How to Enjoy Carbs for People with Diabetes

Diabetes has become an emerging global epidemic, affecting 347 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization. By 2050, it is projected that 1 in 3 US adults could have diabetes, and 438 million globally by 2030 – that’s quite a leap. Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes composes the over-all 90% of worldwide cases while Type 1 is the 10%. The Type 2 diabetes is a result of lack of insulin production in the body while type 1 results from the ineffective use of insulin in the body. The condition oftentimes leads to kidney failure, blindness and premature death and it mostly occurs in countries characterized by low to mid-level incomes. Aside from these staggering numbers, diabetes can be managed and prevented. Although many people with diabetes are often hindered by their very strict diet, there are many ways to get past the restrictions and still be tummy-happy with your carbs.

Diabetes explained

HNCK2447-1300x866 In order to be energized and function well, the body needs food to be turned into glucose or sugar. This sugar is needed by the cells. Glucose provides this boost to the cells by entering the cells receptors. But before the glucose can enter the receptors or the doorway to the cells, it needs insulin, the substance that acts as a receptor unlocker. When insulin production is hindered, the cells do not absorb the insulin; rather, it stays in the blood causing glucose levels to rise. This is Type 1 diabetes. Type 2 may occur when there is enough insulin but there are less receptors in the cells, therefore not allowing adequate insulin to enter leading to Insulin Resistance. The cause of diabetes is still very vague, although medical experts point out heredity as one of the most probable causes. Diabetes is usually detected if tests show that you have high sugar levels in your urine. However, to be sure, one needs to fast from food and liquid intake and have your blood sugar checked. Common signs of diabetes include excessive thirst and hunger, frequent urination, extreme tiredness, loss of weight, vision problems and slow healing wounds. When unaddressed, this may lead to coma and eventually, death. To manage diabetes, since it can’t be cured, it is suggested that you:

  1. exercise
  2. monitor level of your blood sugar
  3. take medications
  4. control weight
  5. eat a proper diet

The Australian Department of Health offers more information for diabetes and its prevention here: Diabetes Prevention.

Diabetes and Carbs

picjumbo.com_HNCK2220 If diabetic you should keep track of the carbs you consume since they have the tendency to affect insulin levels. Carbs are turned into glucose, raising blood sugar levels. For this, you may need to balance insulin through exercise and through meal plans with the right carb counts. Carb counting can be tricky but it pays off to be careful.

How to Enjoy Your Carbs

#1 Know your carbs

picjumbo.com_HNCK1995 Different carbs have different effects on your body and your condition. Most of the foods we eat have carbs; from chips and sweet potatoes to morning cereals. However, there is a big different between their carb content. Rice, white bread and your favourite chips contain simple carbs. Simple carbs are digested quickly by the body. These lead to a rapid rise of sugar in the body. However, there are also different kinds of carbs found in fresh fruits, veggies and beans. These foods are known to contain fiber, the substance that helps in the slowing down of digestion. These foods, together with whole grain options, helps in neutralizing sugar levels even with the intake of carbs; there’s no sugar spike for these foods. Veggies and fruits, which known to contain complex carbs, may help curb hunger pangs and keep you full for longer, stopping you from unnecessary eating which can spike your sugar level. To be able to know the carbs in the food you eat, you need to check your foods labels. For fresh foods which are unlabeled, try to research its possible fiber levels on the internet. Choose vegetables that have a higher fiber count per serving. Buzzfeed compiled a list of sumptuous recipes with carbs done right: 31 Healthy Ways People with Diabetes Can Enjoy Carbs.

#2 Carbs and protein

picjumbo.com_IMG_0895 Protein works similarly to the way fiber does when it comes to the stabilization of blood sugar. Protein also helps slow down digestion while keeping diabetics fuller. Protein is usually found in meats and seafoods. Plant alternatives for meat may include soy products, beans, legumes and nuts. To prevent sugar spikes, pair your meals with protein filled foods. Choose chicken breast, pork tenderloin, lamb, tuna, tilapia, cod, almond and walnuts. The fish mentioned, aside from being protein rich, are also filled with omega-3, which is known as a very beneficial blood sugar stabilizer. Omega-3 food sources such as fish, krill and calamari have been proven to reduce the risk of Type 2 and Type 1 diabetes.

#3 Portion your meals

Portion size matters especially for people with diabetes. Buy some measuring cups for use in personal cooking and check labels and nutrition facts before meals or before cooking. When serving, always make sure that you have portioned your food well. Here’s an example of balanced portions for people with diabetes:


Image Credit: Meijer

The larger portion, intended for non-starchy vegetables, can include foods like carrots, lettuce, green cucumbers, peppers, turnips, etc (see a list of non-starchy vegetables here: Non-Starchy vegetables list from University of Michigan).

The next space, one with smaller section, is for grains and starchy foods like whole grain bread, rice, pasta, tortillas, potatoes and pretzels. In the second smaller section, you can add protein rich food such as chicken and turkey (minus the skin), fish, tofu or low fat cheese.

#4 Count carbs

bread-534574_1280 While you can enjoy carbs, make sure you know how to count them! It’s one meal planning technique employed to help people with diabetes set a limit on carbohydrate intake to set your target blood sugar level. Carb counting may also depend on your lifestyle and your medications. Those who do a lot of physical activities can eat more carbs compared to those who are inactive physically. Recommended by is 45-60 grams of carbs per meal for starters. Balance this with protein and fat.

#5 Know your labels

7367690152_f72b0e1f6e_zImage Credit: Enokson

Reading labels helps in managing diabetes and avoiding a sudden drop or rise in sugar levels. The first thing you should do is get acquainted with serving sizes and carb counting. Most serving sizes stated on packaging are for a single serving of the particular food. Pay attention to the grams of total carbs, sugar, starch and fiber. When you have started carb counting, calculate the amount of food you need to eat based on the serving size. Since diabetes also contributes to a higher risk of strokes and CVDs, check for labels with saturated and trans fats and choose products which have the lowest totals of these. To avoid blood pressure problems, stay away from products with high sodium labels.

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We can’t live without carbs! But in order to enjoy it, you may need to start counting, portioning your meals and being vigilant about what you eat. Diabetes shouldn’t be hindering your life; there are ways for you to conquer it.

Image Credit: All images, including the featured image, are from PicJumbo unless stated otherwise.


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