Both sweet potatoes and butternut squash can be nutritious choices for people with diabetes. When choosing starchy vegetables, it is important to consider the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) – measures of how a food affects blood sugar. Foods with a lower GI and GL are digested more slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar rather than a spike. For people with diabetes, this helps keep blood sugar levels in check.
Sweet potatoes and butternut squash have some key differences when it comes to their carb content, nutritional profiles, and impact on blood sugar. Looking at the evidence can help determine which is the better option for diabetics.
Both sweet potatoes and butternut squash are nutrient-dense vegetables that can fit well into a healthy diabetes diet. Here is how they compare in terms of macronutrients:
|Nutrient||Sweet potato||Butternut squash|
|Calories||112 calories in 1 medium baked sweet potato (174g)||82 calories in 1 cup cubed, cooked butternut squash (205g)|
|Carbs||26 grams per medium sweet potato||21 grams per 1 cup butternut squash|
|Fiber||4 grams per medium sweet potato||3 grams per 1 cup butternut squash|
|Protein||2 grams per medium sweet potato||1 gram per 1 cup butternut squash|
|Fat||0 grams per medium sweet potato||0 grams per 1 cup butternut squash|
As you can see, sweet potatoes contain more net carbs and calories per serving than butternut squash. Butternut squash comes out a bit lower in carbs and calories.
Vitamins and minerals
Both vegetables are great sources of important vitamins and minerals:
– Excellent source of vitamin A – one medium baked sweet potato provides over 400% of the Daily Value (DV).
– Also contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese.
– Excellent source of vitamin A – one cup provides over 80% DV.
– Also contains vitamin C, potassium, vitamin E and magnesium.
They are quite similar in nutritional profile. Sweet potatoes contain more vitamin A and C, while butternut squash contains more magnesium. Overall both provide essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Glycemic index and glycemic load
When it comes to blood sugar control, the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) of foods matter.
The GI measures how much a food raises blood glucose levels compared to a reference food. GL takes into account the GI as well as the carbohydrate content in a typical serving size.
Foods are considered:
– Low GI/GL = 55 or less
– Medium GI/GL = 56-69
– High GI/GL = 70 or more
Here is how sweet potatoes and butternut squash compare:
|Food||GI||GL (based on typical serving)|
Both vegetables are in the high GI category. However, due to the lower carb content in butternut squash, its GL is slightly lower.
This means that sweet potatoes cause a somewhat faster rise in blood sugar compared to an equal serving of butternut squash. However, both should be eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diabetes diet.
Effect on blood sugar and insulin
A few studies have compared the direct effects of sweet potatoes and butternut squash on blood sugar and insulin levels.
In one study, patients with type 2 diabetes were given 50 grams of available carbohydrate from either boiled sweet potatoes or butternut squash. Blood glucose and insulin levels were monitored for 2 hours afterwards. Both foods resulted in similar increases in blood glucose and insulin .
However, a 2013 study compared the effects of puréed vegetables, including sweet potato and butternut squash, on blood sugar in people with and without diabetes. In those with diabetes, sweet potato puree resulted in nearly double the blood glucose response compared to butternut squash .
The differences between cooking methods may account for the conflicting results. Still, the glycemic index and load data also shows slightly slower blood sugar response for butternut squash.
Overall, butternut squash appears to have a modest advantage for blood sugar control compared to sweet potatoes. However, cooking method makes a big difference for both vegetables.
How you prepare sweet potatoes or butternut squash also affects the GI and GL values.
Cooking and mashing the vegetables results in faster digestion and blood sugar response compared to boiled, roasted or baked options with the skin on.
Some ways to prepare these veggies with blood sugar in mind include:
– Bake, roast or steam them instead of boiling or mashing.
– Leave the skins on for roasted and baked veggies to increase fiber content.
– Portion control is key – be mindful of carbohydrate counts.
– Don’t pair with high fat ingredients like butter – fat can also slow digestion.
Following these cooking methods can help both sweet potatoes and butternut squash fit into a diabetes diet.
Weight loss benefits
Many people with diabetes are also aiming to lose weight to better manage blood sugar levels. Both vegetables can support weight loss.
In one study, obese subjects ate sweet potato-based meals or instant oatmeal twice per day for 4 weeks. Both groups lost weight, but the sweet potato group had decreased insulin resistance .
Other research shows including butternut squash in meals helps improve satiety after eating compared to meals without vegetables. This was attributed to its low energy density and high water content .
Both veggies make satisfying additions to a weight loss plan. Sweet potatoes may have a slight edge for improving insulin sensitivity according to one study.
Cost and availability
Cost and availability may also determine which choice is better for you.
Sweet potatoes are more readily available year-round in most grocery stores. Butternut squash is more seasonal, primarily available in fall and winter months.
Pricing can vary but on average:
– Sweet potatoes cost around $1 per pound retail.
– Butternut squash costs around $1.50 to $2 per pound retail.
If on a tight budget or needing an option year-round, sweet potatoes may be more convenient and affordable. Butternut squash offers more value when in season and on sale.
There are a few precautions to keep in mind:
– Pesticide residue: buy organic if possible. Sweet potatoes and winter squash tend to be on the “Dirty Dozen” list for high pesticide residue.
– Oxalates: Sweet potatoes and butternut squash contain oxalates. Those prone to kidney stones may want to limit intake.
– Mold risk: freshly cut squash exposed to air can develop mold quickly. Cook fresh cut pieces right away.
Overall both are considered safe if consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. If oxalate kidney stones are a concern, butternut squash may be lower risk.
Butternut squash has a few advantages over sweet potatoes for people with diabetes:
– Slightly lower in carbohydrates and calories per serving
– Lower glycemic index and glycemic load
– Evidence showing less of a blood sugar spike compared to sweet potatoes
However, sweet potatoes have some benefits too:
– More available year-round and budget-friendly
– May support insulin sensitivity and weight loss
– Still considered a nutritious, low-moderate GI food
When prepared properly, both vegetables can be incorporated into a diabetes diet. Focus on portion sizes and cooking methods to maximize benefits. Butternut squash may have a slight edge – but sweet potatoes are also a great option, especially when better aligned with your needs and preferences. As with any diet change, speak to your healthcare provider and registered dietitian.
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