It's More Than Carbs

Many carbohydrate foods are very healthy for those with diabetes.

Lara Rondinelli By Lara Rondinelli, RD, LDN, CDE

Every couple of weeks a person newly diagnosed with diabetes walks into my office and says that they've changed their diet dramatically, and have cut out the carbs (carbohydrates). Then they tell me what they eat on a typical day:

Breakfast: Three-egg and cheese omelet with 4 slices of bacon
Lunch: Salad with ham, salami, shredded cheese, and ranch dressing
Snack: Couple slices of cheddar cheese
Dinner: 10-ounce steak and broccoli
Snack: 1 Polish sausage (no bun)

Everyone can see that this diet is very low-carb, but that does not mean that it is healthy. Although some people may lose weight with this regimen, it's high in processed meats and cheese  and lacking in in many vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Yes, carbohydrates are the foods that break down into sugar and raise a person's blood glucose levels. And yes, most Americans eat too many carbs. And yes, people with diabetes should limit their carbs to better control blood sugar, especially if they tend to eat excessive amounts — i.e., bagels, bread, pasta, etc. But let's not forget that many carbohydrate foods are very healthy.

For example, fruit is a wonderful, natural carb source that is full of vitamins and minerals. Fruit is also a good source of fiber, which may help to lower cholesterol. Milk and yogurt are carb sources too, but they provide calcium, which is important for bone health. Most Americans don't consume the recommended amount of calcium, and although the mineral can be found in other foods, milk and yogurt are two of the best sources. Skim milk and light yogurt are the lower-saturated-fat options and are therefore recommended over their full-fat counterparts. Also, whole-wheat bread, beans, and brown rice are healthy carb choices, when amounts are customized to a good carb control plan. A registered dietitian can help you determine how many carbs to eat at each meal.

Although meats and cheese do not raise blood sugar, we do not recommended eating large amounts of high-fat, processed meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and salami. Instead you should choose lean, unprocessed meat and poultry such as chicken breast, fish, lean pork (tenderloin), lean beef, and turkey. Your diet should be balanced with lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.

Veggies must not be forgotten. Salad, greens, cabbage, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus are very low in carbs and provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are difficult to obtain from other foods. Make half your dinner plate veggies and you'll be off to a good start.

I haven't found many people that can follow the very-low-carb diet for the long-term. Remember, diabetes means you should be making a lifestyle change, so it's best to find a healthy eating plan that you can follow forever. That doesn't mean you are going eat perfectly every day, but your diet should be balanced — not just low in carbs.

Try this delicious chicken and rice recipe; it has a nice balance of protein and carbs.

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Last Modified Date: June 21, 2013

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