A common question I was asked in the high-risk diabetes clinic was, “I don’t eat any carbs all day long, and even still my blood sugars are high the next morning. What am I doing wrong?”
The answer, however odd it seems, is that you’re eating too few carbohydrates.
“How can this be?” You ask. “That makes no sense at all.”
Let me explain.
To really understand what’s going on, we need to step back and look at how the body functions. When we eat carbohydrate (foods like bread, rice, pasta, etc), our body breaks it down into sugar to use as energy. We all have sugar in our blood. We need sugar in our blood. Our brains think with sugar, and our muscles move around using sugar. It’s the body’s preferred energy source. It’s gas in the car; it’s our fuel.
The issue with diabetes is that we have too much sugar in our blood. So one important way to keep blood sugar levels balanced is to reduce the amount of food we eat that turns to sugar, and not take it totally out.
Because we rely on sugar for fuel, our bodies don’t function optimally if we completely eliminate carbohydrate.
Now, back to the main question: “Why are my fasting blood sugars always high?”
Some sugar coming into your blood is how your brain knows you’ve eaten. If you don’t eat carbohydrate all day long, you have no sugar coming into your blood, and your brain thinks you’re hungry.
Well, your body planned ahead for such a time a this. “Oh!” your brain exclaims, “We haven’t eaten today. Here you go body, have some fuel!” And your brain tells your liver to release stored sugar into your blood.
And before you know it, BAM, you’ve got high blood sugar- when you didn’t even eat any carbohydrate at all.
For good diabetes management, it’s really about creating a balance of sugar in the blood, not completely taking it out.
So what do you eat? How do you prevent high fasting blood sugar?
The answer is to eat small amounts of carbohydrate, paired with protein and fiber, every 3 hours or so. As a starting point, you’re looking for 45 grams of carbohydrate per meal along with a cup of non-starchy vegetables, and 2-3 ounces of protein. (Read here for more on portion sizes.) For a snack, pair 15 grams of carbohydrate with 1 ounce of protein. Everyone is different, so use the above carbohydrate recommendations as a guide to get started.
How do you know if you ate a healthy amount of carbs? Check your blood sugar. Two hours after you eat, your sugars should be under 180. If they are, then give yourself a pat on the back! You ate the perfect amount of carbs.
For bedtime snacks, you can go up to 30 grams of carbohydrate paired with protein. They should be timed so that there is no longer than 10 hours between the bedtime snack and breakfast the next morning. For example, if you have your bedtime snack at 9pm, you want to eat breakfast by 7am the next day.
Eating small amounts of carbohydrate paired with fiber and protein allows your body to get the sustained release of fuel it needs and prevents high fasting blood sugar. Combinations are very important for diabetes management- even if you eat just 15 grams of carbohydrate with no protein or fiber (4oz juice for example), your blood sugars will still spike and then crash in less than an hour. Including protein and fiber at each meal and snack is essential for even distribution of sugar into your blood.
Bottom line: Intake of carbohydrate, protein, and fiber at regular intervals prevents high fasting blood sugar. It stops your liver from putting stored sugar in your blood because your brain thinks you’re hungry.
Be sure to check out these low carbohydrate recipes: Mediterranean Chicken in Red Wine, Authentic Mexican Chile Rellenos, and Quick and Easy Turkey Ragu!
Questions? Want a personally tailored meal plan or sample snacks? Feel free to contact me! I am available for individual consultations.
Nothing on this website should be considered advice or diagnosis. This content is for educational purposes only and not a substitute for personal, professional medical care or diagnosis. You are urged to consult your primary care provider regarding any health condition or issue.