Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar
Carbohydrates are the main kind of food that raises blood sugar levels. That’s
why it’s important to be aware of the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Simple
carbohydrates, or sugar, will begin to raise blood sugar very soon after you eat
them. Complex carbohydrates, or starchy foods, take longer for the body to change
into sugar but will eventually be changed completely to sugar. Protein and fat have
little effect on blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrate (Carb) counting and diabetes
Carb counting can help you manage your blood sugar. Some people on intensive
insulin therapy or insulin pumps use carbohydrate
counting to match the amount of fast-acting or meal-time insulin
they take before eating to the amount of carbohydrates they choose to eat at a meal.
Learn more about one type of fast-acting
Carb counting can help you:
- Manage your blood sugar
- Be flexible in your choice of foods and meal times
- Eat more foods that you enjoy
To count carbs, you need to:
- Know which foods contain carbohydrates
- Find out how many carbohydrates are in those foods
- Read food labels and use measuring tools, such as measuring cups, spoons,
and a food scale
- Work with your diabetes care team to decide how to divide your carbohydrates
among your meals and snacks
What foods contain carbohydrates?
Many foods contain carbohydrates. The foods that contain the most carbohydrates
- Starches—bread, cereal, crackers, grains, rice, pasta
- Starchy vegetables—potatoes, corn, peas, beans
- All fruits and fruit juices
- Milk and yogurt
- Sugary foods—candy, regular soda pop, jelly
- Sweets—cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream
In fact, the only food groups that generally don’t contain carbohydrates
- Meats and meat substitutes, such as eggs and cheese
- Fats and oils
Because carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than other nutrients, you may wonder
why you should eat them at all. You need to eat foods with carbohydrates because
they provide your body with energy, along with many vitamins and minerals.
Sweets are okay to include in your meal plan once in a while. But keep in mind that
sweets often contain a lot of carbohydrates, calories, and fat, with very little
How much do I need?
Work with your registered dietitian or another member of your diabetes care team
to find the number of carbohydrates you need in your meal plan. That’s the
number that you should aim for each day.
Your dietitian or diabetes educator can help you easily divide your carbohydrates
among your meals and snacks. If you take diabetes pills or 1 to 2 injections of
insulin a day, it’s important to try to eat the same amount of carbohydrates
at the same meals and snacks each day. If you take 3 or more injections of insulin
a day, you may have more flexibility with your meal plan because you adjust your
meal-time insulin to what you eat.
Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, especially if you take insulin. If you
include snacks in your meal plan, don’t forget to count the carbohydrates!
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