Carbohydrates are present in various healthy and unhealthy foods such as bread, grains, potatoes, cookies, corn, and soft drinks.
Unfortunately, carbohydrates—or carbs—have a bad reputation in weight gain and maintaining a healthy diet. Thus, they are particularly a common subject of discussion among people with diabetes.
Are carbs bad for people with diabetes? Carbs come in different shapes and forms; some are good, while some are bad. However, when it comes to diabetes treatment , the consumption of carbohydrates plays a crucial role in managing diabetes and keeping blood sugar levels in check.
To better understand the truth about carbs, read on.
What are carbohydrates, and how do they affect the body?
Carbohydrates are macronutrients, which means they are one (1) of the three (3) types that the body needs for energy to function properly; the other two are proteins and fats. The body cannot produce these macronutrients independently, so it needs carbs from food sources for energy.
After a meal, carbs are broken down into units of sugar. This happens in the small intestine, where insulin plays an important role in the conversion of carbs to glucose before it is absorbed into the bloodstream for energy. Any excess is turned into glycogen and stored in the liver. Apart from supplying energy, carbohydrates are also vital for brain function and can influence one’s memory and mood.
Two Types of Carbohydrates
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Some are simple carbohydrates, while others are complex carbohydrates.
- Simple: Simple carbohydrates carry one or two sugars, namely fructose and galactose. These are commonly found in fruits, milk products, soda, syrups, and candies. Simple carbs disintegrate at a quick rate for energy. They can bring a surge of energy and lead to spikes in blood sugar levels because they are easier to break down.
- Complex: Complex carbohydrates contain three or more long strands of sugars that are linked together and usually have a savory taste. They are often found in starchy foods, including beans, lentils, peanuts, potatoes, corn, whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta. Complex carbs require more time to break down and provide more sustained energy for the body.
When are carbohydrates bad for diabetics?
Carbohydrates do affect blood sugar levels. When carbs are broken down into glucose, and there is not enough insulin to metabolize it, there will be too much sugar in the blood. High blood glucose is called hyperglycemia. On the other hand, hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) happens when there is not enough sugar in the blood and results from low carb consumption.
Both of these are related to diabetes. Diabetics with hyperglycemia can reduce their blood sugar levels by drinking more water, exercising more, and consuming a more balanced diet. Meanwhile, diabetics with hypoglycemia need to increase their glucose intake by eating candy or a glucose tablet for immediate treatment.
Failure to take immediate and proper action in treating hyperglycemia could cause skin and eye complications, nerve damage, and diabetic ketoacidosis. On the other hand, hypoglycemia may result in difficulty eating and drinking, loss of consciousness, seizures, and coma.
The truth about carbs is that they are not completely bad to the extent that they should be cut from a diabetic’s diet. The key to healthy eating for people with diabetes is portion control, carb counting, and choosing healthy carbs. Carb intake for diabetics should not go over 200 grams daily to help maintain proper blood sugar levels.
7 Foods with Healthy Carbohydrates That Are Good for Diabetics
Dairy products contain protein, which helps in improving muscle and metabolic health, and calcium, an essential mineral for the muscles, heart, and bones.
For diabetics, low-fat and nonfat dairy are better choices over full-fat dairy. Low-fat dairy contains fewer carbohydrates and reasonable amounts of protein and calcium for one’s daily intake. Some would prefer nonfat dairy for weight management and blood sugar control. It is important to consult a doctor to determine which type of dairy would be best for a diabetic diet.
Black beans and kidney beans may contain higher carbs than other beans, but they are also high in fiber, which is vital for a balanced diabetes diet. A study revealed people who had consumed a serving of pulses (nonoil seeds of legumes that include beans, lentils, chickpeas, and dry peas) lost around a pound throughout six weeks.
Vegetables are always encouraged for people with diabetes. Half a plate of non-starchy veggies, such as broccoli, bell pepper, kale, and cauliflower is recommended. These plant products are an excellent way to keep carbs in moderation and make people feel full longer.
4. Whole grains
When people are warned to stay away from carbs, they often refer to white rice and pasta. These types of refined grains are stripped of essential nutrients and fibers. Better alternatives are whole grains like quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and barley. Diabetics should look for whole wheat, whole grain, and the Whole Grain Stamp for their healthy carb consumption.
5. Whole-grain bread
Whole-grain bread such as rye, flax bread, and sourdough is a good source of healthy carbs. One slice of whole-grain bread offers roughly 11g of carbohydrates and contains protein, vitamins, healthy fiber, and minerals. Make sure to replace regular refined white bread with whole-grain bread for breakfast or lunch.
Many people stay away from fruits because they think they contain too much sugar. But along with fructose, fruits also provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. To consume the right amount of carbs in fruits, remember that one serving of apple and orange is equivalent to the size of a tennis ball; a four-inch banana is one serving, and seventeen (17) small grapes are one serving.
Nuts are natural sources of vegetable fats and plant-based protein. The American Diabetes Association lists nuts as one of the “superfoods” good for people with diabetes. Some nuts and seeds, including walnuts, flax seeds, almonds, and macadamia nuts, provide omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and fiber. They are also easy to carry around for quick snacks.
Get Smart with Your Carb Intake
People say carbohydrates are bad for people with diabetes, but this is just another myth. There is no need to fear carbs as they are necessary for a healthy and balanced diet—instead, monitor carb intake. Choose only carbs that provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and make sure they stay within your carb goals.
Manage your diet in a healthy way. Get in touch with Makati Medical Center for more information about the proper diagnosis, treatment, or management of diabetes and other health conditions.