All carbohydrates are not created equal which can be confusing for people with diabetes. Watching your carbohydrates means doing the math and knowing which carbohydrates are best. You also need to clearly define terms such as net carb and low carb to avoid irregular blood sugar levels.

  • There are three main types of carbohydrates in foods including starch, sugar and dietary fiber. All types of carbohydrates must be included in your daily meal plan. Foods that contain carbohydrates include fruits, grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, dairy products, sweets and snack foods. Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains are better choices than sweets and salty snacks that cause blood sugar and sodium levels to soar.
  • The ADA recommends including about 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal, with a total of 135 to 180 grams of carbohydrates daily. Some people need less and others need more. Discuss your personal needs with your healthcare provider. Methods used to control carbohydrates include basic carbohydrate counting and the plate method. Using the plate methods mean eating more non-starchy vegetables and smaller portions of meat, starchy foods and dairy.
  • The term “net carbohydrate” is not used by the FDA or the American Diabetes Association and has no formal definition. Paying attention to terms such as “net carb” and “low carb” can be misleading for people with diabetes. There are other factors to consider.
  • A low carb food contains less total carbohydrates than the regular version of the same food. This term has also not been formally defined by the FDA or American Diabetes Association. Some foods that are labeled “low carb” can be higher in sugars. Read the label carefully to ensure you are not trading off carbs for sugars.
  • Read the ingredients list and nutrition facts when you see the term “net carbs.” Check the sugar alcohol content if you use insulin management, count carbohydrates and manage diabetes using carb-to-insulin ratios. If it is more than 5 grams, subtract half the grams of sugar alcohol from the total carbohydrates. This gives you the available carbohydrates for insulin adjustments. If erythritol is the only sugar alcohol on the label, subtract all the grams of sugar alcohol.
  • Always check the fiber content in foods. If insoluble fiber is listed under total carbohydrates, subtract all the insoluble fiber from the total carbs and total fiber grams. If the fiber quantity is over 5 grams, subtract half the grams of dietary fiber from the total carbs to get the available carbs for insulin adjustment.
  • People with diabetes also have to watch their calorie intake for proper weight management. Eating specially formulated diabetic foods such as low carb pasta and low calorie salad dressings help you make healthier decisions. Eat a well-balanced diet and exercise at least 30 minutes a day for optimum health.
  • Steer clear of fad diets such as the Atkins diet. The Atkins diet can cause fluctuating insulin levels because the carbohydrate intake is too low. This may lead to fainting, tremors or diabetic coma. High protein diets such as Atkins increase the ketones in your body which can lead to kidney disease and heart disease. The only time to use the Atkins diet or any other diet plan is under the supervision of your diabetes care team.

Knowing the definition of carbohydrates and how they impact your body is essential. People with diabetes need read the labels and do the math. Monitor your blood sugar and consult with a doctor or nutritionist to make healthier decisions.