In people with type 2 diabetes, the body doesn't produce enough insulin or it doesn't respond to it as well as it should. Understanding how the body uses foods, especially carbohydrates, can help us to manage our blood glucose levels.
Carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels very quickly. That's why diabetics need to understand which carbs are "better", so blood sugar "spikes" are avoided. Different carbs affect blood sugar in different ways. The more carbs you eat, the higher your blood sugar levels will be.
There are two types of carbohydrates - simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are readily available in sweets but also fruit and milk. These carbs are readily broken down by the body when they are eaten and the sugar is quickly absorbed. It is this fast absorption that can cause blood sugar to "spike", especially if you eat a lot of foods that contain simple carbs.
Complex carbohydrates are those which are found in starchy food products. These include whole grain breads, pasta, oatmeal, and some vegetables and beans. These carbohydrates take longer to digest and release glucose more slowly, and over a longer period of time. This helps to keep your blood sugar levels steadier.
Generally, refined or processed food products will break down faster and cause your blood sugar to rise more quickly. Because you want to prevent wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels, complex carbohydrates are your friends, and you can balance them by adding proteins and some fats to your meals.
The glycemic index (GI) and the Diabetic Food Pyramid (see below) are both tools you can use to help plan your diet.
The Diabetic Food Pyramid allows for:
Note that a "serving" will mean something different for every category - for instance, 1 slice of bread is a "serving" of grains/starches, while 1 cup of raw veggies is also a "serving".
A dietitian or nutritionist can help you figure out a good diet based on your individual needs. Most people find it easier to stick with an eating plan long-term if it also allows for foods they enjoy. An overly-restrictive diet that's too difficult to follow can cause people to drop out quickly. Once your eating plan is in place, be sure to follow it even though it may be difficult at first (as any lifestyle change can be). A proper diet is an important part of successfully managing diabetes. Carbs do affect insulin release so understanding what you should and should not eat is vital to your health.
Exercise is also an important component in a diabetes treatment plan. A combination of regular exercise and a healthy, nutritious diet will keep you feeling your best.