When you eat carbohydrates, proteins and fats, they’re digested and broken down into glucose. This happens to everyone. However, when you’re diabetic, this process of breaking foods down into glucose can cause your blood sugar to spike. The tricky part for diabetics is that each of these food groups are broken down in the body at different rates and therefore affect blood glucose levels differently.
So, which food affects blood glucose levels the most? If you guessed carbohydrates, you’re absolutely right. Your body is capable of breaking down 100% of sugars and starches (two common carbs) into glucose in about two hours. In the past, diabetics were warned not to have any sugar in their diet. But medical researchers now know that both sugar and starch is broken down into glucose at the same speed. The issue has now become not what carb you eat, but the total amount of carbs in your diet. The more carbs you eat, whatever the source, the more your blood glucose levels are affected.
Proteins and fats will affect your blood glucose levels less than carbohydrates. Researchers have been able to determine that only about 50% of protein is eventually broken down into glucose. This process usually takes three to five hours.
Only about five percent to 10% of fat is changed into glucose. It takes your body six to eight hours to do this. However, fat still plays a role in elevating blood glucose. It blocks the action of insulin, speeding up the time it takes for food to travel through your intestines. You’ll want to be careful with fats, because, although your blood sugar may not rise initially, after a few hours, it might spike.
To help diabetics with the complicated job of regulating blood sugar each and every day, a research team decided to review international nutrition recommendations. In particular, they focused their research on carbohydrates and fiber.
The researchers found that for diabetics, moderate-carbohydrate, high-fiber diets, when compared to moderate-carbohydrate, low-fiber diets, are associated with significantly lower values for postprandial (after a meal) glucose, total and LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. High-carbohydrate, high-fiber diets, when compared to moderate-carbohydrate, low-fiber diets, are associated with lower values for: fasting, postprandial and average plasma glucose; hemoglobin; total, LDL and HDL cholesterol; and triglycerides. Low glycemic index diets, compared to high glycemic index diets, are associated with lower fasting plasma glucose values and lower glycated protein values.
What does all of this mean? Based on their analyses, the research team recommends that someone who is diabetic should be encouraged to achieve and maintain a desirable body weight and that their diet should provide these percentages of nutrients: carbohydrates, greater than or equal to 55%; protein, 12%-16%; fat, less than 30%; and monounsaturated fat, 12%-15%. An optimal diabetic diet should also provide 25-50 grams/day of dietary fiber.