To Carb or Not to Carb: Is That the Question?


This guest post was written by type 2 diabetic and chef Ward Alper. It originally appeared on his website, The Decadent Diabetic, and was republished on Information About Diabetes with permission.

What I am going to talk about is not what you should do medically (I am a chef, not a medical person) but what you might think about doing so you can stick with a diabetes-compatible diet.

I posted a recipe some months ago. The recipe had 14 grams of carbohydrates per serving. This was the response from one of the readers:

This is awful. 14 grams of carbs? That's more than I eat in an entire day!

The other side of the question comes from someone commenting on my advice to a lady who wanted help in lowering the carbohydrate content in some of her favorite dishes:

Carbs are a big focus when you have diabetes as they have greatest effect on the blood sugar. Even though carbs bring up the blood sugar they re still important to eat as carbs are the bodies preferred energy source.

Suggested Amount of Carbs

So what should you do about the amount of carbohydrates in your diet? When I was diagnosed six years ago, the first thing I received from the doctor was a booklet talking about carbohydrates I sould have each day. The suggestion in that book was:

  • 45 grams for breakfast
  • 60 grams for lunch
  • 60 grams for dinner
  • 15 grams for snacks, 2 per day
  • Total= 195 grams per day

It also suggested that the serving size for a banana is half the banana. I still don’t know what to do with that other half.

What I discovered was that was too much for me. Don’t misunderstand; it was not that I couldn’t eat that much before my diagnosis, but now it is too much to maintain my healthy lifestyle and low A1c. But how much should I have?

Some people on diabetes advice sites go just “wackazoid” at the thought of more than 1-5 grams per meal. Some were even more extreme. I saw a recipe posted for a carbohydrate-free chicken dish, but in the picture there was a small portion of noodles. Some of the readers went nuts. Too many carbs, too many carbs! Of course the recipe did not have a serving size suggestion for the noodles, just the picture. Totally ignored by the carbohydrate police was the lovely vegetable served in a large portion on the plate.

No question, too many carbohydrates are not a good choice for those of us with type 2 diabetes. But what is the answer to how many we can have?

A More Sensible Solution

I know you have heard this over and over again: The most common answer is eating to your meter. If you are going to increase your carbohydrate intake, check your meter and see how it affects you.

That certainly is a valid answer. But does it go far enough?

My answer includes testing, but also figuring out what you can eat to maintain your health and what you want to eat so you can maintain your diet. It is a soul thing. Food is meant not only to nourish your body but also to soothe your soul. If you deprive yourself of everything you enjoy, sooner or later you are going to slip. A treat once in a while may be OK, but if you feel too deprived, you are more likely to find yourself overindulging.

What is going to work is to figure out how to balance what you can eat and what you want to eat. Then you have to make what you can eat into what you want to eat.

Finding the Right Balance

I wish I had a quarter (inflation) for every time I heard “I don’t like…” It is usually followed by “I NEVER ate that before” and sometimes by “I will never try that.” My all-time favorite is “Eww!”

Let me tell you my story with spaghetti squash: The dietician I worked with suggested spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta. No way, no how; is that a serious suggestion? Spaghetti squash does not look like pasta, does not taste like pasta and, in my opinion, hates red sauce. I took her suggestion and tried it – and hated it.

Happily, I did not give up. As I said, it did not like red sauce, but it did like butter and Parmesan cheese (0 carbs). Fresh tomatoes and spaghetti squash were a match made in Heaven. From hating it to now, I have dozens of dishes from side dishes to casseroles using my formerly hated vegetable. Lesson: Don’t just give up and go YUCK!

I promise you that if you just have a small portion of protein on your plate with a side of dry lettuce, you will, sooner rather than later, quit that diet. Certainly you could do it for a while, but both your health and your taste buds are going to suffer.

Think about what you always liked to eat before, and find foods to replace those that are not good choices with those that are good choices. Then make the good choices taste so good you forget they are good for you.

As for who is right about the number of carbohydrates you should eat, the answer is everyone and no one. Every person is different. What works for you may not work for anyone else. Keep trying until you become comfortable with your eating, and in the meantime...

Enjoy, be happy, be healthy, be creative, and BE DECADENT!

Click here for Ward's Greek Chicken Casserole recipe!

Get more cooking tips and recipe ideas from Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic, on his website.