Nutrition

Eat Balanced by Pairing Your Carbs with Protein

By Lisa Keovongsa
Dietetic Intern

There is a common misconception that once a person is diagnosed with diabetes they need to cut out all carbs. This is not the case! Carbohydrates are very important because they serve as the main fuel source for the body and give the brain and muscles the energy needed to carry out daily activities. Carbs, protein, and fat all play essential roles and can be incorporated into your meals and snacks to keep you feeling your best. Also, eating carbs with protein at every meal will help manage your blood sugar and help your body best utilize the nutrients in your food.

Carbohydrate Foods
Many foods with carbohydrates raise blood sugar.  Eating carbohydrate with a protein or fat can keep your blood sugar steady.  Foods with carbohydrates include:

 Starchy vegetables*/legumes:  Pumpkin, squash, all potatoes, yucca, beans, corn

Dairy: Milk, yogurt

Grains: Breads, pastas, tortillas, rice, crackers/snack chips, cereals, quinoa

Fruit: Apples, oranges, pears, bananas, mangoes

*Non-starchy vegetables have fewer carbohydrates.  Examples of non-starchy vegetables include: Carrots, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, any leafy green, cucumbers

Protein Foods
There are many options when it comes to eating protein. These foods include meats, poultry, eggs, fish, cheese, cottage cheese, nuts, nut butter, and tofu.

Why do we need to eat protein with carbs?
During digestion, the food we eat gets broken down into simple sugars that are delivered to our muscles and liver through the bloodstream.  Insulin is the “key” that “unlocks the gate” for sugar to leave the blood and enter the cells. When someone with diabetes eats large portions of carbohydrate-rich foods, too much sugar is released into the blood stream and, because there’s either not enough insulin or they have insulin resistance, their body is unable to use this sugar for energy effectively.  This can cause high blood sugar, which, if it happens consistently over time, can lead to complications.  Proteins (and fats) take longer to digest than carbs, so eating protein along with the carb slows down digestion in the stomach and absorption in the intestines. This will help slow the rate of sugar entering the bloodstream, keeping blood sugars steady and preventing blood sugar spikes (and crashes).  Check your blood sugars 2 hours after a meal to see the effects.

Snack Ideas
Pair one item from the protein list with an item on the carbs list to make a balanced snack that will keep your blood sugar in check:

Protein                                                 Carbs

Handful of nuts                                 Whole fruit (apple, ½ banana)

1 cup Greek yogurt                           5 Whole wheat crackers

2 Deli turkey slices                           1 whole grain tortilla

1 oz beef jerky                                  1 oz whole wheat pretzels

Hard-boiled egg                                1 cup regular yogurt

½ cup cottage cheese                       ¼ cup granola

1 tbsp Peanut butter                        3 cups popcorn

2 Tbsp Hummus                               ½ cup dried fruit

1 oz cheese                                       1 cup raw vegetables

Post content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE

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