Carbohydrate and diabetes : why carb intake in food is important for diabetics?

Carbohydrates (or simply carbs) are the greatest instigator to skyrocketing blood sugar levels in diabetics!

All dietary carbohydrates are broken down by our digestive system into glucose, which then is added to the blood

Diabetes is a primarily a disease of insulin resistance or insulin deficiency or resistance. In diabetes, the physiological action of insulin, which is keeping the blood sugar levels in control is compromised. Therefore,blood glucose levels are higher than normal in diabetics and carbohydrates aggravate the problem by adding more blood sugar

This point is even more relevant for Indians, as we eat carb-heavy diets, due to our cereal and pulse based food habits. The increasing trend of cold drinks, coffee with sugar, other beverages and dessert consumption, do not help much!

How many carbs should a diabetic eat per meal and which ones?

Typically,  Indian diabetics try to manage their carbs is by completely giving up on sugar/sweets, potato and rice, but such blanket restrictions make life miserable ! Find information on how to eat healthy carbs in healthy quantity…

Is a low carb diet better for diabetics?

  • A low carb diet has not been found to be more beneficial than other diets for diabetics all over the world. However globally, the level of consumption of carbs in everyday diet is lower that Indian ‘dal + roti/chawal based’ diets

Therefore in Indian context, NIN/ICMR recommends that diabetics should aim to plan their carb intake such that only 50-60% of all calories come from carbs. For most Indians this would mean eating a diet lower in carb content than their usual diet

To get a diet plan which keeps your carb intake in check, try Food FHI Ideal diet plan for diabetics

Is eating low glycemic index diet much better for diabetics?

  • Another consideration, about which a lot of debate is there, is the Glycemic Index (GI) of food; diabetics (also, people in general) are encouraged to consume more of low GI carbs than high GI carbs by many experts. But, overall, it has been found that substituting all high GI food with low GI food will reduce your HbA1c levels further to a modest extent of 0.5 %. Already mentioned recommendations of consuming more whole grain food and avoiding added sugars, achieve this substitution to a great extent, therefore guidelines now recommend that a strict low GI index diet may is not necessary for diabeticsFocus on intake of healthy carbs, the Glycemic Index will be taken care of in this way
  • At least half of all carbohydrates consumed should be whole grains or whole grain products

Simple sugars should be avoided as much as possible, because they provide empty calories and do not have other essential nutrients, which whole grains, fruits or other healthy carb foods have; these nutrients include dietary fiber (which help you remain fuller for longer amount of time), vitamins and minerals (which are essential nutrients for the body) and proteins

Choose healthy carbs such as whole grain food items, whole fruits etc. and avoid processed carbs and added sugar, on routine basis.

How many carbs should a diabetic eat per meal?

  • Diabetics should learn to think of their carbohydrate intake in terms of ‘carb units’; one carb unit is equal to 15 gms of carbohydrates and experts say that it will raise se blood sugar to more or less same levels, regardless of its source (table sugar or roti) therefore, occasionally eating sugar/sugary stuff is not denied, but make sure to substitute and not simply add sweets to your meal

Learn ‘carb counting‘, which once learnt, will help a diabetic lifelong in managing her diabetes and enjoying her food at the same time

Make clever substitutions, based on carb counting, to indulge yourself once in awhile!

  • Diabetics who are on insulin need more careful monitoring on their carb intake
    • For people on basal insulin (single dose taken a night), carb intake considerations are the same as those for diabetics on oral drugs
    • People on FDI (Fixed Dose Insulin) have to make sure that they eat nearly same amount of carbs in any given meal every day, and at nearly the same time, to avoid both high and low blood sugar levels
    • For people with MDI regimen (Multiple Dose Insulin) who inject insulin before every meal, the dose depends on planned carbohydrate intake in the given meal. These people should, therefore master ‘carb counting’ to know how much carb their meal is going to contain, administer insulin accordingly and monitor their post meal (PP)  sugar with SMBG (glucometer readings) regularly
  • Even for diabetics, not on insulin the best way to know whether your diet is working is to monitor your blood glucose level control: by HbA1c testing once in 3-6 months and doing glucometer monitoring at least two days in a week (read our article on SMBG)

So, remember to count your carbs, choose healthy carbs on most days. You can indulge once in awhile, only do it smartly!


CHECK OUT: Our references for diabetes mellitus