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Carbohydrates, Fiber, and Diabetes

For those with diabetes, the long-held belief that eating sugary foods (sweets) will cause your blood sugar levels to rise higher and more quickly than starchy foods (bread, rice, and pasta, for example) has not been supported by scientific evidence. Both are types of carbohydrates and both cause blood sugar to increase. Alcohol will also raise your blood sugar.

Carbohydrates have the most immediate effect on your blood sugar since they are broken down into sugar early during digestion. It is important to eat the suggested amount of carbohydrates at each meal, along with some protein and fat.

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Carbohydrates are mainly found in three food groups: fruit; milk and yogurt; and bread, cereal, rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables. You will need to consider the total amount of carbohydrates when working out your daily meal plan.

Counting Carbohydrates

Counting grams of carbohydrates and evenly distributing them at meals will help you manage your blood sugar if you have diabetes. Counting carbs is a method of meal planning that is a simple way to keep track of the amount of total carbohydrates you eat each day.

Instead of following an exchange list, you monitor how much carbohydrates (sugar and starch) you eat daily. One carbohydrate choice is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrates. Note: The amount of protein and fat you eat still counts as calories.

With carb counting, you plan your carbohydrate intake around the amount of insulin that's available to process it. The insulin can be either injected or naturally produced by your body. If you eat more carbohydrates than your insulin supply can handle, your blood sugar level goes up. If you eat too few carbohydrates, your blood sugar level may fall too low.

A registered dietitian will help you figure out a carb counting plan that meets your specific needs. For adults, a typical plan generally includes three to four carbohydrate choices at each meal, and one to two carbohydrate choices as snacks.

With carbohydrate counting, you can pick almost any food product off the shelf, read the label, and use the information about grams of carbohydrates to fit the food into your meal plan.

Counting carbs is most useful for people who take multiple daily injections of insulin, use the insulin pump or who want more flexibility and variety in their food choices. The amount and type of insulin you are prescribed may affect the flexibility of your meal plan.

Counting carbs may not be for everyone, and the traditional method of following food exchange lists may be used instead.

Fiber and Diabetes

Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods, and it plays an important role in the digestive process for everyone -- not just people with diabetes. Fiber helps move foods along the digestive tract and adds bulk to stool to speed its passage through the bowel and promote regular bowel movements.

Fiber also delays sugar absorption, helping to better control blood sugar levels. In addition, fiber binds with cholesterol and may reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. Lastly, fiber helps prevent constipation and reduces the risk of certain intestinal disorders.

The goal for all Americans is to consume 25 grams to 35 grams of fiber per day. The best way to increase your fiber intake is to eat more of these fiber-rich foods:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Cooked dried beans and peas
  • Whole-grain breads, cereals, and crackers
  • Brown rice
  • Bran products


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on June 15, 2012

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