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Filling Up—Without Filling Up on Carbs

How to Beat Carb Cravings When You Have Type 2 Diabetes

When you’re trying to manage your type 2 diabetes, watching what you eat is important—you know this.  You can count carbs, follow your healthcare professional’s meal plan, or keep a food log; there are plenty of options for paying attention to what you’re eating.  But you can still get carb cravings:  how do you beat them?

Thinking about portion size—and portion control—is one way to beat the carb cravings.  If you eat smaller portions throughout the day, you may find your blood glucose levels are more stable, and you aren’t overindulging in carbs.

Portion Control Challenges
The idea of portion control is not new, but it certainly is getting harder and harder to eat food in the recommended proportions.

In the name of value, restaurants now serve up larger portions than ever before. The enormous plate of pasta put before you at a restaurant could be 3 or 4 servings.

A muffin you buy at the coffee shop might be triple the size of a standard muffin.

Your ice cream cone is likely to be stacked with at least 2 servings of ice cream. It's easy for portion control to go out the window because hardly anything you can buy these days is a single serving, and those bigger servings have become "normal." Anything smaller is just, well, cheap!

Overindulging with large portions too often can wreak havoc on anyone's waistline. But in people with diabetes, overindulging can do even greater damage.

How Your Body Processes Carbs—and What that Means for Portion Control
A quick refresher on what happens after you eat:  Your body breaks down the food for energy. The carbohydrates in your meal break down into glucose, which enters into the bloodstream and is transported to your cells for energy by insulin. Since people with type 2 diabetes do not use insulin efficiently (or perhaps don’t have enough of it), that excess glucose from too many carbohydrates will sit in your bloodstream for longer periods of time waiting for insulin to do its work.

The longer glucose remains in your blood (high blood sugar or hyperglycemia), the greater your risk for complications like diabetic neuropathy. This is why it is best to eat smaller portions of carbohydrates at a time, in regular intervals. Your body will process the glucose more effectively in smaller amounts, and your blood sugar will not spike.

Controlling Carb Cravings—and Feeling Full
One serving of carbohydrates is 15 grams. That is about one small piece of fruit, one slice of bread (1 oz.), and 1/3 cup of oatmeal, rice or pasta.

You should aim to have about 45-60 grams of carbohydrates at a meal, depending on how well your body manages insulin.1 That may not seem like very much food, especially if you are used to eating a carbohydrate-rich diet.

Here are a couple ways to tackle your carbohydrate cravings while still maintaining healthy portions.

  • Choose high fiber foods. If a food contains 5 grams of fiber or more, you can subtract the total fiber from the total carbohydrates for your net carbohydrate count.
  • Add protein to every meal. If you want a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, but 1/3 cup won't fill you up, add some low-carbohydrate protein like chopped almonds or walnuts and some skim milk. The added protein will keep you satisfied with fewer carbohydrates and will keep your blood glucose stable. 
  • Add vegetables for bulk. Toss some steamed broccoli, carrots, or spinach into your pasta and watch the serving increase. The added vegetables will help you reach the daily recommendation of 3-5 servings, and will multiply the volume of your meal so you feel fuller without adding much carbohydrate.

Remember, planning is key. When you go for hours without eating, you're much more likely to overindulge at your next meal. Try to plan out your day of meals ahead of time, and do not go for more than 4 hours without eating. If you're always on the go, make sure to keep quality low-carb, high protein snacks handy like sunflower seeds, trail mix, and string cheese to eat in between meals.

Thinking about the portion size—and using a few of these tips to bulk up meals without bulking up on carbohydrates—should help you better manage your type 2 diabetes on a day-to-day basis.

Updated on: November 29, 2012
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