Carbohydrates and Diabetes: what, when and how much?

What are Carbs?

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that provides our body with energy and the fuel to think, move and function effectively day to day. Other macronutrients include protein, fat and alcohol.

Carbohydrates are the main fuel that affect our blood glucose levels (BGLs) and they can be either rich in starches or sugars or both.

Foods rich in starches Foods rich in sugars
Potatoes Sugar
Sweet potatoes Honey
Corn Ice cream
Yams Lollies
Legumes eg chickpeas, kidney beans Biscuits
Rice Cakes
Noodles Soft drinks
Pasta Breakfast liquid drinks
Breads Cereal bars
Pastries Fruit juice
Cereals Dried fruit
Biscuits Fresh fruit
Cakes Milk
Breakfast liquid drinks Yoghurt
Cereal bars Custard
fruit
The best types

We find carbohydrates in all five food groups which the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend we eat every day. These ‘healthy’ carbohydrates provide sustainable energy and a variety of nutrients we need for good health, making them better choices.

Research suggests the best types of carbohydrates for maintaining even BGLs, controlling appetite and assisting with weight loss are higher in fibre and low in glycemic index (GI). To learn more visit the Diabetes NSW website, the Glycemic Index Foundation and Baker IDI.

Not-so-healthy carbohydrate-rich foods contain mostly ‘added sugar’ such as lollies, regular soft drink, cakes, biscuits and ice cream. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating classifies these as ‘sometimes’ foods and ‘discretionary extras’ as a way of encouraging us to limit our intake.

How much should we eat?

The amount of carbohydrate we need and our individual energy requirements are influenced by our age, gender, activity levels and illnesses. Whilst general guidance can be given, one size certainly does not fit all.

Eating from the five food groups in the recommended amounts is a good guide for achieving nutritional fitness.  To learn more visit: eatforhealth.gov.au.

Nutritional fitness means optimising our nutritional intake so we have all the energy, fibres, vitamins, minerals, essential amino and fatty acids we need to keep healthy and boost our immune system.

Reducing our healthy carbohydrate-rich food intake too much can compromise our nutritional fitness and diabetes management. Likewise, eating carbohydrates at one end of the day and avoiding them at the other end, does not lead to stable and healthy BGLs, nor will this eating pattern lead to sustainable energy throughout the day.

To learn about your individual needs and how to get the timing and amount right for you, we recommend consulting with an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

To find an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) call the Diabetes NSW Customer Care Line on 1300 342 238 or a representative from the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) on 1800 812 942.

Carbs and Diabetes