Type 2 diabetes may develop later in life - the food we eat can be a contributing factor in causing this form of diabetes to appear and is vital in managing it after diagnosis.
Carbohydrates play a role when it comes to managing blood glucose levels, but how do you healthily manage your intake?
To help raise awareness about diabetes during Diabetes Awareness Month, we speak to dieticians from the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE) team, who help explain how carbohydrates can affect your blood glucose levels.
How do carbohydrates affect your blood glucose levels?
When living with diabetes, we need to be aware of foods that can affect our blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates (which are made up of starches and sugars) affect blood glucose levels the most, especially right after meals. In other words, blood glucose levels are mainly increased by foods containing carbohydrates.
The more carbohydrate you eat, the higher the blood glucose level rises. To some extent, we can control this rise with our medications for diabetes, but with excess carbohydrate intake, we tend to gain unhealthy weight as well. A better way is to eat better quality and fewer carbohydrates and to exercise regularly to assist our diabetes medication to work better.
Watch our Video on Diabetes Dietary tips:
What type of carbohydrates are better for me?
In a healthy meal plan, most carbohydrates should come from less-processed foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. These contain higher quantities of vitamins, minerals and fibre, and should replace refined carbohydrates that have added sugar, fat and salt.
As a guide when shopping, opt for high fibre carbohydrates that contain at least 6 grams of fibre per 100 grams of product. This vital statistic can be found on the nutrition Information label which can usually be found on the back of food packaging.
Healthy carbohydrates are usually digested (broken down) into glucose more slowly, which results in more stable and longer-lasting energy levels. From a blood glucose perspective, controlling the portion sizes of these healthy carbohydrates is critical.
Some sugary foods like cakes, biscuits, pastries and chocolates can be included in your meal plan, but should be limited as they are often high in fat and calories. They also include very few healthy nutrients.
Eating these foods too often may result in uncontrolled blood glucose levels, unhealthy weight gains and higher lipid (blood fat) levels.
Why does portion size matter?
It is important to focus on portion size when it comes to managing blood glucose levels. When you eat carbohydrate, insulin is needed to transport the glucose out of the blood and into the body’s cells. This means that the more carbohydrate you eat, the more insulin or other diabetes medication you need to prevent your blood level rising.
And, the less carbohydrate you eat, the lower your blood glucose level tends to rise and the less insulin or medication you need. Therefore, it is crucial to choose healthier alternatives and to make sure that you get the required nutrients in smaller portions.
Why are ‘brown’ carbohydrates better than ‘white’?
Industrial processing of grain-sourced carbohydrates strips the grains of their fibre and nutrients, which give whole grains and their ground flours their characteristic brown colour.
The result is almost pure white carbohydrate. Healthier choices are thus the brown wholegrain and nutrient-rich versions of any carbohydrate product instead of refined white carbs.
Wholegrain products are also processed slower by our bodies. However, when it comes to making healthier changes to your eating habits, “one size does not fit all”. It is vital to speak to a registered dietician to find a healthy balance that works for you and your body to avoid any potential, preventable complications.