Diabetes and Carbohydrates
Diabetes occurs when the body no longer processes sugar correctly. For type 1 diabetics, the immune system attacks the pancreas and damages its ability to produce insulin. The hormone insulin is responsible for breaking up sugar for use as energy. Without it, blood glucose levels rise to dangerous levels. Type 2 diabetics start out with insulin resistance. They produce enough insulin but the body does not use it properly. Over time, the pancreas becomes overworked and the type 2 diabetic may require insulin.
High blood glucose levels cause damage to various parts of the body, including nerves and blood vessels. Organs are forced to work harder to keep the body functioning properly when blood sugar is high. Part of the treatment for high blood glucose is dietary, particularly a carbohydrate counting diabetes diet.
The reason counting carbohydrates helps is because they convert into sugar. No matter which type of diabetes you have, eating a lot of simple carbs causes blood glucose spikes. If insulin is needed to counteract the spike, it can also cause low blood sugar. Counting carbs and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet helps control blood sugar levels and reduces the amount of insulin or other medication required to control your diabetes.
Several diet plans are available to help diabetics maintain a healthy weight and prevent extreme blood sugar changes. The amount of carbohydrates allowed varies by diet, with some as low as 20 grams of carbs per day. All the diets, however, stress the importance of eating plenty of low glycemic vegetables, lean proteins and whole foods, while avoiding unhealthy foods high in sodium, fat and simple sugars. Using moderation when eating desserts, alcohol and other ‘junk’ foods also helps diabetics. Another aspect of a healthy diet for diabetes is proper portion sizes. Eating the right amount helps regulate blood glucose and promotes weight loss.
The basics of a carbohydrate counting diabetes diet includes keeping track of how many carbs you eat, the source of the carbs and when you eat them. Most low carb diets subtract fiber from the total carb count to come up with net carbs. Read food labels or use an online program to keep track of how many carbohydrates you eat.
Carb counting also includes knowing when to eat the carbohydrates. This is especially important for insulin dependent diabetics. Timing carbohydrate intake properly will prevent hyperglycemia, high blood sugar, and hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. Another part of carb counting for diabetics is choosing complex carbohydrates, as found in foods like whole grains, over simple carbs like refined sugar. This causes a slower release of sugar into the blood stream.
Before beginning any dietary changes, speak to your dietitian and health care provider. They can help you adjust your carb levels to the right amount for you. Some people do quite well on very low carb diets, while others need more to reach optimal health.
EndocrineWeb: The Diabetic Diet
Mayo Clinic: Diabetes Diet
MedlinePlus: Diabetic Diet