Diabetes is one of the most prevalent diseases worldwide, affecting a large population yearly. More than 422 million people suffer from the disease worldwide, and about 1 to 6 million deaths occur because of diabetes annually. In the United States alone, around 10.5% of its total population, which accounts for 34.2 million people, fell victim to the disease last year. In 2019, diabetes became the seventh leading cause of death in the country, as the disease caused 87,647 deaths that year.
Diabetes can result from various factors, including weight gain, genetics, unhealthy eating habits, inactivity, high blood pressure, age and even race or ethnicity. Among the several causes, one of them is the increased consumption of refined carbohydrates. Therefore, controlling or limiting the intake of carb-rich foods can help you manage diabetes or reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The reasons that contribute to the spike in glucose levels may vary from person to person. Even the carbs or calories a person requires are not the same. Likewise, a food item that may spike up your blood glucose levels may not work similarly for another person. So, it is vital to understand and know what works for you and how you can manage your metabolic health and glucose levels.
One of the best options to measure your glucose levels is to use HealthifyPro2.0 by one of the leading digital health and wellness platforms, HealthifyMe. You get a wearable device called BIOS, a continuous glucose monitor that keeps real-time track of the glucose levels in your blood. The expert coaches then guide you on maintaining the glucose level accordingly. In addition, HealthifyPro 2.0 users also get assistance from expert nutritionists to plan a customised diet plan, ways to improve their metabolism, etc., and quick guidance and advice whenever necessary.
Type 2 Diabetes: An Overview
Diabetes is a long-lasting disease that can affect the way your body turns the food you eat into energy. Usually, the body breaks down the food you consume into sugar or glucose, which then gets released into the bloodstream. The blood further takes it to different body parts to supply other organs with the required energy to perform several life functions. When this glucose level in the blood goes beyond the right level, the pancreas secretes insulin to bring it back to the recommended level. However, when a person has diabetes, their body may not make enough insulin or cannot utilise it efficiently. Therefore, when the insulin stops fulfilling its purpose or if there is insufficient insulin, the blood sugar level is also imbalanced.
Studies prove that chronically high blood sugar levels may lead to severe medical conditions like kidney disease, heart failure and even vision loss.
The HealthifyMe Note
Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that breaks down sugar in the blood to use as energy. When insulin is absent, blood sugar levels elevate, which can cause several harmful effects on the body. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, and type 2 diabetes occurs when the body acts insensitively to insulin. Type 1 diabetes usually starts in the earlier stages of life in a person as a result of the immune system attacking the pancreas, thus preventing the body from producing insulin. However, type 2 diabetes usually occurs later in life in people, mostly in adults. Obese adults are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Carbohydrates and Diabetes: Understanding the Relationship
People with diabetes are often unaware of the effect of carbohydrates on their blood sugar. An increase in carbohydrate consumption can be a potential risk for the disease. Overconsumption of refined carbohydrates can spike up your blood sugar levels, which is harmful to people with diabetes. Hence, you must know the relationship between diabetes and carbohydrates, make the right food choices and avoid the consumption of too many carbs.
Not all carbs are equal to people with diabetes. Certain carb-rich foods also contain other nutrients that your body needs. You must remember that your body needs carbohydrates, especially complex carbohydrates, to produce the energy required to function. Carbohydrates can even benefit someone with diabetes if consumed in the correct quantity. So, one must not cut down on carbohydrates altogether. However, it is ideal to consume them in moderation.
Keeping track of daily carbohydrate consumption, especially by diabetics, can help them improve the quality of their life, stay healthy and prevent diabetes complications, including kidney and cardiovascular diseases, stroke, etc.
Types of Carbohydrates and Their Diabetes Connection
Carbohydrates are mainly of two types, simple carbs and complex carbs.
Simple carbs contain sugars such as fructose and glucose, which have simple chemical structures composed of monosaccharides or disaccharides. Studies say that simple carbs can raise blood glucose levels quickly due to their simple structure, which is harmful to people with diabetes.
Unlike simple carbs, complex carbs have a less immediate impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise more slowly. That is because these carbohydrates contain more complex chemical structures having three or more sugars, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. Usually, most food items rich in complex carbs also contain vitamins, minerals and fibres. However, certain food items, such as white bread or white potatoes, which may also not have many beneficial nutrients, can lead to more drastic blood sugar spikes.
Carbohydrate Consumption with Diabetes
The total grams of carbohydrates a person consumes will affect their glucose levels. Hence, understanding how much it affects will help you know the insulin required. A Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study says that diabetic people should try eating 50% of their calories from carbs. So, if a person’s intake is 1800 calories per day, around 800 to 900 of it should be from carbohydrates which means around 220 to 225 grams of carbs per day.
Reference Meal Plan
Below is a sample meal plan that provides 1800 calories and 200 grams of carbohydrates. However, it is a general estimate and may not be the right amount your body requires. Likewise, no perfect amount is the right amount for everyone, as everyone’s body is different. That is where continuous glucose monitors, metabolism readers and devices like HealthifyPro 2.0 comes to play. They can help you decide the right amount of carbs that you require to keep your glucose levels at an optimal level and reduce your risks of diabetes.
- A medium banana
- Rolled oats: ½ cup or 28g
- Low-fat milk: 1 cup or 13g
- Chopped walnuts: ¼ cup or 4g
Total carbs: 65 grams
- Tomato: ½ large
- Baby carrots: 8 nos.
