Diabetes can result in an excess amount of glucose in the blood stream. For this reason, it is important to understand how food affects your Blood Glucose Levels (BGLs). Carbohydrate foods can contribute to a build up of blood glucose, conversely, a lack of carbohydrates can lead to blood glucose levels that are too low. Non-carbohydrate foods do not generally have a significant impact but it is still very important to make healthy choices.
What is carbohydrate?
Once ingested, the carbohydrate from food gets turned in to glucose. This glucose is used as the major energy source for your body – this is one of the reasons it is so important to eat carbohydrate foods.
Glucose will be used straight away as energy, or it will be stored in your muscles and liver or as adipose tissue (fat).
What foods contain carbohydrates?
Quite a variety of food contains carbohydrate – it is not just bread and grain products like many people tend to focus on. The list below mentions the major sources of carbohydrate.
- Most fruit
- Some vegetables – Potato, sweet potato, corn, baked beans/ lentils
- Grain products e.g. bread, pasta, cereals
- Dairy products (with the exception of cheese)
- Products with added sugar e.g. lollies, biscuits, cakes, pastries
Eating the above foods will cause your BGLs to rise. For this reason, individuals with diabetes are recommended to control how much carbohydrate they have or their BGLs could rise too high. However, it is very important that these foods are still consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Having too little carbohydrate can also have negative effects!
More detailed food lists can be found on some reputable sites or from a dietitian. The link below was developed by Queensland Health and provides a simple, pictorial display of what foods do and do not contain significant amounts of carbohydrates:
Spread and quality
The other thing to consider with carbohydrate foods is the quality and spread.
Spread is important in preventing high peaks or low drops in blood glucose levels. Carbohydrate foods are best to be spread as evenly as possible across your day. For example; having some oats at breakfast, a piece of fruit for morning tea and a sandwich at lunch – this way your BGLs will remain relatively stable opposed to having no carbohydrate at breakfast and an excessive serving at lunch. This is advised for everyone, not just those with diabetes.
Quality has to do with the Glycaemic Index (GI) of the carbohydrate. Where possible, low GI carbohydrates should be chosen e.g. wholegrain bread opposed to white bread. This again is advised for everyone. For more information, see my blog on ‘Glycaemic Index’: Glycaemic Index.
The bottom line…
- Eat some carbohydrate with each meal
- Choose quality carbohydrate (low GI)
- Avoid eating excessive amounts of carbohydrate rich foods – this will cause your blood glucose levels to spike
- Learn to count carbohydrates. This is important if particularly if you have type one diabetes or if you have insulin dependent type two diabetes. This will give you an idea of how evenly you are spreading your carbohydrates over the day and whether you are consuming too much in one sitting. By doing this, you can avoid hyper or hypoglycaemia.
- Mix higher GI foods with low GI foods to bring the overall GI down
- Familiarise yourself with what foods contain carbohydrate
- Do not skip meals or go long periods of time without carbohydrate
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about diet and diabetes or would like a more comprehensive education on carbohydrates, make an appointment. Contact us today.