Carb counting and diabetes:
Carbohydrates are the main kind of food that raises blood sugar levels. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Simple carbohydrates, or sugar, will begin to raise blood sugar very soon after you eat them. Complex carbohydrates, or starchy foods, take longer for the body to change into sugar but will eventually be changed completely to sugar. Protein and fat have little effect on blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrate (or “carb”) counting can help you:
- Manage your blood sugar
- Be more flexible in your choice of foods and at mealtimes
- Eat more foods that you enjoy
To count carbs, you need to:
- Know which foods contain carbs and find out how many
- Read food labels and use measuring tools, such as measuring cups, spoons, or a food scale
- Work with your diabetes care team to decide how to divide your carbs among your meals and snacks
Many foods contain carbs. The foods that contain the most carbs are:
- Starches–all bread, cereal, crackers, grains, rice, pasta
- Starchy vegetables–potatoes, corn, peas, beans
- All fruits and fruit juices
- All milk and yogurt
- Sugary foods–candy, regular sodapop, jelly
- Sweets—cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream, sugar-free treats
In fact, the only food groups that generally don’t contain carbs are:
- Meats and meat substitutes, such as eggs and cheese
- Fats and oils
Because carbs raise blood sugar more than they nutrients, you may wonder why you should eat them all. You need to eat foods with carbs because they provide your body with energy, along with many vitamins and minerals. Sweets are okay to include in your meal plan once in a while. But keep in mind that sweets often contain a lot of carb, calories, and fat, with very little nutritional value.
Sugar alcohols are one kind of reduced-calorie sweetener. They include sweeteners like maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and isomalt. Sugar alcohols are used in some sugar-free candy, gum, and desserts. Despite their name, sugar alcohols do not contain alcohol. Products containing sugar alcohols are not always low in carbs or calories. So be sure to check the label on any of these products. The effect of sugar alcohols on your blood sugar can vary (i.e. pass gas).
Work with your dietician or another member of your diabetes care team to find the number of carbs you need in our meal plan. That’s the number that you should aim for each day. Your dietician or diabetes educator can help you easily divide your carbs among your meals and snacks. If you take diabetes pills or 1 to 2 injections of insulin a day, try to eat the same amount of carbs at the same meals and snacks each day. If you take 3 or more insulin injections, you may have more flexibility with your meal plan.
Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, especially if you take insulin. If you include snacks in your meal plan, count the carbs!
Keep in mind that in the food lists, 1 carb unit equals 15 grams of carbohydrate. For example, a cranberry juice cocktail should be counted as 1 carb. That means that 1/2 cup of cranberry juice cocktail has about 15 carbs.
For foods that come in packages, the best place to find the carb count is on the Nutrition Facts label. The grams of total carbohydrate on the label are the key to carb counting. Don’t worry about counting the sugar and fiber grams. They are included in the total carb number. Check serving size. Information on the label is based on the serving size. See how many grams of carb are in each serving. Decide whether the food fits in your meal plan. Also, check the sugars on each food item and sugar alcohols on sugar-free sweets.
It is EXTREMELY important to watch your diet, what you eat, how much you eat, and what spikes up your levels or not.
Candy and soda can be dangerous because the body absorbs these simple sugars almost instantly. But all types of carbs need to be watched and foods high in fat are problematic as well because people with diabetes at a high risk of heart disease.
- Instead of white rice, eat brown rice or wild rice.
- Instead of blended coffee, drink a smaller, 12-oz light or non-fat versions.
- Instead of bananas and melons, eat granny smith apples, blueberries and other berries that are low in sugar
- Instead of Chinese food, prepare a modified recipe at home using steamed veggies and low-sodium, low-fat condiments and flavorings. (I buy take-out Chinese food and it doesn’t hurt my levels as long as I eat it with insulin and in low-portions. I would eat half an egg roll, some veggies, beef, cashew chicken, shrimp, & a fortune cookie. I would skip the sauce, noodles, & pork).
