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Carbohydrates - How They Impact Diabetes?

Carbohydrates (starches and sugars) are the main nutrients in many foods, and they are very important because they raise your blood glucose. It is more important to know the amount of carbohydrates in your food than to know the amount of sugar. When you see a nutrition label, note that the numbers of sugars are included in the number of carbohydrates. So once you control the carbs you are also controlling the sugars.

Carbohydrates are the body's preferred and main source of fuel or energy. All types of carbohydrates provide the same number of calories: 4 calories per gram. Your body eventually breaks down all carbohydrates into glucose (sugar). Therefore, the total amount of carbohydrates that you eat is more important than where it comes from!

You will find carbohydrates In starch foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, fruits, fruit and in what we call mixed foods such as pizza, calzone, and others.

Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on the blood glucose (sugar) level following a meal or snack. The more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood glucose (sugar) is likely to be.

The body partially converts protein and fat to glucose (sugar), too. But carbohydrates have the greatest effect on your after meal blood glucose (sugar) readings. Many people with diabetes, who take short acting insulin, can learn to adjust their insulin to match their carbohydrate intake. We call this insulin to carbohydrate ratio. One unit of insulin usually covers 10 to 15 grams of carbohydrate. Checking your blood glucose (sugar) two hours after eating is the best way to see if your insulin to carbohydrate ratio is working. But to do the proper calculation you need to know the amount of carbohydrates in all the foods you ate in that meal.

Our service can help you with this calculation. You will be able to search for foods and see their nutrients such as carbohydrates calculated for you according to the portion you select. When you check your sugar two hours after the meal, you can do the correct calculation of carbs/units of insulin.

Many diabetes care experts agree that a goal of 140 mg/dl or less of blood sugar reading is the ideal for your two hour post meal blood glucose (sugar) level.

The table below shows the conversion time for foods to change into glucose. It illustrates why after you eat a slice of pizza that your sugar levels elevate hours after you've digested it. The combination of fats and carbohydrates in pizza is responsible for that rise. The fats delay the rise in sugars as the carbohydrates are still pushing them up. As a result, sugar levels rise 1.5 hours to 4 hours after you eat that slice of pizza.

Type of Food % Converted to Glucose Conversion Time
Carbohydrate 100% 15 to 90 minutes
Protein 58% 3 to 4 hours
Fat 10 - 30% Several hours

How Do I Count Carbohydrates?
There are many tools available to help you count carbohydrates. The best tool is the food label. On the food label, you want to focus on the bold line that shows "Total Carbohydrates."

Remember, your body breaks down all carbohydrates into glucose (sugar). So, you must pay attention to the total amount, not just those that are "sugars." You can also buy books that list the nutritional content of foods including carbohydrates. Or, you can use our Wellness Portal that contains a large database of foods with all their nutrients. You can instantly look up the carbohydrate content of any foods you like or eat.

You can also pick up pamphlets and brochures at restaurants and fast food places that show the nutritional content of their menu items.

Finally, if you are using the exchange system, you can easily convert your exchanges to carbohydrates and you can interchange the starch, fruit, and milk group.


  • Your body turns all carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), so pay attention in the amount of carbs you eat.
  • Carbohydrate counting gives you more flexibility and choices for you day by day meal planning.

Source: Accu-Chek Literature Roche Diagnostics

Adapted by Editorial Staff, July, 2005
Last update, August 2008


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