Over the years, many clients newly diagnosed with prediabetes have told me they eliminated all carbohydrates from their diet. Many acted on the advice of their doctor, or perhaps because a friend with diabetes told them to avoid all carbohydrates. In truth, eliminating carbohydrate foods is unnecessary, and it is simply not recommended. Carbohydrate foods are an essential part of a healthy eating plan. So, if you are thinking “Can I still eat carbs?” the answer is “Yes!”
Carbohydrates are designed to meet your energy needs, and it is the body’s preferred fuel source. Think of fuel for your body like putting gasoline in your car. For you to have enough energy to operate properly, adequate amounts of carbohydrate are needed to provide a steady stream of energy throughout the day.
For the management of prediabetes, it is important not only to know what type of carbohydrates that are best, but also how much you should eat.
Simple sugars (or simple carbohydrates) are foods with added sugar, such as soft drinks or sweetened foods. Juices, fruit, honey, table sugar or brown sugar are also examples of simple sugars. Foods with simple sugars tend to spike blood sugar quickly and may boost your blood sugar level out of desirable range. For this reason, it is wise to keep consumption of simple sugars to a minimum.
Whenever possible, avoid fruit juices because they are a source of concentrated sugar. Check packaged foods carefully for the presence of added sugars. Soft drinks and foods sweetened with added sugars are examples of items to limit as much as possible.
Choose whole fresh fruits instead. Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries are lower in sugar and higher in fiber than many other fruits. Use any of the berries as one of your “go to choices” for fruit. Another readily available, lower sugar fruit choice is cantaloupe.
Complex carbohydrates are grain products, ancient grains, starchy foods, and starchy vegetables. Foods in this category include rice, wheat, corn, and ancient grains. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, yams or winter squash are complex carbohydrates as well.
A complex carbohydrate has many glucose molecules strung together to make a “starch”. Because there are many glucose molecules in its structure, it is referred to as complex.
The less processed a complex carbohydrate is, the better.
- Use brown rice instead of white rice.
- Select whole wheat products instead of white flour products.
- Potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes or winter squash are best left in their whole form instead of using processed products: baked, oven roasted or boiled fresh whole produce is the preferred way to prepare these items.
There are many other whole grains that you may not have heard of or considered. This may be a good time to check out something new! Ancient grains such as quinoa, barley, sorghum, millet, or amaranth can be found in the health food aisle of your supermarket. Ancient grains are also available in health foods stores. These alternative grains are often used in the place of rice or pasta. All have an excellent nutritional profile and are higher in fiber and protein. The ancient grains are “low glycemic”. Low glycemic means that there is a lower impact on one’s blood sugar compared to traditional grain products.
Lastly, among the best and most versatile group of carbohydrate foods are the pulses (or sometimes referred to as legumes). Foods in this category include dry beans of all varieties, soybeans, and lentils. Beans and lentils not only have complex carbohydrates, but also protein. In fact, many vegetarians rely on beans and lentils as a primary protein source in their diet.
If you are not that familiar with preparing beans and lentils, two excellent recipe resources to check out are the Lentils.org and Pulses.org websites. There are many delicious and creative recipes to help you add more of these nutrition-packed foods to your meals.
Like all foods in a healthy eating plan, portion control is essential. Here are general guidelines for appropriate portion sizes of carbohydrate foods. Keep in mind that the guide is general: adjustments may need to be made based on individual caloric needs or to compensate for increased activity levels.
Fresh Whole Fruit (berries, cantaloupe): ¾ – 1 cup
Brown Rice, Whole Grain Pasta, Ancient Grains: ½ – 1 cup cooked
Beans, Soybeans & Lentils: ½ – 1 cup cooked
Remember, it is OK to include both complex carbohydrates and simple sugars in your food plan. Aim to get most of your carbohydrates from the complex variety rather than the simple sugars. A good balance might be 85-90% complex carbohydrate and no more than 10-15% simple sugar.
When you are selective with your carbohydrate choices, and you maintain good portion control, it is entirely possible to keep your blood sugar within the targeted range for prevention of diabetes.
© 2021, Gretchen Scalpi.
Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist, Gretchen Scalpi, is a Nutrition and Wellness Coach and the author of eight books. She has worked one on one with hundreds of clients via telephone or video in her own private nutrition practice since 2002. Her newest book is Diagnosis Prediabetes: Your Guide to Reboot Your Lifestyle & Stop Prediabetes During the Pandemic & Beyond. To purchase her book visit http://www.nutritionxpert.com/diagnosis-prediabetes-your-guide-to-reboot-your-lifestyle-stop-prediabetes-during-the-pandemic-beyond/