- Instead of breakfast pastries, try half of a whole-grain English muffin or a brown rice cake topped with peanut butter and a little low-sugar jam.
- Instead of fruit smoothies, make your own smoothie so you can control exactly what goes in it. Include veggies like kale or spinach and use low-sugar fruits such as green apples and berries.
- Instead of trail mix, make your own-low carb mix with sunflower seeds, soy nuts, roasted peanuts, and almonds with small amounts of unsweetened coconut.
- Instead of refine cereal, eat a high-protein meal. Example: an egg white omelet with veggies and turkey or Canadian bacon with a small slice of low-carb bread. Steel cut and traditional oatmeal, cooked slowly is a better choice than other types of oatmeal. (For cereal, I recommend plain cheerios only).
- Instead of fruit juice, eat a piece of low-sugar fruit and skip the juice.
- Instead of energy bars, eat lower carb treats such as a cup of light popcorn, 10 goldfish crackers, a piece of string cheese, 15 almonds, or a frozen, sugar-free popsicle.
- Instead of pasta Alfredo, eat whole-wheat pasta, with a tomato sauce based sauce.
- Instead of French fries, swap for fruit, sweet potato fries, or a side salad.
- Instead of fatty meals, eat more plant-based proteins like beans, peas, lentils, and soy (some vegetarian protein sources do contain carbs). Also, opt for fish, seafood, and chicken that are lower in saturated fat and contain more heat healthy fats. Avoid food that’s covered in high-calorie sauces, breading, or high-fat skin (in the case of chicken).
Watch out for carbs in these foods:
1. Baked beans: One cup of baked beans has 54 grams of carbs. Even though baked beans give you protein and fiber, you should limit yourself to a half-cup serving, they suggest.
2. Condiments and sauces: The food on your plate may not be loaded with carbs, but once you lather it in sauce you’ve changed the game. Many condiments and sauces are stuffed with carbs so be sure to realize what you’re getting into before you dip, smear, or smother. One tablespoon of barbecue sauce contains about 7 grams of carbs. That can add up quickly!
3. Certain chicken: Orange chicken, especially. A standard order of orange chicken has 146 grams of carbs.
4. Pretzels: A small soft pretzel contains about 43 grams of total carbs, including about 1 gram of fiber. Watch your portion size with pretzels, they advise, because large soft pretzels (like the kind you get at the mall or at a concession stand at a concert or a game) have much more calories and carbs. Also, be mindful of the condiments and toppings you pair with your pretzel.
5. Instant oatmeal: One packet of instant flavored oatmeal can have about 33 grams of carbs, while one-third cup of uncooked old-fashioned oats has about 18 grams of carbs.
6. Chickpeas: While generally considered a healthy option, chickpeas have about 35 grams of carbs per cup. Only six of those grams are from sugar, however.
7. Dried fruit: Dried cherries contain 128.8 grams per cup and dried peaches have 96.5 grams. Additionally, a one-half-cup serving of raisins contains 79 grams of carbs.
8. Yogurt: Some low-fat, fruit-flavored varieties of yogurt can have 40 grams of carbs in an 8-ounce serving. I recommend plain Greek yogurt as a lower-carb alternative.
9. Flavored milk substitutes: Chocolate soy milk has 23 grams of carbs, which is almost double the amount in plain soy milk. Go for the plain substitutes and avoid the sugar.
10. Sugar-free and fat-free foods: Even though they’re better than sugary desserts, many sugar-free foods, such as sugar-free candy and cookies, have a lot of carbs. Fat-free sour cream has nearly 36 grams of carbs per cup and many sugar-free varieties of foods contain sugar alcohols, which are full of carbs.
Things to consider in choosing carbs wisely:
• Emphasize fiber-rich fruits and vegetables
• Choose whole grains
• Limit added sugars
• Consume low-fat dairy products
• Avoid sugary drinks
You don’t have to count every carb, but you should know which foods may be sneaking extra carbs into your diet.