Diabetes is prevalent in our society and so are carbohydrates. On numerous occasions I’ve heard people say, “I never met a carbohydrate I did not like.” Let’s face it, carbohydrates are easily accessible, usually inexpensive, tasty, they can be made into interesting and fancy concoctions, and sadly, they can be a addictive for some. One of my clients asked, how can someone who has type 2 diabetes be healthy, enjoy eating and feel full without “breaking up with carbohydrates?” Here are some tips to answer that question.
Read labels or choose foods without labels
If you pick up an apple or some green beans you won’t find a label on them. Herein lies the clue that you are consuming a healthy unprocessed form of carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables have built in fiber which slows the absorption of their sugar. This helps prevent the insulin spike and drop that is caused by eating refined carbohydrates. That spike and the subsequent drop in blood sugar levels is what causes a craving for more carbohydrates or food.
If you do choose a carbohydrate with a label look at how many “total carbohydrates” are in a serving. The American Diabetes Association uses 15 grams of carbohydrate as one serving of carbohydrate, which is equal to a slice of bread. If you know this, you can look at how many total carbohydrates are in that particular food, and calculate how many slices of bread’s worth of carbohydrate you are consuming.
For example, a typical container of juice can contain “2 servings” and each serving could be 40 grams of carbohydrate. Since the container is 2 servings, drinking the entire container is 80 grams of carbohydrate or the equivalent of 5.3 slices of bread. Juice has no fiber so the result of consuming it will be a large spike in your blood sugar followed by a drop. And this is just one simple example. Once you start looking at total carbs on labels, you will probably be shocked at how much you are consuming.
Substitute your starchy carbs.
Starchy carbs are potatoes, rice, pasta, cereal, bread, etc, and they are everywhere. If you do choose to eat them, it is better to select ones that are less processed and contain more fiber, such as whole grain pastas and bread. These foods, however, still contain a significant amount of carbohydrates and can increase blood sugar levels. Here are some easy low carb substitutes for your starches:
- Spaghetti Squash: This yellow squash is easy to prepare and substitutes nicely for pasta. Sprinkle it with some parmesan cheese and enjoy it with your favorite protein or some meatballs and tomato sauce.
- Eggplant: Underused, this squash is a great as a substitute for noodles in lasagna or in any vegetable dish. Eggplant can also be diced and sautéed with Indian spices for a meaty-like side dish.
- Portobello Mushrooms: These mushrooms can be used as a pizza crust (scoop out insides and bake slightly before adding pizza toppings) or as a holder for any protein dish or hearty vegetable side.
- Butternut, Acorn, Delicata or Tahitian Squash: These squashes can be baked or mashed and served as substitutes for potatoes.
All these vegetables are hearty, satisfying and filled with nutrients your body needs. They contain less carbohydrate than the starches most of us are used to eating, more fiber, and phytochemicals for health. They satisfy the “starchy” cravings with fewer blood sugar spikes.
Increase your activity and move your body
A landmark study in 2002 showed that even a 30 minute walk or other form of exercise per day resulted in a 58% decrease in the incidence of diabetes. Activity and exercise have a powerful effect on how well insulin works to help individuals utilize the food they take in and normalize blood sugars. Even if you never lose a pound from exercise, the internal changes have powerful benefits.
Increase protein and good fat, especially at breakfast
Protein is not as alluring as carbohydrates but it has a profound effect on the blood sugars. Protein evens out your blood sugar, and increases energy and satiety. If you have insulin resistance or type 2/adult onset diabetes you are more prone to what I call “insulin resistant” hunger, or a desire to eat many times a day. Protein can turn this desire around and allow you to focus on things other than food.
Good sources of protein are grass-fed meat, wild fish, pastured chicken/turkey, eggs, organic dairy, nuts/seeds, and nut butters. Good fats are olive oil, avocado, nuts/seeds, and nut butters.
Eating more protein and a moderate amount of carbohydrates from unprocessed sources sets a good blood sugar tone and lessens cravings and desire for additional food the rest of the day. If you start your day by eating a large bowl of cereal with fruit, your blood sugar goes up, your insulin levels spike, and then there is a resulting large drop in blood sugar level. And when that happens, guess what else happens? You will have a craving for more food, and more carbohydrates along with less energy for the rest of the day. It’s like the blood sugars won the race instead of you.
A higher protein breakfast option might be cottage cheese topped with fruit, sliced almonds and cinnamon. A meal like this has protein, some healthy carbohydrate and healthy fat.
Eat regular balanced meals.
The above is a phrase that has been overused. But what does it really mean? Let’s break it down to an easy formula –
- Eat within an hour of waking since you’ve been fasting overnight
- Don’t go more than 4 hours without food to keep your blood sugar and your metabolism even
- Eat protein at each meal along with a healthy unprocessed form of carbohydrate. Have some healthy fat at each meal and most snacks
Check your blood sugar regularly
Knowledge is power. Checking your blood sugar first thing in the morning can show you how your body responded to the food you ate on the previous day. An ideal fasting blood sugar is below 100.
Checking your blood sugar 2 hours after a meal shows you how your body responded to the meal. Each person responds differently to foods. I tell my patients that checking your blood sugar tells you better than anyone else how your body is responding to the food you are eating. My most successful clients who avoided the long term effects and complications of diabetes were those who were diligent about checking their sugars.
Seem like a lot to do? Start with small, reasonable changes. You might even start by eating a high protein breakfast for a few weeks and slowly increase your walks. Small changes cause noticeable results in the body. As one of my clients once said, “I can’t tell you what a huge ego boost I had when I got off the treadmill and found my blood sugar had dropped 40 points. That was worth everything.”
Type 2 diabetes can cause serious consequences if not dealt with on a daily basis. The diabetes epidemic is rising, but you don’t have to be part of the statistic. Just a few lifestyle changes can give you a great start to a healthier year in 2011.