Cray Diabetes Education Center
What is a carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates are a nutrient found in some foods. Foods that are starchy or sweet are likely to contain carbohydrates. Many different foods contain carbohydrates and your body uses these as energy. You should not completely avoid eating carbohydrates, but it is important to understand the amount you eat and how it affects your diabetes.
How do carbohydrates affect my blood sugar?
When you eat carbohydrates, they turn into glucose, or sugar, in your blood. This causes your blood sugar to go up. This is a normal and good process, as your body is using the sugar as energy for your cells.
Your blood carries the glucose to different parts of the body so that your cells can use the glucose as energy. When your blood sugar drops too low, you will not have any energy for your cells. When your blood sugar is too high, your blood becomes thicker, like syrup. This can damage blood vessels in the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart.
How many carbohydrates do I need?
To keep blood sugars level, you must balance the amount of carbohydrates you eat with the amount of physical activity and medications you take. Talk with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator to help you figure out your specific carbohydrate needs.
There are 3 main things that affect your blood sugar:
1. How Much You Eat
If a small amount of carbohydrates increases your blood sugar a little, a lot of carbohydrates can raise it very high. Measure the portions of your foods with carbohydrates. Look on the nutrition label for the serving size or find the serving size on a foods list. Use your measuring cups or spoons to see what portion sizes look like in your bowls or plates at home.
It's okay to eat more than one serving of a food as long as you add the amount of carbohydrates you eat in each serving. For example, if you double the serving size, you must also double the number of carbohydrates that you count.
2. When You Eat
Timing of meals is extremely important in diabetes. Eating at least three meals spread throughout the day can help prevent the blood sugar from going too high or too low. Eating only one large meal can send your blood sugar very high and then put you at risk for a low blood sugar later in the day.
3. What You Eat
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Foods that only have carbohydrates in them and are in a liquid form, such as fruit juice or regular soda, tend to make the blood sugar go up quickly. Foods that have fiber, protein, or fat, cause a more prolonged, steady rise in blood sugar.
When you eat carbohydrates, pair them with a food that has protein or fat to help stabilize your blood sugar. Meat, cheese, and peanut butter are examples of high protein foods. Also choose high-fiber foods, such as 100% whole grain products, whole fruits and vegetables (including the peel, when possible), and beans and lentils.