I sat in on several lengthy diabetic diet education sessions recently through my dietetic internship. Though some had Type 1, others had Type 2, some were newly diagnosed, diagnosed in the past year, or diagnosed over 3 years ago, there was a common misconception I noticed during these sessions and others as well. Carbs are not the enemy! Many newly-diagnosed diabetics may think they have to avoid carbohydrates as much as possible. The problem with this is, when you avoid carbohydrates, what you end up eating a lot of is protein and fats. Diabetics and non-diabetics alike should be getting 45-60% of their calories from carbohydrates. If you cut your carbohydrates down to 30%, for example, then what happens is your calories from protein increases, and calories from fat increases – sometimes up to 40-45%! Diabetics, just like anyone else, should be eating a healthy diet that contains no more than 30% calories from fat. Basic nutrition is still important to remember.
Consistency is really the key. Patients with diabetes want to avoid the highs (hyperglycemia) and the lows (hypoglycemia) because that up-and-down pattern is really what causes all the complications associated with diabetes, such as neuropathy and vision loss. Healthcare professionals will tell the patient how many carbs to get each meal, such as 60g of carbs 3 meals a day, plus 15g of carbs mid-afternoon and 15g of carbs before bed. The patient could have their carbohydrate grams from bread, grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, or milk. Any combination as long as it reaches that goal set by the healthcare professional (doctor, dietitian, certified diabetes educator).
Keeping that in mind, if its late and night and a diabetic is hungry for a snack, its important to remember basic health. It may seem like a simple thing to go for a Slim Jim or Pork Rinds due to their 0-carb appeal. However with over 500mg of sodium per serving, and their high fat content, it’s a better idea to go with something more healthy. A snack with carbs are acceptable, as long as its covered with insulin. If adding another shot of insulin into the day doesn’t sound appealing, a low-fat cheese stick, hard-boiled egg, or a lettuce salad with ranch are some carb-free options.
So remember: carbs are not the enemy. Aim for 45-60% calories from carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Fill in the rest with lean meats and healthy fats that come from plant sources such as sunflower seeds, walnuts, or canola oil. When hunger strikes between meals, above all choose a healthy snack. And if that snack has 15g of carbohydrates or more, remember to match it with the appropriate amount of insulin.