The American Diabetes Association has good information for those struggling to keep their blood glucose levels in check, including explaining the different types of carbohydrates.
When you hear “diabetes,” most of us think, “No sugar.” But, according to the American Diabetes Association, people who have been diagnosed with the disease have to consider other aspects when choosing foods beyond just how much sugar an item has. One important factor to keeping blood glucose in target range, the ADA indicates, is counting carbohydrates. But, they explain, the type of carbohydrates one eats is just as important as the total amount.
Carbohydrates raise blood glucose. Therefore, it is important to set a maximum target range for each day. However, as the ADA points out, there are three main types of carbohydrates: starches, i.e. complex carbohydrates; sugars; and fiber.
When looking at a nutrition label on a product, the ADA explains, “total carbohydrate” includes all three of these types of carbohydrates. It is an important number to know when you are counting carbs to keep your blood glucose under control. Certain foods, however, may be high in particular carbohydrates.
There are many foods that are high in starch. According to the ADA, these include the following:
- Starchy vegetables like peas, corn, lima beans, and potatoes
- Dried beans, lentils, and peas such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas, and split peas
- Grains like oats, barley, and rice. (The majority of grain products in the U.S. are made from wheat flour. These include pasta, bread, and crackers but the variety is expanding to include other grains as well.)
To complicate matters, grains can be broken down into whole grain or refined grain. As an example, the ADA says a grain of wheat contains three parts: bran, germ and endosperm. The outer, hard shell is the bran, which provides most fiber and most of the B vitamins and minerals. The next layer, the germ, has nutrients, including essential fatty acids and vitamin E. The innermost layer, the endosperm, is the soft, starchy center. When a food contains “whole grain,” it contains the entire kernel of the grain. Whole grains are much more nutritious than “refined grains,” or grains that have had the outer bran and germ removed, containing only the endosperm.
Sugars, the ADA explains, can be naturally occurring, such as sugars found in milk or fruit, or they can be added, such as sugars found in processed foods, such as fruit canned in heavy syrup, or cookies made with added sugar. Nutrition labels will indicate the grams of both natural and added sugars a product contains.
When looking at a label, one should look for more than just “sugar” in the ingredient list. The ADA indicates that manufacturers use many different forms of sugar in products. These can include, but are not limited to, table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, beet sugar, cane sugar, confectioner's sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, turbinado, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, and sugar cane syrup. Additionally, different names can be given to the same products. Table sugar may be called sucrose; fruit sugar may be called fructose; and milk sugar may be referred to as lactose. Chemical names of other types of sugars also end in “-ose,” the ADA indicates.
Fiber comes from plants. There is no fiber in animal products. Fiber, the ADA explains, is the indigestible part of plant foods. Plant foods that can contain high amounts of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Most fiber passes through the intestines and is not digested before leaving the body. It helps keep you “regular,” and also keeps you feeling more full after you eat. Additionally, the ADA indicates, diets high in fiber have been found to help reduce cholesterol levels.
Adults, the ADA suggests, should try to eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. To increase fiber, the ADA suggests considering the following sources:
- Beans and legumes. Think black beans, kidney beans, pintos, chick peas (garbanzos), white beans, and lentils.
- Fruits and vegetables, especially those with edible skin (for example, apples, corn and beans) and those with edible seeds (for example, berries).
- Whole grains such as whole wheat pasta; whole grain cereals (Look for those with three grams of dietary fiber or more per serving, including those made from whole wheat, wheat bran, and oats.); whole grain breads (To be a good source of fiber, one slice of bread should have at least three grams of fiber. Another good indication: look for breads where the first ingredient is a whole grain. For example, whole wheat or oats.); nuts — try different kinds. Peanuts, walnuts and almonds are a good source of fiber and healthy fat, but watch portion sizes, because they also contain a lot of calories in a small amount.
Generally, the ADA explains, the best sources of fiber contain five or more grams per serving; good sources contain 2.5-4.9 grams per serving. And, while you can get fiber from a supplement, it is best if you get it from your food, they indicate. Consuming whole foods brings you additional vitamins and minerals, as opposed to taking a supplement.
If you need to increase your fiber intake, do so gradually, the ADA suggests. Otherwise, you could experience stomach irritation. Also, they suggest, drink more fluids as you increase your fiber, to prevent constipation.
Fiber is different from other carbohydrates, the ADA points out. According to information from the ADA website:
Because fiber is not digested like other carbohydrates, for carbohydrate counting purposes, if a serving of a food contains more than or equal to 5 grams of dietary fiber, you can subtract half the grams of dietary fiber from the total carbohydrate serving of that food.
Understanding carbohydrates is very important for everyone, but more so for those trying to control their blood glucose levels. The ADA offers a book, Diabetes Carbohydrate and Fat Gram Guide, 3rd Edition, for those who would like more information on the subject. You can also visit the ADA website for more information.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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