Having diabetes doesn’t necessarily mean that you need special foods. A general, heart healthy diet with special attention to carbohydrates is all most people with diabetes need. All foods can be eaten in moderation, but it is important to know how many carbohydrates are in a serving of different foods. We are here to help you along the way. Are you looking for something in particular, or do you have a specific question? Please ask. It will be our pleasure to serve you!
What is the Glycemic Index?Artificial SweetenersCarbohydrates and FiberHidden Names for SugarYour Guide to SweetenersAdditional ResourcesFrequently Asked Questions
What is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index, or GI, measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. A food with a high GI raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium or low GI. Fat and fiber tend to lower the GI of a food, while cooked or processed foods tend to have a higher GI. For example, think whole grains rather than refined grains, whole fruit rather than fruit juice and steel cut oats rather than instant oatmeal. Many nutritious foods have a higher GI than foods with little nutritional value. Meal planning with the GI involves choosing foods that have a low or medium GI. If eating a food with a high GI, you can combine it with low GI foods to help balance the meal. Since the stomach empties more slowly when it has protein to breakdown, adding a little protein to a carbohydrate-based meal or stack can lower the GI value of your meal. Lastly, including a little healthy fat can also lower a food’s GI, as fat molecules slow down digestion.
Artificial sweeteners are also called low-calorie sweeteners, sugar substitutes or non-nutritive sweeteners. They can be used to sweeten food and drinks for less carbohydrates and calories when they replace sugars. Individuals with diabetes may benefit from using artificial sweeteners in place of sugar, as artificial sweeteners can help curb cravings for something sweet without affecting blood sugar. The sweetening power of artificial sweeteners is over 100 times more intense than regular sugar, so only a small amount is needed. There are five artificial sweeteners that have been tested and approved the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K), aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and neotame. For brand names and more information on these artificial sweeteners, please refer to the “Know Your Sweeteners”.
All of the artificial sweeteners listed above, with the exception of aspartame, cannot be broken down by the body. They pass through our digestive system without being broken down, so they do not provide any calories. Artificial sweeteners are used by food companies to make diet drinks, baked goods, candy, light yogurt and chewing gum. They can also be purchased to use as table top sweeteners in coffee and tea. Some are also available in “granular” versions, which can be used in cooking and baking.
While not an artificial sweetener, Stevia is a highly purified product that comes from the stevia plant and is several hundred times sweeter than sugar. Stevia does not contain any carbohydrates or calories; therefore, it does not affect blood sugar. Stevia is generally recognized as safe as a food additive and table top sweetener by the FDA, making it another safe alternative to sugar for individuals with diabetes.
Carbohydrates and Fiber
The Nutrition Facts Panel is a useful tool in determining how many carbohydrates and fiber are in a food. It’s best to look at grams of total carbohydrate rather than just grams of sugar. Total carbohydrate on the label includes sugar, complex carbohydrates and fiber. The grams of sugar and fiber are counted as part of the grams of total carbohydrate. Fiber is part of plant foods that is partially digested or not digested by the body. Dried beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains area all good sources of fiber. If a food has 5 grams or more fiber in a serving, subtract half the fiber grams of the total grams of carbohydrate for a more accurate estimate of carbohydrate content, since fiber is not broken down into glucose.
Hidden Names for Sugar
The ingredients list in the Food Label is listed in descending order with the largest amount by weight listed first. If a sugar is among the first ingredients listed, or there are many different types of sugar listed, the food product most likely has a lot of added sugar. Although sugar is a readily available form of energy, it does not provide additional nutrition, thus the term “empty calories”. A good rule of thumb is to limit products that contain high amounts of added sugars. Below is a list of names for added sugars to look for in the ingredients list:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Your Guide to Sweeteners
All of these sweeteners are deemed safe for consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and do not contain any carbohydrates or calories.
- American Diabetes Association
- The Diabetic Skillet
- University of Illinois Extension Recipes for Diabetes