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Carbohydrates and Diabetes

How Carbohydrates Affect Blood Sugar


Updated April 09, 2014

Carbohydrates and Diabetes

A carbohyrate-rich breakfast

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Carbohydrates are one of the three main nutrients in our diet, the others being protein and fat. We need ample amounts of these three nutrients, especially carbohydrates, because they are our main sources of energy. Once foods that contain carbohydrates are consumed, your liver breaks down the carbs into glucose (sugar), which your body then uses for energy for virtually every task, from running to thinking.

Simple and Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates are classified into simple or complex, depending on how quickly your body absorbs the sugar. Simple sugars are absorbed more quickly by the body than complex carbohydrates, and therefore cause your blood sugar to rise more quickly than complex carbs. Complex carbs contain starch, which takes longer to digest before the glucose can be used for energy. Foods with simple sugars also usually have a higher rank in the Glycemic Index; a helpful tool for gauging the amount of glucose in foods.

Simple carbohydrates (also called simple sugars), are found in:

  • Fruits
  • Milk products
  • Vegetables
  • Refined sugar (candy, table sugar, honey)

Complex carbohydrates (also called starches) are found in:

  • Breads
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Oats
  • Dry beans

Even though simple sugars raise your blood sugar more quickly than complex carbohydrates, both should be part of your daily meal plan. Though many foods contain carbohydrates, the challenge for those with type 1 diabetes is to choose nutritious options to help control blood sugar levels.


Carbohydrates. Centers for Disease and Control. Accessed June 7, 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/carbs.html#Simple%20Carbohydrates

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