Sugar, especially in the form of glucose, is the main source of energy for most of the cells in your body. In fact, your brain cells get all of their energy from glucose. Have you ever experienced low blood sugar? Itís hard to concentrate or even to think. Thatís because concentrating and thinking require energy and energy comes from glucose. Sometimes you even feel shaky. Thatís because your muscles also need glucose. Carbohydrates supply the body with 4 calories per gram.
In order to produce energy, sugar is absorbed from the blood stream into each and every cell in your body. Itís possible for your body to make sugar out of protein or fat but making it out of carbohydrate is by far the easiest and quickest. Your body runs best when thereís always at least a little carbohydrate available.
A healthy diet must include some carbohydrate
How Does the Body Benefit from Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates donít just provide sugar for energy. Many of the carbohydrate-containing foods are filled with other essential nutrients that are not available in similar amounts from proteins and fats. For example, many carbohydrate-containing foods such as breads, cereals and grains contain some of the B vitamins that insure that the foods we eat are used correctly, magnesium to promote healthy teeth and bones and iron which helps to carry oxygen throughout the body, fruits and vegetables provide us with vitamin C, that helps keep our immune system healthy and vitamin A, which also keeps our body healthy and protects our vision.
Carbohydrate-containing foods are also the primary source of dietary fiber. Although fiber in the diet doesnít supply the body with calories or nutrients, it does provide the following benefits:
- Causes glucose to be absorbed more gradually from the digestive tract into the blood stream, keeping your blood sugar in a tighter range.
- Helps prevent a painful intestinal disorder called ìdiverticulosisî and promotes proper bowel function.
- May also help reduce blood cholesterol by binding dietary cholesterol in the digestive tract, preventing absorption.
- Promotes a feeling of fullness, which can aid in weight control.
One of the biggest problems in people with diabetes comes from the fact that while itís always important to have some sugar available in the blood stream, the sugar level may rise too high at any moment. And keeping the sugar level just right is one of the biggest challenges in the treatment of diabetes. But itís by no means impossible.
It is possible to exert a tremendous amount of control over your blood sugar levels simply by controlling the timing and amount of the carbohydrates you eat.
SOURCES OF CARBOHYDRATES
Simple Carbohydrates are made up of only one or two sugar units. Examples of these sugars would include glucose (sugar tablets), fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). Simple carbohydrates are capable of getting into the blood stream within a short period of time. Common sources of simple carbohydrates include: table sugar, syrups, soft drinks, candy juices, fruit and milk. Years ago, people with diabetes were encouraged to avoid simple sugars completely.
Current research suggests that sugar-containing foods can be included in the eating plan as long as the carbohydrate goal for a particular meal or snack is not exceeded. This will help to maintain good blood sugar control. If an additional goal is weight loss, limiting the amount and frequency of simple carbohydrates may be helpful since many high sugar foods are also high in fat and calories. Simple carbohydrates with the exception of fruit do not contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals or fiber.
Complex Carbohydrates are chains of sugar units, which are attached to one another much like a link in a chain. Examples of these complex carbohydrates would include starches and indigestible fiber sources (cellulose, pectin, agar, etc.). Foods containing complex carbohydrates include: bread, cereals, starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes), legumes (kidney beans, pinto beans, peanuts) and pasta. Complex carbohydrates can be good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Simple Carbohydrates vs. Complex Carbohydrates
At one time, it was thought that simple sugars entered into the blood stream more quickly than complex carbohydrates. Current information shows that many complex carbohydrates (white bread, rice and potatoes) enter into the blood stream at the same rate as simple sugars (glucose and sucrose). Another discovery about carbohydrate was that the degree it was cooked, its fiber content and the amount of fat eaten with it could also cause blood sugar to go up in varying degrees. In general, the more a food is cooked, peeled and chopped, the more quickly it is digested and the faster it enters into the blood stream making blood sugars go up.
The fiber content of a food item will help to delay the digestion process. A slice of wheat bread will enter into the blood stream more slowly than a slice of white bread. Also, when a high fat, carbohydrate containing food like pizza is eaten, the fat will delay the time it takes for the carbohydrate to enter into the blood stream. Instead of seeing an increase in blood sugar one hour after the meal, it may take up to two or three hours to see the spike.
Percent of carbohydrate in the daily meal plan
The average meal plan for a person with diabetes consists of 50% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 30% fat.