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Carbs, Sugar, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Health

Added sugar has been a hot topic for some time now, but like most nutrition-related topics, it has gained more attention than may be necessary. When it comes to diabetes, and cardiovascular heath, it is indeed important to limit added sugar; however sugar should not the main focus. Carbohydrates are the macronutrient found in foods that affect blood glucose (blood sugar) levels, and in return effects insulin production. All carbohydrate are broken down into sugar, therefore it is total carbohydrates that must be of focus when controlling blood glucose levels. When reading the nutrition facts label, total carbohydrates is listed in bold, whereas sugar is listed beneath total carbohydrates and is indented. This is because all the sugar in a food is already counted for in the total carbohydrate. A balanced diet is very important for all areas of our health, especially when it comes to diabetes and cardiovascular health.

The average person should eat between 45-60 grams of carbohydrate at each meal, 3 times per day, along with 15 grams per snack up to 3 times per day. When it comes to controlling your blood sugars, it is important to know what foods contain carbohydrate, as this is the macronutrient that has the biggest impact on blood sugar. Carbohydrates are found in breads, pastas, rice, milk and yogurt (which contain lactose- a natural sugar), fruit (which contain fructose- a natural sugar) and starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas, butternut squash). If you are familiar with MyPlate, this is demonstrated in the “Fruit”, “Grain”, and “Dairy” section, as each serving of these foods contain about 15 grams carbohydrates, equaling about 45 grams per meal. Along with protein, heathy fats and non-starchy vegetables, which contain little/no carbohydrates.

When Nutrition Fact Labels are available, keeping track of carbohydrates is easy and straight -forward.  In diabetes management, focus on the serving size and total carbohydrates, not sugar. When focusing on sugar, you lose opportunity for some healthy foods and typically eat more carbohydrates. For example, a serving of dried fruit (25 grams carbohydrate, 15 grams sugar) is a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth with little to no “added sugar”, plus you are gaining fiber and potassium. A bagel can pack up to 60 grams of carbohydrate (a meals-worth), and have little to no sugar. Breads, pastas, and rice also contain carbohydrates but little sugar. Although these foods contain little to no sugar, they contain carbohydrates, therefore affecting blood sugar once metabolized. Carbohydrates affect blood sugars in different amounts depending on fiber content, other nutrients eaten within that meal, and the particular individual.  

Bottom line- Focus on total carbohydrates rather than sugar, strive for a balanced plate (1/4 lean meats, ¼ whole grains , ½ non-starchy vegetables, and 1 serving of dairy ). Following a carbohydrate consistent diet will help with weight management, improve diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels and improve cardiovascular health.

Blog post provided by:
Katie Foster, RDN, LD


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