21 June 2018Choosing Healthy Carbs for Diabetes and Diabetes Prevention

Did you know that labeling carb foods as good or bad is not a great idea? Learn a healthier approach to managing carbs. This is especially helpful when you have diabetes or prediabetes.

Get Rid of "Good Carb"/ "Bad Carb" Talk

I hear a lot of people, especially in the diabetes arena, talking about "good carbs" and "bad carbs." These labels make me cringe, and here are three reasons why:

  1. There is actually no such thing as a good or bad food. It is not that black and white because all foods can fit within a healthy eating plan.
  2. It can be exhausting and unrealistic to pressure yourself into including only the "good foods" in your diet. In some cases, it can actually lead to an eating disorder.
  3. It creates a category of forbidden foods. Let's say you came into my office for nutrition advice, and I told you certain carb foods were bad. It would be very likely that part of your brain would tell you to run out and buy the first bad carb you could find just to show me who's boss. Here's an analogy: We are remodeling our bathroom, and so my closet is barricaded off by plastic, preventing me from accessing most of my clothes. I moved a bunch of clothes to another part of the house to wear during the remodel and thought I had planned it out pretty well. However, guess which clothes I am wanting? Of course, the ones I can't get to. Sigh. Back to food. If I tell you that potato chips and ice cream are bad carb foods, I will have planted a seed so that you'll think about them and want them, whether you realize it or not. And maybe you haven't even thought about potato chips lately, but now I've created the desire by telling you they're off limits. When you go into a convenience store or when you walk by the giant chip display at the grocery store, trust me, you'll see the chips! Then, if and when you eat them, you'll feel like a failure for not eating healthy, right?

Carbs - Don't Fear Them

Our bodies prefer carbs for energy because they're the fastest energy source to tap into. There are three types of carbs: starch, sugar and fiber. Starch is found in foods like bread, cereal, rice and pasta, and in starchy vegetables like potato, corn and peas. Sugar is found naturally in fruit, juice, and milk, and is also added to processed foods, like candy, pastries, soda and punch. Sugar, honey, or syrup is also added to foods at the table. Fiber is the part of the carb that is not digested but is good for our digestive system and overall health. For example, scientists are finding that fiber may help keep our immune system healthy.

A good strategy is to choose mainly healthy carbs in an amount that is right for your body. Most diabetes experts recommend that about 40-50% of daily calories come from carbs. The American Diabetes Association provides additional guidance for determining the correct amount of carb that works for blood glucose management. Another objective is to balance carbs with protein and fat. Protein and fat take longer to break down and when eaten with carbs, can help dampen the rise of blood glucose after a meal. Balancing carbs, proteins and fats can also lead to a mixed nutrient diet that is good for the whole body. You want to keep your bones strong and heart healthy, right? It's good to aim for healthy nutrition while you manage your blood glucose.

What Makes a Carb Food Healthy?

It's usually low in fat, high in fiber and offers nutrients to keep the body healthy. It might also have a higher protein content to balance the carb (e.g. quinoa or Greek yogurt). A healthy carb food usually doesn't raise blood glucose as quickly as a less healthy carb food.

Examples of Healthy Carb Foods:

- Oatmeal, quinoa, brown or whole grain rice, whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, potato with skin, corn, peas, beans, lentils. (Look for packaged grains with at least 3 grams fiber per serving.)
- Fresh, whole fruit, low-fat or non-fat milk or yogurt, Greek yogurt

Examples of Less Healthy Carb Foods:

- Processed, refined grains, like high sugar cereal, white rice, white bread, biscuits, croissants, white pasta, fried potatoes
- Candy, cookies, cake, pastries, soda, punch, juice, ice cream, whole-fat milk or yogurt

Check out MyNetDiary's article on carbs for more information: Carbohydrates: Sugar, Starch, and Fiber.

Choose Healthy Carb Foods More Often

Seek out healthy carb foods that you enjoy. If you don't like whole wheat pasta, try quinoa or brown rice. If you don't feel like cooking oatmeal, sprinkle some raw oats on your Greek yogurt. When you have a hankering for white rice, just limit it to 1/4 of the plate. If you're hungry for chocolate, sit down and enjoy a small bar. When you give yourself permission to include foods that you know are a little less healthy, they'll no longer have power over you. If you go to the ice cream store, then enjoy a kid's size portion. This works much better than telling yourself you can never eat ice cream and then end up splurging on a whole carton.

Bottom line: Healthy nutrition while managing blood glucose is about choosing healthy carb foods more often than less healthy options, balancing the carbs with proteins and fats, and definitely being mindful of the portions.

Brenda L Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN,CDE

Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Indialantic, Florida

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Diabetes/Carbs & Carb Counting Nutrients/"Carbs: Fiber, Starch, & Sugar"

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