What Are Carbohydrates?
They're found in lots of foods, and they give your body energy to use right away or to store for later. Different types of carbs affect your blood sugar in different ways.
How They Raise Blood Sugar
Your body breaks down carbs from foods into sugar (glucose) for energy. This rise in blood sugar triggers your pancreas to release insulin, which helps your body use or store the glucose. When you have type 2 diabetes, you might not make enough insulin, or your insulin may not work well.
Your body breaks these down fast, and that leads to a quick spike in blood sugar levels. Simple carbs are found in table sugar, the added sugars in processed foods, and the natural kinds in fruits and milk.
Your body has to work harder to break these down. They're better for you, because they take longer for your body to digest. They give you steady energy and fiber. Examples include the fiber in spinach, watercress, buckwheat, barley, wild or brown rice, beans, and some fruits.
You'll need to pay attention to serving sizes and read food labels to learn how many grams of carbs are in your food. In some cases, you may have to guess. Some people aim for 45-60 grams of carbs per meal. So, suppose you eat a plain turkey sandwich with a half cup of fruit. Two slices of bread have 30 carb grams, and the fruit has 15 carb grams, for a total of 45. (The turkey has no carbs.)
Where to Find Carbs on Nutrition Labels
Look for the amount of "total carbohydrate" grams on the food label. This category can also be broken down as "dietary fiber" and "sugars." But "sugars" won't tell the whole story. These include the natural sugars found in fruit and milk products and those that are added. A food that lists a form of sugar as its first ingredient may be high in total sugars.
The Glycemic Index (GI)
This ranks foods based on how much they raise blood sugar. It gives you a way to tell slower-acting "good carbs" from the faster "bad carbs." Each food on the index gets a number. The smaller the number, the less impact the food has on your blood sugar. A low-GI diet won't do it all for you. Count those grams of carbohydrates, and split them evenly between meals.
Eat a Balanced Diet
That can help you lose weight and control your blood sugar. Get at least 3-5 servings of vegetables a day. Cooked, non-starchy veggies like okra, beets, or eggplant have only 5 grams of carbs per half cup. Even though your attention is on counting carbs, you also need to eat enough protein and healthy fats. Don't skip meals, and eat healthy snacks to help keep your blood sugar under control.
Go for Good the Grains
Choose whole grains over the "refined" kind, which lose fiber, vitamins, and minerals in the refining process. Also, when you buy bread and cereal, look for whole grains as the first ingredient on the label.
Tips to Sidestep Added Sugars
Treats like soft drinks, cookies, and cake have them. But so can healthier choices yogurt and cereal. Read ingredient labels and think twice about eating foods that list sugar as the first ingredient. Tip: Some added sugars end with "ose" -- like dextrose, sucrose, maltose, or high fructose corn syrup.
Happy Hour No More?
Is a glass of wine off-limits? It depends. Alcohol can cause low blood sugar, so ask your doctor if it's safe for you to drink. Check your blood sugar levels before and after. Only drink in moderation, with some food, when your blood sugar is under control. And check your levels again before you go to bed to make sure they're within a healthy range.