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Diabetes and carbohydrates: navigating your diet

Low-carb diets have revolutionized the way most people think about weight loss. Even though they've been around since the 1970s, the concept of cutting carbohydrates instead of calories seems to have really taken off over the past decade. What does a low-carb diet mean for someone suffering from diabetes?

A lot, actually.

According to information from the American Diabetes Association (ADA), counting carbohydrates and limiting the overall amount in your diet is an essential step in managing your blood sugar levels. The amount of carbohydrates in food have a direct relationship to your blood glucose levels.

Carbohydrates and blood sugar levels

The ADA asserts the key to maintaining your blood sugar levels within the healthy range is to balance your diet, exercise and medication. For example, if you consume more carbohydrates than you normally do in a mean, you can expect your next blood sugar reading to show higher numbers. Reversely, if you are adhering to a low carb diet, you can expect your blood sugar levels to be lower and you might need to adjust your medication.

It's important to not completely throw out carbohydrates, though. Complex carbohydrates (found in fiber, vegetables, and fruits) typically cause little or no insulin response, while simple carbs (sugars and starches) cause the insulin response, and should be avoided.

The ADA recommends that individuals with diabetes consume about 120 grams of carbohydrates each day, divided over three meals. Though reading food labels is the only way to be sure how many carbohydrates are in an item, it might be a good idea to keep some general guidelines in mind. The following foods contain about 15 grams of carbohydrates in a serving:

  • 1 small piece of fresh fruit (4 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup of canned or frozen fruit
  • 1 slice of bread (1 oz.) or 1 (6 inch) tortilla
  • 1/2 cup of oatmeal
  • 1/3 cup of pasta or rice
  • 4-6 crackers
  • 1/2 English muffin or hamburger bun
  • 1/2 cup of black beans or starchy vegetable

No matter what your goals are, talking to a registered dietitian can help you make sure you are getting the right kind of nutrition based on your weight, medicines, lifestyle, fitness preferences and other health concerns you might have.

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