Determining the right amount of carbohydrates for your diet can be confusing if you have diabetes. The primary purpose of consuming carbs is to ensure you have sufficient energy throughout the day. The amount of carbohydrates and insulin you have in your body determines your blood sugar level. Whether you want to lose weight or ensure blood sugar management, carb control plays a significant role.
The global dietary guidelines recommend diabetic patients consume about 45% to 60% calories from carbohydrates. However, recent research suggests a lower carb intake for better diabetes management.
Restricting Carbs for Diabetes Management
Numerous studies support a diet with carb control for diabetic patients. Let’s have a look:
Extremely Low-Carbs (Ketogenic Diet)
A diet that is extremely low in carbs usually induces mild to moderate ketosis. When your body is in a ketosis state, it utilizes fat and ketones as energy sources instead of sugar.
Ketosis typically occurs when your daily intake of digestible or total carbs is lower than 30 or 50 grams. This means about 10% of your calories are from carbs. Studies have found that limiting your carb intake between 20 to 50 grams every day can drastically decrease blood sugar levels, improve heart health, and support weight loss in individuals with diabetes.
Low-carb diets are restricted to a carb intake between 50 to 100 grams every day. While there is still a lack of low carb diets in individuals type 1 diabetes, the results so far have been positive.
One long-term research study on individuals with type 1 diabetes showed that restricting the daily intake of carbs to 70 grams reduced the participants’ HbA1c (Hemoglobin A1c is the average blood sugar levels over two to three months) from 7.7% to 6.4%. The results also showed a steady level even after four years.
The major concern for type 1 diabetes is the blood sugar dropping dangerously low (hypoglycemia). A 12-month long study with type 1 diabetics showed that a daily intake of less than 90 grams of carbs reduced episodes of low blood sugar by 82% in comparison to before the participants started this diet.
The moderate-carb diet means keeping your digestible carb intake between 100 to 150 grams. Studies have found positive results of moderate carb intake in individuals with diabetes. However, studies are still limited.
A 12-month long study showed that individuals with type 2 diabetes, following a Mediterranean diet, and getting 35% or fewer calories from carbs experienced a drastic decrease in HbA1c – from 8.3% to 6.3%.
Determining the Right Balance
Research has shown that the carb control can effectively reduce the blood sugar levels. Since carbs increase the levels of blood sugar, limiting their intake can improve blood sugar management. However, it is essential to determine the right balance by consulting your doctor and considering different factors.
Understanding the Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load
The Glycemic Index (GI) was developed to determine the ways different carbohydrate-rich foods affect the blood sugar level. This index is considered as an effective means of categorizing carbs. It ranks the carbs on a scale of 0 to 100, based on the rapidly and how much the food increases your blood sugar level.
The foods that have a high GI score are the ones that are digested rapidly, causing a fluctuation in blood sugar levels. The foods that have a low GI score are digested slowly, causing a gradual increase in the blood sugar level.
However, the GI can’t estimate the number of digestible carbohydrates (amount of carbs without fiber) of the foods. Therefore, an updated means of classifying foods has been developed by researchers to take into account the amount of carbs in food and ways it impacts the blood sugar. It is known as the glycemic load.
The glycemic load of a particular food is calculated by multiplying the GI score by the total number of carbs in the food. Generally, the glycemic load of 10 and under is considered low, 11 to 19 is medium, and 20 and higher is high.
List of Foods from Low to High Glycemic Loads
For better blood sugar management, it is recommended that you opt for foods that have a medium or low glycemic load and avoid high glycemic load foods. Here is a list of different glycemic load foods:
Foods with Low Glycemic Load (Under 10)
- Skim milk
- Wheat tortilla
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Bran cereals
Foods with Medium Glycemic Load (11 to 19)
- 1 ¼ cup of whole-grain pasta, cooked
- 1 slice of whole-grain bread
- 3 rice cakes
- ¾ cup of bulgur, cooked
- 1 cup of oatmeal, cooked
- ¾ cup of brown rice, cooked
- 1 cup of pearled barley, cooked
Foods with High Glycemic Load (20+)
- 1 ¼ cup white flour pasta
- 1 cup of white basmati rice, cooked
- 1 cup of couscous, cooked
- 3 mini candy bars or 1 2-oz candy bar
- 12 oz of sugar-sweetened beverages
- 1 oz of refined breakfast cereal
- French fries
- Baked potato
Improved carb control can prove beneficial for diabetes management. Limiting your carb intake between 5% and 35% of calories leads to improved blood sugar control while promoting weight loss, which is also crucial for people with diabetes.
However, every individual with diabetes has a different tolerance for carbs. It is ideal to consult a doctor, check your blood sugar levels, and pay attention to how your body reacts to different types of carbs. This will help you in determining your own range of carb intake for better blood sugar management.
To find out about foods that are good for managing diabetes and other ways of regulating your blood sugar, check out our Hydrate and Regulate Blood Sugar eBook, click here for a FREE download