Carbohydrates get a bad rap in life; however, they are the body’s main source of energy and essential to life. People with diabetes frequently think they should avoid all carbohydrates and sugar when a consistent carbohydrate diet is more appropriate for managing blood sugars.
One serving of carbohydrates is 15 grams of carbohydrates. It is recommended that people with diabetes consume 2-4 servings of carbohydrates (30-60 grams) per meal and 1-2 serving (15-30 grams) at snacks. Eating at consistent mealtimes and avoiding skipping meals can help prevent hypoglycemia and better manage glucose. Depending on what medication is needed, some people might need a snack before bed to control low blood sugar during the night. Other people might find 3 meals and 1 snack or 6 small meals a better meal plan to follow. An individualized approach is needed to control diabetes.
Carbohydrates are found in most foods which include milk, yogurt, fruit, fruit juice, potatoes, corn, beans, peas, legumes, winter squash, rice, pasta, quinoa, breads, cereals, oatmeal, grains, seeds, cakes, cookies, pies, most snack foods, sugar, honey, and syrups. There are 2 types of carbohydrates – simple carbohydrates vs. complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates breakdown quickly while complex carbohydrates take longer to process in your body causing your blood sugar to rise and fall slower than with simple carbohydrates.
Starch, fiber, and sugar make up carbohydrates. Fiber and starch are complex, while sugar is a simple carbohydrate. The ratio of each determines if the carbohydrate is simple or complex. Fruit and milk sugars are simple carbohydrates but are also naturally occurring. They have other properties like protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make these natural simple sugars a good option.
Simple carbohydrates to limit are mostly found as added sugars and refined grains. These are commonly in desserts, snack mixes/foods, baked goods, regular sodas, concentrated fruit juice, sugary cereals, and refined grains like white pasta, white rice, white breads, and white potatoes. These foods are low in fiber. Complex carbohydrates keep you full longer and help avoid high spikes in blood sugar. They include whole grains, quinoa, brown rice, beans, peas, corn, sweet potatoes, winter squash, seeds, nuts, and legumes.
The food label can be a wealth of information when determining which carbohydrate food is the better option. The first step is to look at the serving size. Frequently there are more than one serving per container. The next step is to look at the total carbohydrates to determine how many carbohydrates there are per serving. Do not just look at the sugar content since all carbohydrates affect blood sugar. If more than one serving is consumed, multiply what is on the food label by number of servings eaten to calculate the total number of carbohydrates.
Try to choose foods with fiber. Half of the grams of fiber can be subtracted from the total carbohydrates. Grams of added sugar is individually listed on the nutrient label and is especially important. The goal is to find foods with limited added sugar since added sugars are simple carbohydrates. It is also helpful to choose carbohydrates that also contain protein since protein helps maintain blood sugar and promotes fullness.
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Elizabeth Calloway, RD, CSOWM, LD