energy throughout the day. The five rules include:

slow-carb diet rules
  • Avoid "White" Carbohydrates: Restrict intake of refined grains and processed foods, including foods like bread, pasta, rice, and sugary snacks.
  • Eat the Same Few Meals Repeatedly: Simplify meal planning by sticking to a handful of nutrient-dense meals, making it easier to control calorie and nutrient intake.
  • Don't Drink Calories: Eliminate calorie-laden beverages, focusing on water, unsweetened tea, and coffee.
  • Don't Eat Fruit: Exclude fruits from the diet due to their sugar content, with the exception of tomatoes and avocados.
  • Take One Day Off Per Week: Devote one day each week to consuming a broader range of foods, including those typically restricted by the diet.

It's important to note that there is very limited scientific evidence supporting the specific claims of this diet. While some studies suggest that reducing refined carbohydrates and sugars can have positive effects on weight and insulin sensitivity, research on the benefits and risks of the Slow-Carb Diet specifically is scarce.

Before embarking on any restrictive diet, consulting with a nutritionist or healthcare professional is an important first step. 

Slow Carb vs. Low Carb Diet

While both the Slow-Carb Diet and a generic low-carb diet share the common goal of restricting carbohydrate intake, they differ in their specific approaches. The Slow-Carb Diet is a subtype of a low-carb diet, and poses specific rules that must be followed to improve metabolic health and weight management. 

On the other hand, a low-carb diet encompasses a broader spectrum of approaches, with different levels of carbohydrate restriction and dietary guidelines. Individual responses to these diets vary, and personalized nutrition guidance can help ensure that dietary needs are met while avoiding potential risks. 

24 Slow-Digesting Carbs to Include in Your Diet

Now that we know what slow carb foods are, let's dive into the practical aspects of incorporating slow-release carbs into your diet. Whether you're following the Slow-Carb Diet or simply seeking to optimize your carbohydrate intake, these options can help you get started.

Slow-Digesting Fruits

While the Slow-Carb diet warns against eating fruits, there are a number of fruits that offer low glycemic impact and are rich in fiber. The following list of fruits provide an array of essential nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants

Consume these fruits in whole food form when possible, and remember that quantity matters, as a higher amount of a low-GI food may also have a higher glycemic impact.

slow digesting fruits
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit
  • Apricots
  • Plums
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges

Slow-Digesting Vegetables

For those seeking slow-digesting veggies that contribute to sustained energy and overall well-being, the following options are not only low on the glycemic index but also packed with essential nutrients and fiber.

slow digesting veggies
  • Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Bell peppers
  • Asparagus

Slow-Digesting Grains

When it comes to slow-digesting grains, selecting options that are low on the glycemic index and rich in fiber can contribute to sustained energy levels and overall health. The following food list offers a delightful variety of grains that provide essential nutrients. 

slow digesting grains

Slow-Digesting Legumes

For a nutritious and sustained source of energy, incorporating slow-digesting legumes into your diet is a wise choice. These legumes not only have a low glycemic index, but they also support digestive health, provide a plant-based protein source, and contribute to overall well-being.

slow digesting legumess
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Soybeans

It's noteworthy that all legumes and beans, including lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, and soybeans, are considered low glycemic. This is due to their resistant starch content, which resists digestion in the small intestine, leading to a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream. 

It’s important to note, however, that preparation methods can also affect GI—baked beans, for example, are considered high GI.

How Do Slow-Digesting Carbs Affect Blood Sugar?

The fiber content found in low-glycemic complex carbohydrates plays a pivotal role in moderating blood sugar spikes, contributing to overall health, and reducing the risk of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance. 

Unlike high GI carbohydrates, which can cause rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels, the presence of fiber in slow-digesting carbs slows down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream. This gradual release helps prevent sudden spikes and crashes, providing a more stable and sustained source of energy.

Determining the correct carbohydrate intake for your unique needs is a nuanced process. Consulting a nutritionist can provide personalized guidance based on your health goals, lifestyle, and any underlying conditions. 

Other Benefits of Eating Slow-Digesting Carbs

benefits of slow digesting carbs

In addition to their impact on blood sugar regulation, incorporating slow-digesting carbs into your diet can also benefit weight loss and heart health, largely due to their fiber content. Research shows that a diet rich in fiber is associated with a reduced risk of weight gain over time. 

The polyphenols and other bioactive compounds found in slow-digesting carbs such as lentils may help prevent a number of degenerative diseases in humans. The consumption of legumes such as lentils is linked with reductions in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer risk.

These findings underscore the benefits of incorporating a variety of fiber-rich, slow-digesting carbohydrates into a well-balanced and nutritious diet.

Fast-Digesting Carbs to Limit in Your Diet

Not all carbohydrates are created equally, and understanding the distinction between high and low-glycemic options is important for your health. Consuming high amounts of high-glycemic, or fast carbs may increase your risk of developing insulin resistance, promote inflammation, and increase the risk of chronic diseases.

These include refined grains and ultra-processed options such as:

  • White pasta, white bread
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Sweets like cakes, cookies, and candy
  • Sugary drinks like sodas

Contrary to common belief, not all high-glycemic carbs are simple carbs. Sweet potatoes, watermelon, and mangos, for example, are some high-glycemic carbs that are actually considered to be nutrient-dense.

Fruits contain simple carbs but many types of fruit have a low glycemic index. The distinction lies in the processing and fiber content of the carbohydrates. Being mindful of the glycemic impact of the carbohydrates consumed is key to making informed dietary choices for overall health and well-being.

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Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Reviewed by: Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Victoria began her career in the functional medicine space in 2015. She has extensive experience interpreting labs and supporting weight loss, gut imbalances, and chronic migraines. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics from Missouri State University.

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