By Laura Stepp, MA RD LD CDE at LMC
We hear it all the time “I’m on a low carb diet” or “I don’t eat carbs”. We see it in the news and on social media. Are carbohydrates good or bad, do we choose them, avoid them or limit them?
What really is a carbohydrate? A Carbohydrate is a macronutrient and major energy source in our diet coming from plants. Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates are fast and easy for the body to digest. Although in some situations this is good, people with diabetes or those interested in losing or maintaining weight loss want to choose complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are intact and whole foods: Whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are higher in FIBER.
If we all need carbohydrates to fuel our bodies, why do we hear about low carbohydrate diets? Highly processed foods (foods that are prepackaged, premade, fast foods) are generally low in fiber (and often high in sugar and calories) making it easier for us to over indulge which could result in too many total calories, weight gain and high blood sugar for someone with diabetes.
In general, all foods in moderation can fit into a healthy diet. For people with diabetes, moderating and portion controlling carbohydrates — especially starchy carbohydrates and fruit — and choosing higher fiber versions not only helps improve and balance blood sugar but may also help with weight loss.
Lower Fiber starches and fruits: White pasta, white bread, white rice, French fries, fruit juice, dried fruit and desserts
A standard serving of carbohydrates is equal to 15 grams if reading a food label and a higher fiber choice is equal to 4 grams of fiber or more per serving. If there is no label, then measuring ½ cup cooked or using the palm of your hand (no fingers) is a good general guide for a serving of carbohydrates. For most people, 60 grams or four servings of carbohydrates is a normal and reasonable meal plan. Here is an example I use with my clients to show how much food can equal 60 grams.
3-4 oz skinless turkey
1 cup cooked butternut squash (1 choice)
1-2 cups cooked vegetable (not corn, peas or beans) (0-1 choice)
1 large green salad (oil & vinegar dressing)
1 palm size whole fruit (1 choice)
1 cup of milk or yogurt (1 choice)
This meal plan comes from the Diabetes Care and Education dietetic practice group of the American Dietetic Association
By using the above example as a template for preparing our own plates this holiday season, we will all be eating a very colorful and filling plant based meal.