Food Groups: Their Impact on Blood Sugars
There are two main types of nutrients you obtain from foods:
- Macronutrients, which are the three major food groups: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
- Micronutrients, which include vitamins, both fat-soluble (A, D, E, K) and water-soluble (C and B), and minerals (ex. calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus)
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy; in fact, our brains only use glucose, a carbohydrate, for energy. 100% of carbohydrate sources consumed turn into glucose in the bloodstream, making carbohydrates the food group that impacts your blood sugar the most.
- Starches: grains - crackers, bread, pasta, rice, cereals, chips; starchy vegetables - green peas, corn, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, dried beans and peas
- Fruits: apples, berries, bananas, citrus fruits, grapes, dried fruit, fruit juices
- Sweets and Refined Sugar Sources: white granulated sugar, raw sugar, honey, all syrups, brown sugar, all soft drinks containing sugar - sports drinks, sodas, lemonade, sweet tea; sweets - cakes, cookies, candy, pies, ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet
- Milk and Yogurt (Dairy): regular cow's milk, yogurt (Greek and traditional) lactose-free milks and yogurts, almond milk, soy milk
- Non-starchy vegetables (low in carbohydrates): broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, beets, cucumber, okra, spinach
People with diabetes need carbohydrates and can have sugars and starches; however, portions should be limited and spread throughout the day. The types of carbohydrates and amounts you should consume should be individualized. Some medications used to treat diabetes will require you to eat carbohydrates consistently at each meal. Your healthcare team will help you evaluate and determine how much carbohydrates you should consume and the timing of meals based on your health goals and blood sugar patterns.
Protein is used in small amounts by the body for the healing and repair of body tissues, including muscle tissues. Protein does not directly make blood sugars go up. Including protein at a meal or snack can help stabilize blood sugars longer by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream and helping you feel fuller for longer. Protein sources should include lean meats or meat substitutes that are plant-based/vegetarian prepared without large amounts of fat —avoid frying and trim visible fat.
Protein Types: (serving size is 1 ounce)
- Lean Meat Proteins: poultry without skin – chicken, turkey; lean pork - Canadian bacon, tenderloin, pork chops; fish - catfish, cod, tilapia, trout, salmon, tuna; cheeses with less than 3 grams of fat per ounce; beef - ground with 90% or higher lean, select or choice grades trimmed of fat (chuck, round, rump, sirloin); eggs - egg whites or egg substitutes
- Medium-Fat Meat Proteins: beef trimmed of visible fat - ground beef with 85% or higher lean, prime cuts of beef, short ribs; cheeses with 4-7 grams of fat per ounce - feta, mozzarella, processed cheese spread, reduced-fat cheeses; whole eggs; fried fish; pork - cutlet, ground, shoulder, roast; poultry with skin - chicken, turkey, fried chicken; sausage with 4-7 grams of fat per ounce
- High-Fat Meat Proteins: bacon - turkey or pork; regular cheese - American, brie, blue-veined, cheddar, parmesan, queso, swiss; hot dogs; pork - sausage or spare ribs; processed sandwich meats with 8 grams of fat or more per ounce
- Plant Based/Vegetarian Meat Substitutes: tofu, tempeh, meatless chicken or beef; beans - black, garbanzo, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, white; edamame; hummus; lentils; peas
Fat is used in the body to help protect our organs and insulate the body to maintain body temperature. We cannot eliminate fat from our diet; however, it contains large amounts of calories causing weight gain, and some fat types can increase your risk of heart disease. Fats may need to be limited, and you should focus on the types of fats you consume. Try to consume more unsaturated fats than saturated and trans fats. In general, fat in the diet does not directly make blood sugar increase, but fat can indirectly impact diabetes by increasing weight and, in turn, increasing insulin resistance.
Fat Types: (serving size is 1 ounce)
- Unsaturated Fats: vegetable oils, oil-based dressings, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, avocados, peanut butter, sardines, seeds
- Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature; however, a few food products, such as coconut oil, palm oils, or whole milk, remain liquids at room temperature but are also high in saturated fats. Unsaturated fats typically come from plant sources such as olives, nuts, or seeds, but are also present in fish. Unsaturated fats are commonly referred to as “good fats” because when used to replace saturated fats in your diet, they help lower your cholesterol, a risk factor of heart disease.
- Saturated Fats: butter, lard, bacon grease, whole milk, heavy cream, cream cheese, coconut milk, sour cream
- Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats can increase your “bad” cholesterol, so these fats should be strictly limited and/or avoided. Try switching out saturated fats for more heart healthy unsaturated fats.
- Trans Fats: shortening, stick margarines, some tub margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, coffee creamers
- Trans fats should be avoided. They are technically unsaturated fats, but they behave more like saturated fats since they increase your risk of heart disease when consumed. You can identify trans fats on a food label by looking for the words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list. Also keep in mind that some foods may claim to be “free of trans fats,” but they can actually still contain small amounts, less than ½ gram. If eaten in large quantities, you can end up eating a significant amount of trans fats from these “free of trans fat” products.