In addition to any prescribed medication, a diabetic's treatment plan should entail taking a look at which foods are a part of his or her diet, Albright says. A good goal for diabetics is to have 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate at each meal; the ideal amount may vary depending on the person, so it's important to discuss with your healthcare provider the level of carbohydrate that is right for you. Managing cholesterol and blood pressure is also essential.
Carb counting has become popular not only among diabetics. So-called low-carb diets, such as the Atkins, Zone, and Protein Power diets, have been touted for weight loss. Promoters of these diets contend that if carbs increase blood sugar and insulin levels and lead to weight gain, then limiting carbs should lower blood sugar and insulin levels, in turn leading to weight loss. Indeed, some people do shed pounds while on low-carb diets, but it probably isn't related to insulin or blood sugar levels, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic.
And just as there are many options for weight loss, counting carbs isn't the only method used to help diabetics manage their conditions. The plate method, for example, involves planning a meal by drawing an imaginary line down your plate to separate food groups; another option is a low-glycemic diet, which entails mainly eating foods like nuts, pasta, beans, peas, and lentils. It's all about finding the method that works best for that particular person, experts say. "The effort is worth it," Albright says. "This is a disease that requires effort to live successfully with."
Here are four tips for counting carbs:
1. Talk with your doctor or dietitian about how much insulin "covers" a particular amount of carbs. A good rule of thumb is one unit of insulin per 15 grams of carbohydrate, but that varies by person. Once you've done this, you're ready to get started. For each meal, add all carbs in the food you plan to eat. Then take enough insulin to process that amount of carbohydrate.
2. Know which foods contain carbs. But remember: A diabetic diet doesn't have to totally exclude certain foods, but "there are big differences in [which foods] we would encourage on a daily basis and those we'd advise to eat sparingly," McLaughlin says. In general, avoid regularly eating products that don't contain many nutrients, such as sugar-sweetened drinks or foods that contain a lot of refined sugar in small portions; fudge is an example.
3. Read food labels. Measure and weigh your food, and be aware of portion sizes. Distribute carb intake through several feedings throughout the day to prevent elevated post-meal blood sugar readings.
4. Choose foods that are rich in nutrients, high in fiber, low in fat, and high in naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
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