Ideal daily carbohydrates for diabetes

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Carbohydrates (any type of sugar, starch or fiber) are the main source of energy and are essential for the functioning of your body. But if you have diabetes, your daily carbohydrate recommendations are different for you than they are for non-diabetics, and for very good reason.

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During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), which then fills the bloodstream. Those who do not have diabetes efficiently recycle this sugar to get to the cells that need it. People with diabetes don't, which means it stays in the blood, a situation that can lead to many serious health problems if not treated properly.

Counting carbohydrates and choosing the correct carbohydrates is an important part of your diabetes treatment plan.

Recommendations for eating carbohydrates

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with diabetes should get about 45% of their calories from carbohydrates.

For example, on a 1600 calorie diet, this would be 135 to 180 grams per day.

Your personal goal may differ. The American Diabetes Association guidelines suggest that there is no exact ideal percentage of calories from carbohydrates, protein, and fat for people with diabetes.

Registered Dietitians, Dietitians, and Certified Diabetes Educators (CDE) can create personalized meal plans based on dietary patterns, goals, dietary preferences, lifestyle, culture, and more.

What determines the ideal amount of carbohydrates?

Determining the ideal amount of carbohydrates to eat each day should be a collaborative effort between you and your healthcare team. Specific factors that affect carbohydrate intake include:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Weight
  • Activity level
  • Blood sugar numbers

How you distribute your total carbohydrate intake throughout the day will also depend on many factors, including:

Some people benefit from a consistent carbohydrate diet. For example, eating the same amount of carbohydrates every day at a single meal (especially when taking fixed doses of insulin) can help take the guesswork out of taking medications with meals.

A good way to determine your ideal carbohydrate intake is to monitor your blood sugar before and after meals. If you are within your target range two hours after a meal, then your meal plan is working for you. If it is taller, you may need to adjust your meal plan by reducing your carbohydrate intake.

Target blood glucose level 2 hours after a meal
Adults who are not pregnant 180 mg / dL or less
Pregnant women with gestational diabetes 120 mg / dL or less
Pregnant women with pre-existing type 1 or 2 diabetes 120 mg / dL or less
Source: American Diabetes Association.

Planning your carbohydrate intake

Making a daily meal plan can be a helpful foundation for balancing your carbohydrate intake.

Objectives to consider:

  • 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal (or less)
  • 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per snack (or less)

When planning your meals, combine carbohydrates with protein and fat to decrease the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream.

Choosing carbohydrates for meals

When choosing carbohydrates for diabetes, it is important to choose those that contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, not just empty calories.

Skip or limit refined carbohydrates (which consist mainly of processed and packaged foods) in favor of complex carbohydrates, which are slow-burning starches like whole grains like brown rice or oatmeal, or vegetables like pumpkin or potatoes, in measured quantities.

You can find out the amount of carbohydrates in all packaged foods by reading the nutrition label. For unlabeled foods, a food journal app where you enter specific foods and serving sizes can determine the approximate amount of carbohydrates you are eating.

Other considerations

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Research has shown that a low-carb breakfast can help improve weight and blood sugar levels. Additionally, other studies show that a breakfast high in fat and protein can help lower blood sugar levels throughout the day.
  • A high-fiber lunch with lots of vegetables and whole grains will help you get through the day's recessions.
  • A dinner high in lean protein, green vegetables, and complex carbohydrates is complete and nutrient-dense, meaning you are less likely to eat a high-carbohydrate dessert later on.
  • Juices, milk, sodas, and alcoholic beverages are often high in carbohydrates. If you are limiting your carbohydrate intake, these drinks can be of great help. Consume water, soda, coffee, and tea for a healthy carbohydrate-free diet.

And remember, you don't have to go it alone when planning your meals. For example, a nutritionist can help you create a meal plan that suits your budget, preferences, and needs.

Sample meal plan

The following sample meal plan provides approximately 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per meal and 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrate per snack.

The amount of carbohydrates in a product is indicated in parentheses.

Breakfast:

  • 3 eggs with 2 slices of whole wheat toast, lettuce, tomato (30 g)
  • 1 small fruit (15 g)

Total carbohydrates: 45g

Dinner:

  • Salad with lettuce, cucumber, carrot, 1/4 avocado (~ 5 g)
  • 1 cup of low sodium lentil soup (30 g)
  • 3 cups of popcorn (15 g)

Total carbohydrates: ~ 50 g

Snack:

  • 1 small apple (15 g)
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (3 g)

Total Carbohydrates: 18g Carbohydrates

Dinner:

  • 4 ounces of grilled salmon (0 g)
  • 1 cup of roasted asparagus with 1/2 cup of cannellini beans (20 g)
  • 1 large sweet potato (35 g)

Total Carbohydrates: 55g Carbohydrates

Snack:

  • 1 low-fat plain Greek yogurt (7 g)
  • 3/4 cup of blueberries (15 g)

Total carbohydrates: 22 g

Sugar, fat and protein

While sugar can occur on a low carb diet, it is important to remember that sugar has zero nutrient density, which means it contains no vitamins or minerals.

High-quality sources of fat and protein play an important role in managing diabetes, as they can slow the flow of glucose into the bloodstream and be used for energy when carbohydrates are restricted.

As you work on tracking carbs, be sure to pay attention to the following as well.

How Many Added Sugars Are Right For You?

Be on the lookout for added sugars in packaged foods, which may be the biggest reason when it comes to empty carbs.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans , published jointly by the USDA and USDA, recommend that no more than 10% of calories come from added sugar:

In particular, it looks like this:

  • No more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugar for adult women without diabetes.
  • No more than 9 teaspoons or 37.5 grams of added sugar for adult men without diabetes.

Other expert groups, including the American Heart Association (AHA), recommend a lower limit for daily sugar intake. The AHA specifically recommends that no more than 6% of your daily calories come from added sugar.

There is currently no recommendation for sugar supplementation for adults with diabetes. If you have diabetes, check with your healthcare professional and your dietitian, dietitian, or CDE specialist to determine the daily amount of added sugar that is right for you.

Adding fat and protein

Cooking dishes that contain healthy carbohydrates, proteins, and fats can help you keep your glucose levels in better balance than eating only simple or refined carbohydrates.

Proteins to include in your healthy diet:

  • Meats such as poultry, fish, and lean red meat.
  • Eggs
  • Beans and legumes
  • Soy, tempeh, and tofu
  • Nuts and seeds

Fats to include in your healthy diet:

  • Avocado and avocado oil
  • Olive oil and olives
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Seeds like sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • High-quality, grass-fed fatty dairy products

Get the word of drug information

All people with diabetes, especially those who have just been diagnosed, should receive continuous training in self-management (DSME) . DSME has been shown to help treat diabetes. If you have not received this education, ask your PCP where you can find a certified diabetes instructor.

Frequently asked questions

  • Most people should aim to get 45% to 65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. This means that on a 1600 calorie diet, you get 720-1040 calories from carbohydrates. Each gram of carbohydrates equals 4 calories, so you should eat 180-260 grams of carbohydrates per day.

  • There is no exact definition of a low-carbohydrate diet , but a diet that gets less than 45-65% of its recommended daily calories from carbohydrates can be considered a low-carbohydrate diet. On some extremely low carb diets, such as the ketogenic diet, you can only consume 5% to 10% of your daily calorie requirement from carbohydrates.

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