EDITOR'S NOTE: Living a healthier lifestyle is a truly global ambition. With that in mind, meet Dr. Racha Sankar. She operates a bariatric center in Damascus, Syria but earned her degree in diet and nutrition at Florida International University. Our worldly friend is here with a blog about carbs and diabetes. Welcome Racha!
As a nutritional consultant working in the field of obesity and its related diseases, I often hear tales of frustration like:
"I have not eaten rice, pasta and bread for the past three months... still I cannot control my blood sugar!"
"When we have vegetable soup, I do not eat potatoes pieces. And I eat whole wheat bread instead of white... yet my blood sugar is not getting any better!"
If you are a diabetic, you have to be aware of everything you eat rather than focusing on specific foods to avoid or to eat.
Just imagine that a diabetic eating pattern is like a puzzle. Every dietary step takes a space until the puzzle is done. At my clinic, when I meet a diabetic person, the first thing I do after getting his/her daily eating habits is to discuss carbohydrates -- the whats, hows, and whens.
Sometimes, carbohydrate can seem confusing. There is so much information coming at you from so many sources.
I always start by saying the circle of carbohydrate consists of 5 blocks: Complex, Simple, Fiber, Sugar and Starch.
Ready to make sense of these blocks? Good... let's give it a try!
Grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables all contain some carbohydrate. Each of these food groups has other nutrients too.
Let's talk about complex and simple carbohydrate.
When we say complex and simple carbohydrate, we are talking about the grain group. When harvested, grains have 3 layers: bran, germ and endosperm. When grains go under processing, the outer layers are removed leaving the inner layer, endosperm, by itself.
If a grain product is a whole grain, nothing is removed. This is known as a complex carbohydrate. When it is called a "white grain or refined grain" it has become a simple carbohydrate.
NOTE: The bran layer provides us with minerals and vitamin B. The germ layer has an essential fatty acid and vitamin E.
Okay, now it is time to discuss starch, fiber and sugar.
Despite what you may think, it doesn't have to be a headache for the diabetic. Not if you employ my 5-principle plan of action.
Principle1: Mix and Match!
Starch is the carbohydrate content in each of dairy products, grains (complex and simple), fruits and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, peas, beans, lentils and corn.
Recent studies showed that total amount of carbohydrate is much important than the type of it. But complex carbohydrate is such a smarter choice.
The first priority of controlling your blood sugar is to lose weight.
But don't panic about a total diet change just yet. You can mix 2 types of grains products -- your favorite and a healthier alternative -- to start the process of slimming down and eating better.
For instance, you can mix complex and simple grains (brown and white rice, etc). Now try mixing 2 types of dairy products, your favorite and a healthier alternative (regular varieties with reduced fat or fat-free products).
Now, you match your favorite food of one group with the healthier alternative of the other group.
Principle 2: Always Include Veggies!
Do not forget to "color" your meal with veggies when you mix 'n match. Much like what you did with the grains, you should mix your vegetables -- a half portion of starchy vegetables and another half of non starchy ones. Match your vegetable servings with every single meal.
NOTE: Fruits are a juicy carbohydrate rich in fiber and nutrients. Since diabetic people have to eat smaller frequent meals, 5-6 meals, I highly suggest not consuming fruit with main meals but instead enjoy fruit as a snack (2-3 servings day). Like fruit juice? We're all about moderation. If you really enjoy your cup of juice, then forget about 2 servings of fresh fruits. Do not make it complicated.
Principle 3: Know the Sugar Content
Sugar is a carbohydrate. It's extracted from different foods that are listed under carbohydrates, such as dairy and fruit. We have 2 types of sugar: natural and added sugar.
Natural sugar is the sugar that is extracted from fruits and milk, while added sugar is the sugar that's mixed in during food processing.
Watch for these buzz words: white sugar, cane sugar, corn sugar, table sugar, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, powdered sugar, and raw sugar.
Also, look for words ending with "OSE" such as sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose and dextrose.
Do not be misled; scan the food label and read the ingredients closely. Keep yourself informed about the amount of natural and added sugars.
Be smart and buy sugar-free products.
Principle 4: Remember the Fiber!
Your body does not like fiber, but fiber helps your body a lot! It may surporise you but your body is not interested in fiber digestion.
I am so in love with fiber! Fiber helps me improve my gut functions and control the raise of blood sugar after meals. It also gets me feeling fuller faster.
Make sure you consume high-fiber foods with every meal. It's not all that hard to get to the recommended 29 grams of fiber a day.
Here's a quick 'n easy way to meet your fiber intake with a great balance to your blood sugar. It's also a smarter way to lose weight.
Use my list of foods that include 2.5 to 4 grams of fiber a serving:
a. Half cup of fresh juice
b. One serving of edible skin fruit (size of your fist or tennis ball)
c. A cup of fresh vegetable
d. Half cup of cooked vegetables
e. 4-5 pieces of dried fruit
f. 2/3 cup of beans
g. One serving of a whole-wheat product
h. An ounce of mixed nuts
Again, be sure to read the food label. The best product to buy is the one that has 3g or more of fiber a serving.
Principle 5: Dear Sweet Tooth...
Now that you can identify the high carbohydrate foods present in your meal, you can plan to eat your favorite dessert without guilt. How so? Simply switch 1-2 servings of high-carbohydrate foods with other food in your meal.
For instance, swap part of carbohydrate of your meal with a serving of your favorite dessert. This requires focus. But do not be overwhelmed.
Think like this: You want to order a tuna sandwich with a cup of orange juice for your lunch, and you really crave your favorite cookie after the meal. First, switch parts of carbohydrate in the meal.
The carbs present: 2 slices of bread and the orange juice. So now you can try an alternative option:
You may switch tuna sandwich for a tuna salad, or you may switch the cup of orange juice with a cup of water. After the switch, you can enjoy the cookie because you are swapping between 1-2 servings of carbohydrate with 1 serving of your favorite cookie.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that you switch and swap between same food groups. For example, do not eat cheese or dairy rich foods if you are planning to eat a scoop of ice cream after your meal.
Dr. Racha Sankar is an American/Syrian pharmacist who received her degree in Dietetics & Nutrition from Florida International University. Dr. Sankar is owner of Fat2Slim Bariatric Center located in Damascus, Syria. There she works with bariatric patients and other patients with chronic diseases. Dr. Sankar developed the first food analysis software for Arabic cuisine. For further information, check out her website