Carbohydrates and Blood Glucose Management

With so much talk about carbohydrates and diabetes, it can be hard to make sense of it all.

Carbohydrates are essential, and an important part of a healthy diet. But one thing is certain— carbohydrates in food impact blood glucose levels. So if you have diabetes, eating consistent amounts of foods containing carbohydrates every day can help control your blood glucose levels.

Three main types of carbohydrates

There are three main types of carbohydrates in food. The "Total Carbohydrate" that you see in the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels includes all three types. This is the number to watch if you’re counting carbs.

  • Starches

    Known as complex carbohydrates, these are found in starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and corn), beans, peas, lentils; and in breads, cereals and grains.
  • Sugars

    Another type of carbohydrate, sugars are often referred to as simple or fast-acting carbohydrates. There are naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose), and sugars added during processing such as the table sugar (sucrose) used in sodas, candy and baked goods.
  • Fiber

    The indigestible part of plant foods, fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Fiber is classified into two categories, those that don’t dissolve in water (insoluble fiber) and those that do (soluble fiber). Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can slow the absorption of sugars, which may help improve blood glucose levels for people with diabetes.

Meal planning and managing your carb intake

Carbohydrates, an important source of energy, are broken down into glucose during the digestion process. That’s why they have the most immediate effect on your blood glucose levels. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid carbs if you have diabetes. Carbs are an essential component of a healthy diet.

It’s important to eat the right amount of carbs at each meal and snack, along with suitable sources of proteins and fats to balance your meal. There are many options that people with diabetes use to help plan meals and manage their carb intake:

  • Plate method

    A simple method that focuses on the portion sizes of the foods on your plate. You fill your plate with larger amounts of non-starchy vegetables, and smaller portions of starchy foods and meats.
  • Carbohydrate counting

    This involves keeping track of how many carbs or Carb Choices you eat and setting a limit for each meal and snack. Finding the right amount of carbs will depend on your age, size, weight goal, exercise level, medication and other medical issues.

Managing your carb intake can help you feel your best, continue to do the things you enjoy, and help manage your diabetes. We suggest you speak with your physician, nurse educator or registered dietitian to help determine what meal plan is best for you.