Food can be divided into three basic nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Understanding how the body uses each nutrient and how each affects blood sugar will help you plan well-balanced meals. In turn, eating healthy will help you keep your blood sugar stable and as close to goal as possible.
What are they?
Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches that your body breaks down into glucose. They are found in grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, milk products, and anything with added sugar.
How they affect blood sugar: The more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood sugar will be. The higher your blood sugar is, the more insulin is needed in response. Insulin helps to lower glucose in the blood by sending the glucose to your cells to be used for energy. If there is too much glucose in the bloodstream, insulin will store the extra glucose as body fat.
The goal: Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. But not all carbohydrates are the same. Choosing the right types of carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains) will help give your body the energy it needs while keeping blood sugar as close to goal as possible.
What is it?
Found in chicken, beef, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, and beans, protein helps fill you up and builds and maintains lean muscle.
How does it affect blood sugar? It stabilizes it. Because protein contains little to no carbohydrate, it has a very small impact on blood sugar.
The goal: When choosing protein for your meals and snacks, you should opt for lean protein sources, as these contain less saturated fat.
If selecting a plant-based protein, read the label closely as plant-based proteins often contain carbohydrates, which raise blood sugar. Try to always include a protein when eating a carbohydrate, because protein helps slow the rise of blood sugar following the meal or snack.
What are they?
Fats are a source of fuel for the body, and can even store energy. Fats also add great flavor and texture to food.
How do fats affect blood sugar? When eaten alone, fats will not raise your BG. Much like protein, fats can help keep you full and slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
The goal: In the past, fat has gotten a bad reputation. But healthy fats—monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, avocados, nuts) and polyunsaturated fats (found in sunflower oil, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon)—have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease.
When choosing fats, try to avoid trans fats, which have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. These are found in some baked goods, crackers, and margarine. Usually, foods that contain trans fats will have “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list.