Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Back to Basics: Diabetes & Carbs

"Diabetes is a carb issue," the diabetic nutritionist said. And although excess body fat does plays an influential role role in the development of Type 2 diabetes, I believe this is why I have high blood sugar. I love my carbs and maintaining a slim physique couldn't save me.

The past couple of weeks I've been indulging in foods that are diabetic no-nos and I'm starting to feel the affects. When my sugar is too high, I get moody, anxious, feel thirsty all the time and subsequently feel the need to wee all the time. These are all signs of high blood sugar (and what led to me to the doctors) and it's really annoying.

So I've been referring back to my diabetes notes, which I keep handy to remind me of the basics when I go off track. It's a combination of research, my own conclusions and a great session with a diabetic nutritionist. She gave me some helpful tips on eating carbohydrates for example she said I should aim for 15-30 grams of carbs per meal and there are four types of carbs: fruitstarchesmilk & yogurt, and dessert. I wanted to share this because I find it really interesting and maybe you will too. 

Milk & Yogurt

This really surprised me because I thought dairy was low carb, but milk and yogurt are high in sugar. It's called lactose and one cup of milk has 12 grams of carbs and to put this into perspective, one teaspoon of table sugar has 4 grams of carbs. I never drank glasses of milk, but I used to guzzle lattes and sometimes I would drink 3-4 per day. Here's the thing, a small latte is made with a cup of milk and that's an additional 36 grams of sugar I didn't realize I was consuming.

A little pot of plain yogurt also has 12 grams of sugar, but flavored yogurt is way worse. A pot of Activia or Chobani fruit yogurt has at least 19-20 grams of sugar each and that's a lot of sugar in one go. The nutritionist did say the only exception to this yogurt=carbs rule was Greek yogurt. It's very high in protein which slows down the digestion of the sugars in the yogurt. A cup of Greek yogurt has 20-23 grams of protein, compared to natural yogurt which only has 9 grams of protein. It also tends to be lower in sugar, except for flavored Greek yogurt which has more sugar and less protein than the plain stuff.

So my take on this is that if I crave yogurt, I try to eat it before or after a workout because carbs are really important when working out and will amp up my fat burn. I'll also have it before I'm about to step out and run around and as a snack with flaxseeds or raw nuts to increase the fiber, fat and protein content. All of which will slow down the digestion of the sugars. Unfortunately, Rio doesn't sell real, plain Greek yogurt. All the Greek yogurt is sweetened and it's nutritional content resembles that of flavored natural yogurt.


All fruits are a healthy part of a diabetic diet and anywhere between 2-4 servings is good. There are a lot of myths and misinterpreted nutrition on certain fruits, mainly tropical fruits like coconuts and watermelon. Coconuts are high in saturated fat, but it's natural occurring and it's chemical make-up is very different from saturated cheese fat. Coconut is not bad, it's fat won't make you fat, and in fact it is loaded with goodness. Tropical fruits like pineapple and watermelon get a bad rap because they are high GI, but truth is they have a low impact on blood sugar because they are rich with water and fiber.

So my take on this is it's sad when people avoid fruit on low-carb diets or certain types of fruits. The Western world is not suffering from obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes because people binge on fruit. I mean just look at Banana Girl...not that I agree with this diet although I find it fascinating. I will admit it's easier to eat more fruit then vegetables throughout the day and so it's good to have a balance. Sometimes I mix fruit with seeds and nuts to balance out the sugar load or eat my fruits around my workout.


When I think of starches the usual suspects come to mind: bread, grains, potatoes, cereal and pasta. However, I learned that starchy vegetables are more than just potatoes and also include green peas, carrots, pumpkin and beets. They are rich with vitamins, minerals and fiber, but it's important to mix them up with non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens which I don't always do. Also cooking starchy vegetables breaks them down, making their sugars more easily digested and spiking blood sugar.

The diabetic nutritionist advised me to avoid cold cereals, especially my beloved granola. I mentioned how I was experimenting with gluten-free pasta and she said to absolutely avoid it. Gluten is a protein (not a carb) and gluten-free pasta has a high glycemic load because it's usually made with rice flour or corn flour. It also lacks fiber and protein, especially compared to wholegrain pasta, which is a double whammy for blood sugar.

So my take on this is I've given up my granola and gluten-free pasta, except for the occasional rice vermicelli. I'm trying to eat more non-starchy vegetables and getting more creative with them.


This is an obvious one and needs no nutrition babble.

My take on this is know thyself. For the love of God I cannot control myself when it comes to desserts. My body and mind do not understand the word moderation and thus 15-30 grams just won't do. It's not always easy to avoid desserts, but I pretty much try. Always.

Healthy reads for this post:
Sugar Shockers
What are starchy vegetables?
What does insulin resistance mean?
This is sugar
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