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Carbohydrates & Blood Sugar

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the main nutrients in food that give your body energy. Sugars and starchy foods are examples of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can raise blood sugar levels more than other nutrients. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the amount of carbohydrates you eat.

Natural sugars found in foods like milk and fruits are a type of carbohydrate called simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates may also be added to certain foods when they are made, like heavy syrup that is added to canned fruit. Simple carbohydrates, which are broken down faster than complex carbohydrates, will begin to raise blood sugar levels very soon after you eat them.

Complex carbohydrates, like starches, take longer to break down in the body. As a result, complex carbohydrates take longer to impact blood sugar, causing the amount of sugar in the blood to rise more slowly.

Foods containing more carbohydrates are:

  • 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, jelly
  • Sweets—cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream

Food groups that don’t normally have carbohydrates are proteins and fats.

Because carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than other types of foods, 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 once in a while, but remember that sweets usually have a lot of carbohydrates, calories, and fat, with very little nutritional value. Creating your personal meal plan is a great way to balance eating healthy with the foods you love.

Speak with your diabetes care team about carbohydrates

Your diabetes care team will help you find the right amount of carbohydrates for your meal plan. A dietitian or diabetes educator can help you split up the amount of carbohydrates you need between meals and snacks to help you manage your blood sugar levels.

Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, especially if you take certain types of medicine. If you include snacks in your meal plan, don’t forget to count the carbohydrates in your snacks, too!

Glycemic index

The glycemic index is a measurement of how much one kind of food will raise your blood sugar levels. Some carbohydrate-containing foods can cause a faster rise in blood sugar levels than other foods. Speak with a dietitian for more information about the glycemic index.

How big is 1 serving?

Nutritional facts listed on food labels are almost always measured in servings or portions.

One serving of bread, fresh fruit, or plain fat-free yogurt has about 15 grams of carbohydrates. The size of a single serving varies with the type of food. Serving sizes are often smaller than what you are used to eating. At first, you’ll find it helpful to weigh or measure your food to determine your serving sizes.

A full meal typically contains 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates.

Serving sizes can be described in different ways, depending on the type of food being measured. Usually, a single serving is a smaller portion than you would get served at a restaurant. Those meals tend to be more than 1 serving.

Here are some examples of foods with 15 grams of carbohydrates in 1 serving:

  • 1/2 cup of oatmeal
  • 1/3 cup cooked rice or pasta
  • 1 slice of bread or a small roll
  • 1 small piece of fruit
  • 1/2 cup of black beans or starchy vegetables
  • 2/3 cup of plain fat-free yogurt

Other words for sugar

It may not always be clear which foods have sugar and other carbohydrates in them or how much, so here are a few tips to help you find out what’s in your food:

  • Many words that end in “-ose,” such as sucrose, fructose, and dextrose are types of sugar
  • Some “low-fat” foods have extra sugar. Look at the food label closely

Learn more about counting carbohydrates with your personalized carbohydrate counting tool.

Carbohydrate (carb) counting and diabetes

Carb counting can help manage blood sugar. Some people who take medicine use carb counting to match the amount of fast-acting or mealtime insulin they take before eating, to the amount of carbohydrates they choose to eat at a meal.

Counting carbs can help people who take fast-acting or mealtime insulin decide how much insulin they should take before eating. You can learn more about insulin and how it works here.

Before you start a meal plan, it’s important to speak with your health care provider about how to manage carbs.

Counting carbs:

  • Helps manage your blood sugar levels
  • Helps you choose what foods fit into a meal plan the best
  • Can help you fit the foods you love into your meal plan

To count carbs:

  • Know which foods contain carbohydrates
  • Find out how many carbohydrates are in those foods
  • Carefully read food labels and use measuring tools, such as measuring cups, spoons, and a food scale

For more information and tips about eating a balanced meal go to If you have questions about your diabetes management care plan contact the Gulf Coast Diabetes Center at 251.414.5900. New patients should have a referral from their primary care doctor, but it’s not required.

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