• Ariel Warren, RDN, CDCES

The 3 Types of Carbs and What They Do to Your Blood Sugar...

Let’s talk about how to accurately count carbohydrates. With any diabetics, carbohydrates are always a topic of concern.

With diabetes, carbohydrates is always a topic of concern. Low carb,moderate carb, high carb (especially during the holidays). As diabetics, lowering the carbs can be an effective way to have more normalized blood sugars, but we have to know how to count them. Even the ones we don’t think have any carbs.

Carb counting can be a little tricky, but with a few tools, carb counting can be a breeze.

First with the basics...


What Are Carbohydrates? Carbohydrates (AKA carbs) are one of the three major macronutrients (or building blocks) that make up all of the foods you eat. The other two key players are protein and fat (but we will give those the lime light at a later time). What you need to know is that every major nutrient plays an important role in our bodies, which is why balance is key for a healthy and maintainable diet. Key word being maintainable. Often times, carbohydrates are deomonized for possibly causing uncontrollable blood sugars, and/or weight gain. Many of you may or currently have experienced a very low carb diet (such as the Ketogenic diet). My own personal beliefs are that severely cutting out any macronutrient (such as carbs) is definitey doabe, and can give beneficial results, but can be extremely difficult to continue to do long-term. Therefore, I feel that carbohydrates can be limited for better blood sugar and weight loss, but that does not mean to take out all carbs. Personally, I love fruit too much for that. I'm a huge frozen berries and crisp apple with a spoonful of peanut butter fan. Again, it's about what works for you. If you operate better on a little carbs, than I can help you figure out how many you need, and how to keep that balance for better blood sugar and weight loss, while balancing your exercise habits and the daily exertions of your day-to-day activities.

No matter what, carbs are super sneaky. There are everywhere! Did you know there is about 8 grams of net carbs in a head of romaine lettuce (21 total carbs = 13 g of fiber = 8g net carbs). That may seem small, but all of these sneaky carbs you thought you didn't have to account for, well, they add up. Which brings me to the point of this post...

Before we dive in, I provided a nutrition label below with instructions on how to read it, just to make sure we are on the same page.

Reading a Nutrition Label:

NOTE: Remember, that we are looking at the TOTAL carbohydrate number. Which is a combination of three types of carbohydrate -- starch, sugar and fiber.


1. Fiber-->

Fiber is a complex carb that is only found in plant foods (i.e. whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, etc). Fiber is not found in animal products (such as meat, eggs, dairy) because fiber is found in the bulking part that gives structure inside of plant cell walls. What's so great about fiber is that it can help you become more regular from uncomfortable constipation, and it may reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar, obesity, high cholesterol, colorectal cancer, and heart disease. Fiber is the only type of carbohydrate that your body cannot digest, so it doesn't provide energy or increase blood sugar levels (win-win for diabetics trying to lose weight). If you are counting carbohydrates, you can subtract half of the amount of fiber from the total carbohydrates. But I wouldn't recommend this if the food you are eating has less than 5 grams of fiber per serving.

Total dietary fiber intake should be 25 - 30 grams a day (from food, not supplements). Currently, adults in the U.S. eat about 15 grams a day on average, which is about half of the recommendation (3).

As a dietitian, I always encourage fiber to my clients who are trying to get better blood sugars and/or trying to lose weight. To me. fiber is the magical natural pill. And it can be so easy to add to your diet. Just make sure to always include some type of veggie and/or fruit with a peel at every meal/snack.

If you are counting carbohydrates, you can subtract half the amount of fiber from the total carbohydrate but only if the food contains 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. The percent daily value for fiber is 25 grams per day for a 2,000-calorie diet (2).

2. Sugar-->

Holy cow, there are so many types of sugar. Which only makes it more difficult to track. If you are having a hard time by looking at the ingredient label, just check out the nutrition label to see how much sugar the food contains. Several types of sugar exist, such as sucrose, fructose and lactose, which are the scientific names for table, fruit and milk sugar. Sugar is the simplest type of carbohydrate and, unlike fiber, your body breaks it down easily which increases blood sugar by converting the sugar into energy. In food, sugar can either be natural or added, but currenlty, nutriiton labels do not make a distinction between the two (2). Not to rain on your day, but those dried cranberries you thought were a healthy sweet treat...they are actually packed with added sugar. But it's all about moderation right? Think of cranberries as sugar tablets with some extra antioxidants.

note ON Sugar Alcohols-->

Manufacturers commonly use sugar alcohols -- chemically-altered plant carbohydrates -- as sweeteners and sugar substitutes because they do not affect blood sugar to no where near regular sugar and starches. When a food contains sugar alcohols, the total carbohydrate amount includes the sugar alcohols in addition to starch, fiber and sugar. Common sugar alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol (2).

Basically, if a word contains -itol at the end, you can almost bet it is a sugar alcohol. BUT, just because a food is "sugar-free" does NOT automatically make a food "carb-free". Remember that. Same with gluten. I had a dear friend who thought that gluten-free bread meant it was "carb-free"...let's just say, his hBa1c was significantly reduced when we cleared up that confusion. When in doubt, check the nutrition label.

3. starch-->

Now when you think of starch, think complex carbs. When eating a well-balanced diet, the majority of your carbs should come from starchy foods (aka not added sugars). Starch carbs are carbs that are linked together, so are not as easily digested into glucose which easily spikes your blood sugar.

figuring out WHICH FOODS HAVE carbs:

• Breads, cereals, and grains

• Crackers and snacks

• Dried beans, peas, and lentils (though they have a lot of fiber and protein)

• Fruits (even though it's "natural" sugar)

• Milk and yogurt (not all are treated equal)

• Nonstarchy vegetables (yep, even those count when you eat a lot)

• Starchy vegetables

• Sweets, desserts, sweetened drinks, juices, and regular soda

Works Cited.

1) Ann Constance, MA, RD, CDE, et al. “Lily: Diabetes.” My Carbohydrate Guide, Lilly USA, LLC 2015. Nov. 2015, pp. 3–11.

2) Arielle Kamps, MSc, RD. “The Difference Between Total Carbs, Fiber & Sugars.” Healthy Eating, SF Gate, healthyeating.sfgate.com/difference-between-total-carbs-fiber-sugars-3267.html. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.

(3) “Increasing Fiber Intake.” UCSF Medical Center, The Regents of The University of California, www.ucsfhealth.org/education/increasing_fiber_intake/. Accessed 20 Sept. 2017.

#diabetes #diabetic #carbohydrates #diet #weightloss #bloodsugar #A1c