When a patient sees me for diabetic diet education, the majority of the session is devoted to talking about carbs. It is the carbs in our food, not the protein or fat that gets broken down into the simple sugar molecule glucose. Once carbs are broken down into glucose, they are then released into the bloodstream. Individuals with pre-diabetes and diabetes have struggles with controlling their blood sugar levels and also have elevated insulin levels.
Insulin is known as the storage hormone in the body; too much of it promotes excess fat storage and even inflammation; however, too little of it is also just as deadly (like Type 1 diabetics experience because their pancreas produce no insulin). Insulin is typically released by the pancreas when glucose enters the bloodstream; thus the higher amount of carbs one eats, the greater the insulin response will result. Older individuals and those with excess body fat on them are more prone to developing insulin resistance, which means that extra insulin is needed to get nutrients into the cells. There are no real symptoms of insulin resistance and this can begin to develop long before blood sugar levels become elevated. The bottom line is…controlling insulin levels will help you get to a better state of health.
Understanding the foods that contain carbs is essential for following a diabetic-friendly diet. It’s not necessary to cut out all forms of carbohydrates from the diet; however, individuals do need to practice better portion control and moderation with many of these food items. The following food groups all contain carbs:
- Grains: breads, cereals, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, pasta, rice, crackers, pretzels, popcorn, granola bars, chips
- Starchy Vegetables: potatoes, peas, corn, beans
- Dairy: milk and yogurt
- Fruit: bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, dried fruit, juice
- Sweets: cookies, candy, cake, ice cream, jelly, syrup, honey, BBQ sauce, sweet coffee drinks
Meats and healthy fats like eggs, chicken, fish and nuts and seeds have very little or even no carbohydrate content in them. These foods help fill you up without spiking your blood sugar level. This is why it is important to include a lean protein or healthy fat source with all of your meals and snacks. Non-starchy vegetables like spinach, onions, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli and green beans contain very small amounts of carbs. The carbs found in these veggies (like natural fiber) have very minimal effects on blood sugar and insulin levels. I encourage patients to fill at least half of their plates with nutritious, low-carb, non-starchy vegetables. They can be consumed raw or cooked.
If weight loss is desired, the typical female may be recommended to consume 30-45 grams of carbs with meals and men may consume 45-60 grams of carbs with meals. These levels reflect average recommendations as these amounts can vary depending on height, weight and activity level. The types of carbs one consumes may also influence weight status.
Carb counting is not the only method for controlling diabetes as meal times and exercise patterns can also greatly influence blood sugar control. For a more detailed assessment and meal pattern recommendation, please schedule a consult with your Springfield Clinic dietitian.