So you’ve decided to try the low-carb lifestyle to help manage your diabetes. Great choice! It’s been shown to help lessen symptoms and keep blood sugar levels under control.
But the term “low-carb” can be confusing because it’s so vague. What exactly does it mean? What’s the right number of carbohydrates to eat per day when you’re living with diabetes?
Annoyingly, there’s no magic number of carbohydrates that will get rid of your symptoms and make you feel your best. Everyone tolerates carbs differently, and the amount you need can change day to day, depending on factors like your activity level.
Before you make any drastic changes to your diet, talk to your doctor or dietitian to figure out a method that will work for your life in the long term.
But we’re not gonna leave you hanging. There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but you can use simple strategies to monitor your carb intake and determine what foods make you feel your best.
As we said, it varies by person, but the average person with diabetes gets 40 to 45 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Some very low-carbohydrate diet plans may contain half this amount per day.
Starting slowly and steadily lowering your carb intake will help you avoid feeling fatigued or overwhelmed by the lifestyle change.
JK — it’s not even close to 50. To get an understanding of what carb restriction looks like, it’s important to know the difference between the two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
Simple carbs have a very basic molecular structure that requires minimal processing by your body before it hits your bloodstream. This category includes raw sugars and even unsweetened 100 percent fruit juices.
Complex carbs have a more intricate molecular makeup, so they take longer for your body to convert into sugar. These include whole grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole fruits. Complex carbs contain essential nutrients such as vitamins and fiber.
In general, eating whole, minimally processed foods will lower your intake of simple and refined carbohydrates, which can help eliminate blood sugar spikes.
When you decide to start eating low-carb, know that while a decrease in carbohydrates can help regulate your blood sugar, you need to do it the right way (it’s all about balance, man).
How you do it is totally up to you. Some studies have shown that the ketogenic diet (20 to 50 grams of carbs per day) is the best way to control diabetes symptoms, but others have favored more moderate carb restriction (90 to 130 grams per day).
It’s important to note that critics of the keto diet say it’s not sustainable in the long term and can increase your risk of heart disease (among other conditions) when not followed appropriately.
The takeaway is that while keto can have lots of great benefits — weight loss, reduced diabetes symptoms, lower blood pressure — it isn’t all bacon strips and cheese sticks.
Whatever approach you choose, the glycemic index can help you put together low-carb meals. And remember, it’s best to consult your doctor or a dietitian to create a customized meal plan that meets your needs and goals.
The easiest way to manage your daily carb intake is to pay attention to the number of carbs you’re eating and when you’re consuming them.
Chat with your doc about your exact number. In general, women will want to stick to 30 to 45 grams per meal and men to 45 to 60 grams per meal.
Apps like MyFitnessPal allow you to input everything you’ve eaten throughout the day and see a full nutrition profile, so you can get an idea of where your carbs, protein, and fat are coming from.
Or you can choose a calculator specifically designed for people with diabetes, like Fooducate or BG Monitor Diabetes. If you’re feeling ambitious, write it all down in a daily food journal.
This will help you know exactly how many carbs you’re eating and give you a better idea of which high-carb foods you’re consuming most often.
Once you’re in the groove of logging and tracking carbs, don’t forget to make time to plan meals ahead so you can avoid high-carb foods and prevent those annoying french fry cravings.
Generally, the foods with the highest carbohydrate counts are grains, starchy vegetables, sugar, and processed foods.
Low-carb foods include leafy vegetables, lean meats, dairy, oils, nuts, and seeds. These foods won’t spike your blood sugar and will help your energy levels feel more even throughout the day, especially when eaten consistently at every meal.
Start by seeing where you can limit your carbohydrate consumption. If you’re regularly eating simple carbs, like sugary cereal, white bread, or other processed foods, try cutting back to see how you feel.
It’s important to remember that limiting carbs doesn’t mean starving yourself — whenever you cut something out, you’ll want to replace it with a high-quality, lower-carb food to keep yourself satisfied.
Unsure where to begin? Here’s what an average day of low-carb eating might look like.
Start your day with scrambled eggs and avocado on whole-grain toast, topped with some cheddar cheese if you tolerate dairy. Make your coffee bulletproof to add flavor without a morning sugar bomb.
You can keep your daily work sandwich routine by swapping the bread for lettuce leaves. You can also pack veggie sticks, cheese cubes, Greek yogurt, or mixed nuts to snack on.
Craving sweetness without the carb load? Pair a spoonful of nut butter with a low-glycemic fruit like berries or an apple.
Your low-carb cooking options are endless. Make a taco bowl without the shell, using cauliflower rice instead of the grain. Bake spaghetti squash into a casserole or use it as a sub for pasta. You can even use thick slices of sautéed zucchini as buns for a burger.
Whatever you’re craving, you can find a low-carb version that tastes just as delicious.
Bonus: Here’s a diabetes-friendly shopping list, snack list, and drink list if you need more ideas for cutting out carbs.
Here are some of the most common high-carb foods along with easy low-carb substitutions. You’ll barely notice you’ve changed your diet (except that you’ll feel amazing, obviously).
Bread: Substitute lettuce leaves, portobello mushroom slices, or low-carb tortillas.
Rice: Substitute riced cauliflower or broccoli.
Pasta: Substitute spaghetti squash, chickpea pasta, or spiralized zucchini.
Chips: Substitute cucumber slices, carrots, or kale chips.
Pizza: You can make a low-carb crust out of cauliflower. Yes, we’re serious… and yes, it’s life-changing.
Treats: Just because you’re cutting down on processed foods doesn’t mean you have to give up dessert. Make cheesecake mousse, avocado brownies, or sugar-free dark chocolate bark when your sweet tooth hits.
In the best way possible, of course. While the meal plan above makes a great guideline, what you eat will come down to what makes your body feel good.
Every person has slightly different daily carb needs, depending on their body fat, amount of daily exercise, and insulin levels. While experimenting with eating fewer carbs is great, don’t dive headfirst into a diet you won’t be able to sustain.
Living that low-carb life (#LCL) can keep your blood sugar levels more consistent and help you deal with your diabetes naturally.
While there’s no perfect solution for everyone, you can get a better idea of how many carbs you need to cut by tracking your daily food consumption to learn more about where your nutrients are coming from.
Talk to your doctor or dietitian about whether eating lower-carb could help improve your blood sugar levels — and if so, how many carbs you need. They can look at your body composition and lifestyle to determine a meal plan that will make you feel your best.
Once you’ve done this, try making simple swaps in your diet (like eating eggs instead of cereal for breakfast) to lower your carb intake and see how you feel.
Track your blood sugar, keep your main
chick doc in the loop, and course-correct as needed. Finally, enjoy the benefits of #LCL living. You got this!