In this blog post we will talk about diabetes and carbohydrates. I will explain the importance of carbohydrates in managing diabetes. I will also share some tips for managing both pre- diabetes and diabetes. Please note this blog post is not a substitute for medical advice.

Diabetes is extremely common. In fact, 1 in 10 US adults have diabetes so chances are you know several people affected by this disease. Approximately 96 million American adults have prediabetes, that is 1 in 3 adults. Making lifestyle changes can help prevent prediabetes from turning into diabetes. Without making lifestyle changes someone with prediabetes will likely convert to diabetes within the next 10 years.


Pre-diabetes and carbohydrates 

With prediabetes, blood sugars are, at times, elevated but not elevated enough to be called diabetes. The blood sugars are likely elevated when the person with prediabetes either eats too much of the foods that turn to sugar, known as carbohydrates, or that they do NOT eat enough carbohydrate. Yes, let’s repeat that. A prediabetic (or diabetic) can have elevated blood sugars from either eating too much carbohydrate or from not eating enough carbohydrate! There is a connection between diabetes and carbohydrates.

The body’s main fuel source is glucose (sugar), inside the body all carbohydrates break down into the sugar known as glucose. It likely makes sense that when a prediabetic or diabetic eats too many carbohydrates that they can have elevated blood sugar but how can they have elevated blood sugar from NOT eating ENOUGH carbohydrates?


The body of a diabetic and carbohydrates 

First, let’s talk a little bit about what happens inside the body.  Your liver stores, makes and can release glucose, depending on what your body needs at any given point in time. The liver helps to keep your circulating blood sugar levels steady and constant. During a meal your liver will store glucose from the carbohydrate you eat and then can access the glucose (sugar) at a later time, when needed. When you are not eating, especially overnight, between meals and any time the body needs energy the liver will be called on to release glucose. This process works very well under normal circumstances, but once the body moves into the prediabetic/diabetic range, the liver starts to lose the ability to know how much sugar/glucose to release and it tends to OVER release glucose. This is how a prediabetic or diabetic can end up with elevated blood sugar from not eating carbohydrates or from not eating enough carbohydrates. It is also why they may wake up with elevated blood sugar.

IN EVERYONE’S body the liver is called upon to release sugar in the early morning hours, it is called the dawn phenomenon. The liver of those without prediabetes/diabetes knows exactly how much glucose to release to keep blood sugars normal and stable but the prediabetic/diabetic body’s liver is losing that ability and tends to over release the glucose. So, they may wake up with elevated blood sugar. Is it starting to make sense now?


Eating carbohydrates 

The question becomes, should those with prediabetes or diabetes under eat carbs or skip meals? Only if they want elevated blood sugars! Consistent carbohydrate intake is what is needed all during the day to keep blood sugars stable, not too high and not too low. There is a misconception that if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes that you should not eat carbohydrates or significantly reduce your carbohydrates.


Diabetes management tips

When it comes to diabetes and carbohydrates as well as managing diabetes overall, we want to offer you a some tips. These guidelines help with consuming a consistent amount of carbohydrates throughout the day. These guidelines are good for everyone, even those that don’t have prediabetes or diabetes.

  1. Eat a breakfast with at least 30-45 grams of total carbohydrate within 1-2 hours of waking. This will signal to the liver that it can stop releasing glucose as you will be taking over providing the glucose through the carbohydrate you eat.
  2. Do not go longer than 4-5 hours between meals or snacks. Your body is hungry by this point even if you do not feel the hunger. If you know that you will likely go longer than 4-5 hours before your next meal, plan to have a snack with about 15-30 grams of total carbohydrate to tide you over to your next meal. This will help keep your blood sugar stable and the liver won’t get involved and won’t release any sugar.
  3. At meals follow the plate method. Start out getting ½ of your plate to be non- starchy vegetables. Corn, dry beans and lentils, any type of peas and any type of potatoes are the starchy vegetables, anything else in non-starchy vegetables. So fill ½ your plate with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, green beans, Brussel sprouts, onions, peppers, bok choy, carrots, broccoli, greens, etc.  Next, make a ¼ of our plate to be some type of protein. Turkey or chicken without the skin, beef, lamb, veal, pork, fish, seafood, cheese, cottage or ricotta cheese. The last ¼ of your plate is for the starchy foods (carbs) that turn to sugar (glucose), corn, peas, pasta, potatoes, rice, quinoa, barley, millet, bread, crackers, dry beans and lentils. More or less this should equal between 1 cup for women and 1.5 cups cooked for men.
  4. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, exercise and get adequate rest.

Following these tips are a great way to fuel your body for everyone, not only those with diabetes/prediabetes.


Diabetes Nutrition Counseling

I understand that this blog post is likely not enough if you are pre diabetic or diabetic. Managing these health conditions alone can feel overwhelming. As a certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, with years of experience working with clients with diabetes I know how overwhelming it can be. I help my clients feel empowered and less overwhelmed around food and their health. I make sure there is no shame or judgment as we work together to help with eating to managing diabetes. We will talk more about pre-diabetes or diabetes and carbohydrates in our work together, as well as many other tools you can use. I offer complimentary phone consultations if you are interested in setting up an appointment. 

This blog post about prediabetes / diabetes and carbohydrates was written by Kelly Corrigan, RD, LD, CDCES, CCP, CLC