For years, Type 2 diabetes was considered a disease that could only be treated with medications and regular insulin injections. Luckily, recent scientific findings have proven that Type 2 diabetes is primarily a lifestyle disease that can also be managed with smart habit adjustments.
Let’s find out how to manage your carb intake and mitigate Type 2 diabetes symptoms together with expert nutritionist Christine Ellis, the head of nutrition at My Diabetes.
#1 Beware Of The Simple Sugars
Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not the enemy. Excessive amounts of simple sugars are.
Instead of blaming carbs for everything wrong with the typical American diet, we should take a closer look at different types of carbohydrates.
There are 2 main types of carbs:
- Simple carbohydrates are highly processed and refined carbs found in white bread, pasta, pastries, white rice and flour, breakfast cereal, sweets, sugary drinks, and desserts. Due to processing, they have lost most of the bran, fiber, and nutrients and became very easy to digest. Fruits containing fructose and dairy foods that contain lactose also are considered simple carbs, but they still have valuable vitamins and nutrients and shouldn’t be avoided.
- Complex carbohydrates, which can be found mostly in grains, starchy and non-starchy vegetables. Think brown rice, whole-grain pasta, whole-grain bread, unprocessed and unsweetened cereals, legumes, or potatoes. These carbs are harder to digest and have a higher amount of fiber, thus more beneficial in general.
While there is nothing wrong with these foods in general, and not all simple carbs are bad for your health, eating a diet based mainly on simple sugars is the key reason for obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
“Simple carbs have become a staple in American diet partly due to the flawed Food Pyramid that promoted white bread, white rice, and pasta as the base for every meal.” – comments Christine Ellis.
This misguided approach has ingrained an unhealthy understanding of food for generations of people, and we see the results today.
How to solve this? Try these healthy swaps:
- Whole grains (brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole grains) instead of refined grains and their products (white rice, white bread, pastry).
- Beans and vegetables instead of fries as a side dish.
- Whole fruit instead of fruit juice.
- Fruit salad, berries, and nuts for a dessert.
- Plant-based milk instead of cow milk.
#2 Eliminate empty carbs
Notice how the list in the last section of the article doesn’t include the concept “empty carbs” even though it’s quite a popular and widely used term?
“Empty carbs” are not a category of carbohydrates. It defines a group of highly-processed and refined foods that do not contain any nutritional value. “- explains Christine Ellis.
Foods that are called “empty carbs” do not contain any micronutrients, minerals, or fiber. They are easily absorbed by your body and cause the spike of blood sugar and insulin levels in your blood. They do not make you feel satiated and keep you always hungry (or willing to get that second burger).
Today, most food is extremely easy to digest and absorb, but your digestive system developed for a more challenging process. That’s why if you mostly eat highly processed foods, you will notice rapid weight gain.
Which foods should you eliminate from your diet if you have diabetes?
- Sugary drinks. If you want to have something other than water, consider unsweetened iced tea, black coffee, or lemon water. Keep in mind that even healthier beverages (such as juice or smoothies) can contain up to 200 calories. Treat them as a snack.
- Sweets and pastries. Basically, it’s the same as eating pure sugar. Learn how to prepare low-carb versions of your favorite treats.
- Junk food. While burgers and pizzas can be healthy, you will not get a healthy option at a fast food joint. Learn how to make a healthier version.
- Store-bought sauces and condiments. They contain tons of hidden sugars! Prepare your own versions; it’s not that hard.
#3 Balance out your meals
Understanding the difference between simple and complex carbs is essential. If you know how to balance out your blood sugar levels, you might even be able to add some “forbidden” foods along the way.
At first, you’d need to know your calorie budget or the number of calories you can eat to sustainably lose weight, considering your current weight, height, age, and physical activity level.
“Around 45% of these calories should come from carbs, 30%–from fats, and about 25%–from lean protein. You should get 25-30 grams of fiber with your food. “- explains Christine Ellis.
How to put this formula into more straightforward terms? If the Food Pyramid is a flawed method of food composition, what should you choose instead? Most nutritionists recommend The Healthy Plate method.
- ½ of your plate should be covered in non-starchy vegetables.
- ¼ of your plate should be covered in starchy vegetables, whole grains, or beans.
- ¼ of your plate should be covered in lean protein
Look at this as a guideline, make sure to have a meal every 2-3 hours, and stay within your calorie budget.
Complete this 60-second quiz and learn what kind of diabetes-friendly meal plan is best for you.