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For the longest time, carbohydrates have been demonised when it comes to managing diabetes. But what if you didn’t have to cut carbohydrates out entirely? What if you could still enjoy rice and pasta, whilst successfully managing your diabetes?
Carbohydrates can be a bit like a puzzle, especially when trying to manage your diabetes. They’re often seen as the body’s main source of energy, but they can be tricky for people with diabetes. If you’ve ever wondered about carbs, how they affect your blood sugar, and what to eat when you have diabetes, you’re in the right place. We’ll help you understand what carbs are, how they impact your blood sugar, and how to make the best choices for your diabetes

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients, along with proteins and fats, that provide energy and play a crucial role in the human diet. They are the primary source of energy for the body.

There are two main forms of carbohydrates, simple and complex carbohydrates. The key difference between these being that complex carbohydrates are less processed and therefore take longer to digest. It is usually found in whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, and certain fruits.

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are more processed and take less time to digest. It is found in table sugar, candy, pastries, and sweetened beverages.

What happens when we eat carbohydrates?

When carbohydrates are consumed, they are broken down into glucose. This glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream and causes blood sugar levels to rise. Our bodies detect this increase in glucose levels and releases insulin – a hormone that helps to transport glucose so that it can be used as needed/where needed.

 The rate at which blood sugar rises depends on several factors, including the type of carbohydrates consumed and the presence of fibre, fat, and protein in the meal.

What happens when individuals with diabetes eat carbohydrates?

In individuals with type 2 diabetes, the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels is impaired. This could either be due to insulin resistance or insufficient insulin production. This means when blood sugar levels rise due to carbohydrate intake, it remains high and is unable to be regulated.

Does this mean Diabetics should avoid carbohydrates entirely?

People with diabetes should not completely avoid carbohydrates. They are a necessary part of a balanced diet and provide essential energy and nutrients. However, understanding the quality and quantity is key to managing carbohydrate intake.

Some key considerations for managing carbohydrate intake:

  1. Carbohydrate Sources: Choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, are digested more slowly and have a milder impact on blood sugar.
  2. Glycaemic Index (GI): The glycaemic index measures how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar. Foods with a high GI cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, while those with a low GI have a more gradual effect. People with diabetes should aim to choose low-GI foods to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
  3. Sugar and Sweeteners: It’s important to limit added sugars and sugary foods as they can cause rapid blood sugar spikes. Artificial sweeteners can be used as sugar substitutes for those looking to reduce their sugar intake, but they should be consumed in moderation, and individual responses to them can vary.
  4. Timing of Meals: Consistent meal timing can help regulate blood sugar levels. Spacing meals and snacks throughout the day can prevent extreme fluctuations in blood sugar.
  5. Monitoring: Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels is vital to understand how different foods affect you and make necessary adjustments to your diet and medication regimen.
  6. Carbohydrate counting: Carbohydrate counting can be used to monitor and control carbohydrate intake. This involves estimating the number of grams of carbohydrates in meals and matching it with the appropriate amount of insulin or other diabetes medications to help maintain stable blood sugar levels.
  7. Consult a Healthcare Professional: It’s essential for diabetics to work with their healthcare team, which should include a qualified Dietitian or Nutritionist, to develop a personalised nutrition plan that meets their specific needs and blood sugar goals.

What are some good sources of carbohydrates for people with diabetes?

Opting for low GI choices is always best.  Here are some great sources:

  • Legumes: Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans, are rich in fiber and protein. They have a low glycaemic index and can help stabilize blood sugar levels.
  • Whole Grains: Whole grains are a better choice than refined grains because they contain more fiber and nutrients. Examples include whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, oats, and barley. These grains release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly, preventing rapid spikes in blood sugar.
  •  Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are a good source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and essential nutrients. They have a lower glycemic index compared to regular potatoes.
  • Oats: Unprocessed oats are less processed than instant oats and provide more fiber. They have a lower glycemic index and can be a good choice for a blood sugar-friendly breakfast.
  •  Nuts and Seeds: While not high in carbohydrates, nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts) and seeds (e.g., chia seeds, flaxseeds) provide healthy fats and fiber, which can help slow the absorption of carbohydrates and stabilize blood sugar.
  • Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is lower in sugar and higher in protein compared to regular yogurt. It can be a good source of carbohydrates while promoting satiety and blood sugar control. 
  • Barley: Barley is a whole grain rich in soluble fiber, which can help lower blood sugar levels. It can be used in soups, stews, or as a side dish.
  • Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are a good source of fiber and healthy fats. When mixed with liquid, they form a gel-like substance that can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and help stabilize blood sugar.

Lowering the GI of a meal can also be achieved by pairing carbohydrates with healthy protein and fat sources. Good protein sources include meat, chicken, fish, tofu and eggs. Some good fat sources include avocado, nuts, peanut butter and cheese.

This is why it is important to focus on having balanced meals and including as much variety as possible. Managing diabetes does not have to be restrictive, it just needs to be intentional.

How much carbs should Diabetics eat?

This varies from individual to individual as we all have different lifestyles with regards to activity levels, as well as different body sizes, genders, ages and most importantly the severity of diabetes differs from one person to the next.

A great guide to get you started in the healthy plate model. You can download a copy here fore free.

It is recommended that 2-4 carbohydrate serves are consumed per meal and the best way to find out which works for you is to test your sugars 2 hours after consuming a meal. If it is still high, reduce your intake by a single serving. You can get our comprehensive serving size list and diabetic guide here, which includes a meal plan too.

Are there any non-food related ways to manage diabetes?

Managing blood sugar levels, in addition to dietary considerations, can be achieved through various non-food related approaches. These include:

  1. Regular Exercise: Physical activity can significantly impact blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, as recommended by health guidelines.
  2. Stress Management: Chronic stress can lead to higher blood sugar levels. Engage in stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or mindfulness practices to help keep stress in check.
  3. Adequate Sleep: Poor sleep can affect blood sugar control. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to help regulate hormones that influence blood sugar levels.
  4. Regular Monitoring: Monitor your blood sugar levels as directed by your healthcare provider. Regular monitoring helps you understand your body’s responses to various factors, enabling better management of your condition.
  5. Medication Management: If prescribed medication or insulin for diabetes, take them as directed by your healthcare provider. Proper medication management is crucial for maintaining stable blood sugar levels.
  6. Weight Management: For those who are overweight or obese, losing weight through a combination of healthy eating and exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control.
  7. Hydration: Proper hydration is important for overall health and may help with blood sugar control. Drink plenty of water and avoid sugary beverages.

Remember that diabetes management is highly individualised, and what works best for one person may differ from what works for another. Our diabetic guide is a great place to start! Consulting with your healthcare team, which may include an endocrinologist, diabetes educator, and registered dietitian, is crucial for developing a comprehensive plan that considers your specific needs and goals. Click here to book a free call and learn more here.

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