There are three main nutrients found in the food we eat that provide us with calories; they are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. They digest faster, and more easily, than fat and protein. So, carbohydrates have the biggest impact on our blood sugar. But they are also part of a healthy diet. Many nutritious foods are carbohydrates. For example, foods that contain starches, sugars and fiber all belong in the carbohydrate category.
Let's talk briefly about each one.
Foods that are high in starch include grains. Examples include oats, rice, barley, wheat, and foods made with grains such as pasta, bread, cereal and crackers. Also, certain vegetables, like peas, corn, beans, sweet potatoes and potatoes, contain starch
Sugar is another carbohydrate. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such milk or fruit. There are also added sugars supplemented in during processing, to make things likes desserts, sweetened beverages or cereals. Many processed foods that appear to be healthy can have added sugar.
Fiber, another carbohydrate and a very essential part of your diet, is found in plant foods. There is no fiber in animal (meat) foods. When you consume dietary fiber, most of it passes though the intestines and is not digested. Instead of raising blood sugar levels like other carbohydrates, it actually keeps blood sugar from rising to fast. Most American's do not get enough fiber, because most of us are not eating enough plant foods.
Fiber has many important health benefits:
- It helps us feel full
- Contributes to digestive health
- Can help lower our bad cholesterol
When you reach for carbohydrate foods, make them count by selecting the most nutritious choice.
Want some tips for getting the most from your carb foods?
- Eat the whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice
- Choose sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes
- Chose whole unprocessed grains, such as oats, quinoa, whole wheat bread and pasta, and brown rice
- Beans, legumes and vegetables are also a very good carbohydrate choice
- Skip refined and processed foods—try to eat whole food
- Avoid sugary drinks--including regular soda, sweet tea, fruit punch and sports drink
Choosing wisely and knowing how many carbohydrates you should eat at each meal can help control diabetes.
What is a serving of carbohydrates?
A serving of carbohydrates is 15 grams. If you're eating a food that's packaged, you can look at the label to see how many carbohydrates are in that products serving size. It's important to know that the sugar on the nutrient label is already added into the total number of carbohydrates. The amount of sugar on the label includes the natural occurring sugar and also the added sugar.
Pay attention to fiber, because fiber is also included in the total number of carbohydrates, but that will not affect your blood sugar. So, look for foods high in fiber.
Now, if the food you're choosing is not in a package, a serving it is about 1/2 a cup or 1/2 of a piece. So for example, one half of a cup of mashed potatoes or one half of a cup of beans would be considered one serving, or about 15 grams. Half a piece, would mean about one half of a large banana, or one half of a large apple. For berries and melons, a whole cup is considered one serving. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.
The number of servings or grams of carbohydrates that you eat at each meal certainly depends on each individual and their dietary needs. However, about 45 to 60 grams, or 3 to 4 servings, per meal is a reasonable amount for most people.
For more information on carbohydrate counting, or managing your diabetes, contact The Wellness Center at EIRMC, (208) 535-4200, to speak with our Certified Diabetes Educators.
Contributed by Valerie Chessin, RN, Certified Diabetes Educator at The Wellness Center at EIRMC