March is National Nutrition Month and to spread awareness about the importance of eating right, iTriage is hosting a series of guest blogs throughout the month. Today we hear from Laura Cipullo, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator, who tells us whether carbohydrates are completely off-limits if you have diabetes.
In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 25.8 million Americans were affected by diabetes. What changes do individuals coping with this widespread disease have to make in their lives? While it’s natural to assume that someone living with diabetes is required to completely avoid carbohydrate-rich foods like pasta, cake and fruit, extreme measures and food avoidance aren’t the answer. It is important, however, to learn how to manage and moderate your carbohydrate intake.
Carbohydrates include both starches and sugars. Starches and sugars make up the foundation of most foods we eat, from candy, cookies and cake to more nutritious items like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and even low fat dairy products.
According to the American Diabetes Association, individuals with diabetes can control their intake of carbohydrates by “carbohydrate counting,” or “carb counting.” This is done by determining the maximum number of carbohydrates a person with diabetes can consume with each meal or snack.
To determine the exact number of carbohydrates required by you or someone you know, make an appointment with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator who can calculate specific carbohydrate needs. The minimum recommended daily amount (RDA) of digestible carbohydrates is 130 grams per day—a number that is based on how many carbohydrates are needed on average to fuel the central nervous system without increasing fat storage
On average, women typically need between 30 and 45 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15 to 20 grams per snack. The average male can consume up to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 30 grams per snack. That means that a woman who is permitted to eat 165 grams of carbohydrates per day can consume 45 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15 grams with each snack. Here’s a sample menu designed to demonstrate how to consume carbohydrates in a balanced and moderate manner.
Breakfast: A whole grain English muffin (30g) with 2 teaspoons of natural peanut butter and half a small orange (15g), totaling roughly 45 grams of carbohydrates.
Lunch: ¾ cup cooked of whole wheat pasta (34g) with 1 cup of cooked broccoli (< 10g); 2 to 3 ounces of fish and olive oil. (When eating pasta, choose whole grains and be sure not to surpass the number of carbohydrates allotted to that meal.)
Midday Snack: The other half of the orange (< 15g) and 8 walnuts.
Dinner: When eating in a restaurant, aim for a portion of fish, like salmon, served with 1 cup of cooked vegetables. Reserve your carbohydrates for this meal and feel free to enjoy your favorite dessert; but be aware of your intake when eating foods like cake (3oz < 45g).
Evening Snack: 1 serving of Greek yogurt (14g).
As you can see, while it is not ideal to consume refined carbohydrates on a regular basis, having diabetes doesn’t prohibit an individual from consuming foods such as pasta, fruit and cake. While the bulk of carbohydrates consumed should be complex by nature, including ingredients such as quinoa, buckwheat and oats, the aforementioned sample menu presents an example of when consuming seemingly forbidden carbohydrates can help to prevent feelings of deprivation and “cheating.”
Ultimately, this is the goal. Managing diabetes can be a life-long pursuit, and it’s one that needs to be approached realistically and with a sense of empowerment. It’s important for individuals living with diabetes to adopt an “I can do this” mindset—one that’s conducive to success rather than frustration and defeat.
To further prevent adverse blood glucose effects, test your blood sugar pre-meal (before eating) and 2 hours post-prandial (after eating). You may learn that whole wheat pasta with turkey meatballs raises your blood sugar less than rice with salmon. That’s because consuming whole grain carbohydrates with lean proteins and healthy fats can often slow the digestion of carbohydrates, offering greater management of blood sugar.
Regardless of a person’s situation, carb counting can be a powerful and effective tool for managing diabetes, allowing one to avoid food deprivation while mastering their blood sugar. If you’re someone who is affected by diabetes, be sure join the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “Get Your Plate In Shape” for National Nutrition Month.
Laura Cipullo, Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, provides sound, ethical nutrition advice to both adults and children. She has held the distinguished positions of Clinical Dietitian for New York–Presbyterian Hospital/ Weill Cornell Medical Center; Nutrition Coordinator for CEDAR Associates in Westchester and Rockland counties; and consultant for the Renfrew Center in both New Jersey and New York. Laura shares her expertise in the nutrition field by providing mentoring services to other registered dietitians and volunteering for food and nutrition causes, including acting as a Food Professional to create a positive food-related experience for the children participating in the American Institute of Wine and Food’s Days of Taste program and volunteering for the nonprofit organization Children for Children, which engages young people in community service. She resides in the West Village in New York City with her husband and children. You can receive free nutrition tips, encouraging a wholesome way of eating that incorporates all foods in moderation, by signing up on Laura’s nutrition blog.