October 3, 2014

Carbs & Diabetes

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Sadly, Diabetes has become a nation epidemic, with around 17 million or 6% of the total United States population having this potentially life threatening disease.  However, if you are someone who has this disease, it is important to learn how to manage your diabetes.  To educate yourself on creating a safe and tailored, yet still enjoyable diet that will not further jeopardize your health.  That being said one of the key components in dealing with Diabetes is learning how and when to eat Carbohydrates.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to produce or properly utilize the hormone insulin.  Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and plays a key role in converting sugar (specifically glucose) into energy for the body to use. Learning to monitor your carbohydrate intake is very important in diabetics.  Once digested, carbohydrates become glucose or blood sugar, and monitoring blood sugar is essential to diabetics as low blood sugar can lead to hyperglycemia and elevated blood sugar can lead to hypoglycemia, which if untreated can have profound negative effects such as leading to cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, osteoporosis, skin problems, and teeth and gum infections to name a few.  Healthy eating for a diabetic is not only about the quality of the food but the timing, quantity and combinations of the food as well.

Meals: First in managing carbs as a diabetic is learning how to manage meals.  The Joslin Diabetes Center recommends a strategy known as Carbohydrate counting, which although tedious can be done independently with continual practice.  The first important step is to create a meal plan.  A meal plan allows you to accurately measure how many Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats you should be eating a day.  If you do not have a meal plan consult with a registered dietitian (do not, PLEASE DO NOT, ask a personal trainer, or an uncertified ‘nutritionists’ to do this as it can lead to inaccurate information due to inadequate knowledge of the field).  Second, educate yourself as to what foods contain carbohydrates and the amount they contain.  This can easily be done by searching online, and attached is a list of common food and food groups with carbohydrates and the amount they contain.  Most of the carbohydrates we consume come from three main food groups: dairy, fruit and starch (If so inclined switch to non-fat or low fat dairy options as they contain less of the dairy sugar lactose).  When it comes to fruits, do not consume more than one serving at a time as they are high in fructose.  Some vegetables also contain small amounts of carbohydrates, however lean meats and fats are generally carb free.

Other than Carbohydrate Counting there are a other ways to monitor your carbohydrate intake.  The UCSF Medical center recommended consuming 3 main meals and 3 snack meals, and distributing a consistent even amount of carbohydrates across each meal.  (This is a strategy even used in muscle building consuming more meals a day will create an increased feeling of satiety, meal flexibility, and continual mental alertness).  Next, do not skip any meals.  Skipping meals can actually spike blood glucose levels, so make sure you follow a consistent plan.  In addition look out for high carbohydrate beverages.  Soda, fruit juices, slushies etc. all of these beverages are laden with added sugars that can lead you to unknowingly consume unwanted carbohydrates and can drastically fluctuate blood sugar levels.  At all times, try and consume the fruit version of the beverage, not only will it have less sugar, but it also provides health boosting phytochemicals that can only be found in the fruit form.  Another recommendation  would be to have and familiarize yourself with the Glycemic Index.  The Glycemic Index categorizes carbohydrate containing food by how much they impact blood sugar levels. 

This can be used in situations when dining out, or when creating a meal plan.  Finally, eat a variety of foods.  Living with diabetes can lead ones diet to become mundane and unenjoyable.  However, the world has a cornucopia of different foods, so explore and find new ways to spice up your diet.