Carbohydrates have a bad reputation in recent times.  With the new trend of wheat-free, grain-free, low-carb, and gluten-free diets, mixed messages have been sent out to make individuals like you and me think that all carbohydrate-containing foods are bad for us.  However, unless you have a serious condition like celiac disease, which makes you gluten intolerant, or unless you are allergic to wheat or other grains, then such foods are not going to place your health at any danger.  In fact, in moderation, many carbohydrate-containing foods can help stabilize our blood sugar levels if eaten in a healthy way.  Read below for the truth about carbs and how to plan your meals to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

  • Distribute your carbs evenly throughout the day:   In order to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, it is important to distribute your carbohydrate-containing foods throughout the day.  One carbohydrate exchange is equal to about 15 grams of carbohydrate. Therefore a piece of bread, 1/3 cup cooked pasta or rice, 1/2 medium baked potato, 1/2 cup of a starchy vegetable such as corn or peas, or 1 medium piece of fruit, to name a few is equal to one carbohydrate exchange.  Most individuals are recommended to consume between 3-5 carbohydrate exchanges per meal time and 1-2 carbohydrate exchanges 2 hours after meals.  This even distribution prevents your body from being put under pressure to digest too many carbohydrates all at once and allows those carbohydrates to be used efficiently as energy in your body.
  • Pair carbohydrate-containing foods with protein sources: Carbohydrate-containing foods alone can raise blood sugar levels.  However, if you pair such foods with a protein source, you will not only be fuller longer, but you will stabilize your blood sugar levels.  For example, instead of just a piece of whole-wheat toast, spread on a tablespoon of peanut butter; instead of just a bowl of strawberries for a snack, try dicing the strawberries on top of some low-fat yogurt; instead of just eating some blue-corn tortilla chips for a snack, sprinkle on a few tablespoons of low-fat cheddar cheese to add a flavor and protein kick!
  • Stick with fiber-rich carbohydrate-containing foods:    Whole grain breads and pastas, brown and long grain rice,  fruits and vegetables, and beans contain rich sources of fiber that can slow digestion and allow your body to absorb all of the nutrients from your food, thus allowing more time for the carbohydrates in your food to be distributed and used as energy.  Foods such as whole-wheat flour products, wheat germ, nuts, and vegetables contain insoluble fiber that helps to bulk stool and prevent digestive issues such as constipation or irregular bowel movements, which if not resolved can interrupt the movement of waste products out of our bodies and can lead to illness.  Foods such as oats, peas, beans, apples, and carrots, contain soluble fiber that helps to lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels by converting into a gel-like substance in our digestive systems when combined with water, thus slowing down digestion and keeping us fuller longer.
  • Limit or avoid refined and processed starches and sugars: More processed and refined starches and sugars such as white flour-based products such as white breads and pastas, white sugar-containing products such as sweetened juices and colas, white rices, and white potatoes get digested very quickly in our system thus placing our blood sugar levels on a roller coaster ride.  The initial consumption of such food can satisfy us and provide us with energy known as a "sugar high"and in turn, increasing our blood sugar levels. Within about 2-4 hours, however, such foods are digested in our bodies and our energy levels dip down and cause us to feel fatigued and hungry again.  This process, also known as postprandial hypoglycemia, can lead to increased consumption of high-carbohydrate foods to prevent the "low" feeling and in turn, can lead to weight gain and increased risk of developing diabetes, or complicating already established diabetes in the long-term.

So instead of cutting out carbohydrate-containing foods all together, which can be difficult to maintain and make eating more of a chore than a pleasure, just be carb smart!

References: Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health