- Whole wheat bread: 2 slices
- Brown rice: 1 cup
- Low-sodium turkey meat: 4 ounces or 115g
- Low-fat Swiss cheese: 1 slice
- Steamed broccoli: 1 cup
- Yellow mustard: 1 tsp
- Shredded lettuce: ¼ cup
- Low-fat string cheese stick: 1 no.
- Plain fat-free Greek yoghurt: 6 ounces (150 g)
- Blueberries: ¾ cup (175 g)
Total carbs: 59 grams
- Baked chicken breast: 6 ounces (150 g)
- Margarine: 2 tbsp
- Quinoa: 1 bowl
Total carbs: 86 grams
- Tangerines: 2 nos.
Total carbs: 19 grams
Choosing Suitable Carbs: The Fundamentals
The American Diabetes Association recommends everyone consume ‘good’ carbohydrates, whether they have diabetes or not. You can divide it into three categories: fibre, starches and sugar, and avoid processed carbs and refined sugar, including candies, juices and soda.
The three types of good carbohydrates provide several benefits that can improve your health, as discussed below:
Studies have confirmed that fibres provide several health benefits to the body, such as:
- Reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Helping to lose weight
- Increasing the insulin sensitivity of the body
- Keeping the blood sugar at an optimal level
Studies conducted by the American Diabetes Association say that starch releases glucose into the blood slowly, which helps in preventing blood sugar spikes. You can obtain starch by consuming vegetables, whole grains and fruits.
Sugars are not generally suitable for diabetic patients, but they are good to help bring back the glucose to a recommended level for someone whose glucose level drops too low. In such cases, the studies conducted by the ADA recommend consuming 15 grams of carbohydrates or more if the blood sugar level fails to rise after the first serving.
The glycemic index helps you find how different kinds of carbohydrate-rich foods affect the blood sugar levels in the body. It is better to categorise the same, especially starchy food than to divide the type of carbohydrate present in each food item. This glycemic index ranks the carbohydrates in different food items on a scale from 0 to 100, depending on how they affect the blood sugar level.
Foods with a low glycemic index (55 or less) are the best choices, especially for people with diabetes. Such food items can regulate type 2 diabetes and help achieve weight loss. Some studies suggest that following a diet plan with low glycemic food items can also provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
Foods that have medium glycemic index will have a rating of about 56 to 69. Whereas food items above 70 to 100 glycemic index are high-glycemic foods, the least recommended for diabetic patients.
Such high-glycemic food items may contain simple carbohydrates that can cause powerful spikes in blood sugar levels, causing increased risks of diabetes, cardiovascular complications, obesity, etc. They can even lead to other medical complications like colorectal cancer, macular degeneration and ovulatory infertility.
Factors Contributing to Glycemic Index
Several factors contribute to the glycemic index of a food item which are explained as follows:
- Grains that are processed, milled and refined usually have a higher glycemic index than minimally processed whole grains.
- Food items with fibre content have a lower glycemic index as they do not contain as much digestible carbohydrate, thus slowing the rate of digestion.
- Ripe vegetables and fruits have a higher glycemic index than those not ripe.
- Food items and meals with fat or acid have a lower glycemic index as they are digested slowly and converted into sugar.
Complex Carb Foods to Consume
As carbohydrates and diabetes share a close relationship, it is essential to identify and consume the right food items to supply the body with complex carbohydrates and avoid the carbs that may not do good for your diabetes. In addition, both diabetes patients and others must keep an eye on their carb intake to avoid any further complications due to the disease and prevent developing diabetes.
Foods Items that are complex carb sources
Most carbohydrate-rich food items that provide fibre or starch are sources of good carbs. The food items that the American Diabetes Association recommends for diabetic patients include the following.
- Black beans
- Brown rice
- Green beans
- Green lentils
- Green peas
- Kidney beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole grain pasta
- Whole wheat bread
Foods to Avoid
There are several food items that a person with diabetes or someone with a potential disease risk should avoid to prevent the worsening of the condition. The study published by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) lists the following food items as the ones you must avoid if you have diabetes.
- Fried Foods
- Food that contains saturated fat and trans fat in high amounts
- Sodas, juices and other similar beverages that may have high levels of refined sugar
- Baked goods
The HealthifyMe Note
It is crucial, especially for people with diabetes, to choose a balanced meal plan in order to reduce any further complications resulting from the disease. The CDC recommends that people with type 2 diabetes follow a diet rich in whole foods and non-starchy vegetables. They must also try to limit as much sugar as possible in the diet plan. Diet plans like low carb diets, keto diets, etc., are the most famous choices among diabetic patients as they aid in weight loss, regulate blood sugar levels, control blood pressure, etc.
Carbohydrates and diabetes share a very close relationship. So it is vital that everyone, especially those with diabetes, consume non-starchy vegetables, whole grains and fruits and vegetables rich in starches. In addition, such people should avoid processed foods, refined sugar, etc., to avoid any blood sugar spikes. You can follow diet plans proven beneficial to diabetic patients, use a continuous glucose meter or similar devices to track your glucose levels, and customise a diet plan that works for you. However, it is best to consult an expert nutritionist to look for a customised meal plan that works best for you.