Do I Have To Eliminate All Carbohydrates From My Diet?
Many people assume that a person with type 2 diabetes should refrain from eating any and all carbohydrates. Because there are so many fads in dieting, like the Atkins, Paleo, and South Beach diets that further promote this belief, many people with Type 2 diabetes fear that they will never be able to consume a carbohydrate again. Several of our community members have also expressed interest in this topic, asking our experts if they do, in fact, have to eliminate all carbohydrates from their diet. Our experts, Kelly, Meryl, and Joanne, all provided some great insight into carbohydrate consumption and the management of type 2 diabetes.
Portion control is key for carbohydrates
This is a good question and one that we see often. So many times when we discuss carbohydrate foods and how they raise blood sugar, people think, “well then I just won't eat those anymore” or “you mean I can't eat ANY carbohydrates again?”. The thing is, everyone, diabetes or not, uses carbohydrate foods as fuel for your brain and body to function. The Diabetes guidelines for meal planning are more of a low or controlled carbohydrate way of eating and not a no-carbohydrate diet. The key is portion control. Most people should aim for about 45-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal and 15-20 grams for a snack, along with some source of protein (lean meat, egg, beans, etc). It's best to pair carbohydrate foods with protein because protein is more slowly digested and will help to prevent your blood sugar from spiking. If your dinner plate is feeling a bit sparse, consider adding some grilled chicken and a big green salad, both of which (if prepared without added sugars) do not contribute any additional carbohydrates. Whole grains and fiber-rich foods such as beans offer great fiber and bulk to your meal, which will leave you feeling more satisfied and keep you full longer. Here's a helpful article that discusses all things nutrition for managing diabetes: Healthy Eating and Meal Planning.
Choose more nutrient dense carbohydrates
A common misconception is that if you have diabetes you will need to follow a low carbohydrate diet or eliminate carbohydrates altogether. This is far from the truth! Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source. Our brain requires glucose (all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose). A consistent carbohydrate intake at meals along with diabetes medications can help regulate blood sugar levels. Most people do well with 45-60 grams of carbohydrate at each meal. Carbohydrates are in many of the foods we eat. Some of those foods are more nutrient-dense than others. Choosing whole grains (whole wheat bread instead of white bread), low-fat dairy and fresh fruit (instead of canned fruit) are a few quick changes to start with to ensure that the carbohydrates you are eating are nutrient-dense.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the human body
Over the years, in the popular press, carbohydrates have taken a beating sometimes as the "good guys" and sometimes as the "bad guys". Scientific evidence supports Meryl's excellent explanation that carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the human body. It happens that carbohydrates are the staple of most diets around the world. Foods like rice, pasta, breads (grains) beans, legumes, and vegetables – they all provide energy to think, work and play.
For starters, a healthy meal plate with a 45 - 60 grams of carbohydrate content would look like:
- Half the plate filled with vegetables
- About one quarter filled with grains (tortilla, rice, potato, pasta etc)
- About one quarter filled with meat, fish, egg or beans/legumes
- A small side of a low-fat dairy drink or food or a small piece of fruit
Do you try to follow a diet low in carbohydrates? Do you find it challenging to stick with the recommended 45-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal in your diet? Tell us more about your experience in the comments!
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