You know that a key to managing diabetes, both in the short and long term, is to understand carbohydrates. If you’ve already learned to manage your diabetes, you will be familiar with much of what we’ll share. If you are beginning your diabetic journey, this may save you several unnecessary steps.
What makes a carbohydrate “good”?
There are several things to be considered when choosing carbohydrate sources:
- Carbs are more than sugar sources; they are also complex phytochemical sources, potentially (if you choose wisely) supplying you with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and resistant starch, among others.
- Carbohydrate-rich foods will be your source of naturally occurring fiber, and you still need 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume.
- Some carbs are much more nutrient-dense than others and should be foregrounded in your diet.
- When choosing starchy carbs, consistently choose low to moderate glycemic index (GI) ones and eat them in moderation. When choosing fruit, choosing low-GI varieties like plums aids in blood glucose regulation.
- Avoid sources of hidden sugar — they are everywhere! — by reading labels.
- Eat less processed food and enjoy small amounts of desserts only rarely.
The amount of carbohydrate matters too. How do I get this important factor right?
It will be beneficial to use “carb counting” to normalize blood glucose. This is not a simple matter, but it lies at the heart of diabetes management; you will want to consult with your managing physician. Response to carbohydrates is highly individual, so arriving at an upper limit for carb consumption at each meal will require some supervised experimentation. If you start at 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal you will probably be near the proper level.
It is helpful to think in terms of portion sizes containing 15 carbohydrate grams. Half a cup of oatmeal, black beans, and baked potato each contain about 15 carb grams. Four ounces of fresh fruit contains the same amount, but fruit is often higher in glycemic index so it may cause blood glucose to rise more rapidly and in the long run make it harder to regulate. Many people find it’s easier to limit fruit and substitute vegetables.
But I really like carbs. Can’t anything be done?
The rate at which carbs are broken down and absorbed is also very important. That rate depends on glycemic index, amount and type of fiber (soluble fiber is known to lower effective glycemic index), presence of fats and protein in the meal, and several other factors, including cooking time and acidity. It is possible to shift some of these factors in your favor by balancing macros appropriately, including fiber rich foods with each meal, and minding the glycemic load of meals.
Glycemic load takes into account not only the rate at which a food causes blood glucose to rise, but also the dependence of that rise on the amount of carbs consumed. Current recommendations suggest that one of your best options may be to eat a low-glycemic load Mediterranean diet rich in veggies and healthy fats.[2.3] Adding about two tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar to meals has also been shown to reduce blood glucose elevation after meals.
Diabetic meal planning requires attention to detail. When learning about your own unique response to dietary carbohydrate, begin with these recommendations and observe carefully your response; then adjust accordingly. With diligence, you will confidently balance blood glucose.
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