Sherri Buffington knows right away when she's stressed out.
"I'll start to feel hot," she says. Once the warmth floods her body, she tests her blood sugar. It's almost always high.
Buffington isn't imagining the connection. Stress is known to spike blood sugar, also called glucose. "It's a very common occurrence," says Kevin Pantalone, DO, staff endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. "Stress can increase levels of hormones in the body, particularly cortisol, which can make blood sugar rise."
"Carbohydrates -- found in fruits, vegetables, and starches like bread and pasta -- are the body's main source of energy," says Lori Zanini, RD, a dietitian and certified diabetes educator. The body turns carbohydrates into sugar (glucose), and that fuels your cells.
How your cells get this fuel can be tricky when you have diabetes. "Insulin is like a key that unlocks your red blood cells to let the sugar in," Zanini says. But if insulin doesn't unlock those cells so they can burn sugar for fuel, the sugar flows freely in the bloodstream and raises blood sugar.
That's why you want to enjoy carbs in a way that will have the least impact on blood sugar. Zanini offers these tips:
Have a carb routine. "You want to have around the same amount of carbs, around the same time every day, so your body knows what to do with the insulin that it's making or that you're giving it," she says.
Your doctor or dietitian can tell you exactly how many carbs you should get at each meal, but the rule of thumb is 45 to 60 grams.
Choose "slow" carbs. "Some carbs digest faster than others, and when it comes to managing diabetes, you want to choose carbs that digest slowly," Zanini says. Carb-rich foods with more nutrients, especially fiber, digest more slowly.
Consider these swaps: whole wheat bread instead of white, whole wheat pasta instead of regular, brown rice instead of white, sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, whole-grain oatmeal instead of boxed cereal, and whole fruit instead of fruit juice.
Under-ripe, rather than over-ripe, bananas go through your system more slowly. Slightly undercooking rice and pasta can slow digestion, too. "Cooked al dente, it's going to have less effect on your blood sugar because the fiber stays intact," Zanini says.
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