Carbohydrates and Diabetes: Benefits and Side-Effects

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By : dLife Editors

A healthy, balanced diet includes the proper concentration of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Increasing or reducing any of the nutrients may not be good for the body. For people with diabetes, a diet high in carbohydrates can be either beneficial or dangerous, depending on the type of diabetes.

When you eat food that contains carbohydrates, your digestive system will break down the digestive part into sugar, and this enters the blood. As the blood sugar level rises, the pancreas will produce insulin, a hormone which enables cells to use blood sugar for storage or energy.

As the cells absorb blood sugar, the bloodstream levels start to fail. Then, the pancreas begins to make glucagon, a hormone which alerts the liver to begin the release of stored sugar. The interplay of glucagon and insulin ensures that cells in the body, especially in the brain, receive a constant supply of blood sugar.

Symptoms of Excess Carbohydrate

  • Feeling constantly hungry
  • Your skin will become prone to acne
  • You crave for more sugar, going into withdrawal mode
  • Feeling bloated
  • You get easily tired
  • You lose muscle despite exercise
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss gradually sets in

Can a Diet High in Carbohydrates Lead to Diabetes?

When you consume high-carbs, the digestive system will break down some into glucose, and the blood sugar (glucose) levels will rise. When blood sugar level rises too quickly, the cells can become faulty eventually and not properly respond to alerts from the insulin. As time goes on, the cells will require more insulin to react. This is called insulin resistance.

After many years of high-level production of insulin, the beta cells inside the pancreas may wear out. The production of insulin will drop gradually and will eventually stop.

Insulin resistance may lead to several health issues, including:

  • Weight gain
  • Low level of HDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides or high blood fat level
  • Numerous chronic diseases
  • High blood pressure or hypertension

It is also referred to as metabolic syndrome and is linked to type 2 diabetes.

Benefits of Carbohydrates

The more carbohydrate is consumed, the more the body responds to the insulin hormones.  Also, high carbs minimize insulin requirements in type 1 diabetes patients. Note that it is essential to discuss with your doctor before switching to a high-carbohydrate diet if you are using insulin. Otherwise, it could result in low blood sugar level which is dangerous.

The consumption of high carbs has been known to solve the problem of insulin resistance. The more carbs we eat, the more sensitive the body is to insulin. So, when type 1 diabetes patients begin with a high-carb diet (more than 75% calories in the form of carbohydrate), they usually have to reduce their dosage of insulin by up to 30%.  You can learn more about how many carbs a person with diabetes should eat here.

 Bottom Line

Carbohydrates are needed for good health, but they should be the perfect type and also in a controlled concentration.  Eating unprocessed carbohydrates, getting enough rest and being physically active are more likely to result in proper body weight and minimize the risks of diabetes than eliminating or focusing on a certain nutrient.  As always, speak to your diabetes health care team or diabetes educators to come up with a balanced plan that is right for you and your individual needs.  Also, see our Guide to Healthy Low-Carb Eating with Diabetes here.

Sources

1. Diabetes UK.  “Insulin Resistance.”  Accessed April 18, 2018.  https://www.diabetes.co.uk/insulin-resistance.html

2. Forks Over Knives.  “Why I Recommend a High-Carb Diet for my Patients with Diabetes.”  Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.forksoverknives.com/recommend-a-high-carb-diet-for-patients-with-diabetes/#gs.eU32bV8

3.  Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1588S-1596S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736H. Epub 2009 Apr 1.  “A low-fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled, 74-wk clinical trial.”  Accessed April 18, 2018.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19339401

4.  Diabetes Care. 2009 May;32(5):791-6. doi: 10.2337/dc08-1886. Epub 2009 Apr 7.  “Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes.” Accessed April 18, 2018.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19351712

5.  JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):577-87. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.14547.  “Vegetarian diets and blood pressure: a meta-analysis.”  Accessed April 18, 2018.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=PMID%3A+24566947

6.  Obes Rev. 2016 Nov;17(11):1067-1079. doi: 10.1111/obr.12439. Epub 2016 Jul 13.  “Effect of plant-based diets on obesity-related inflammatory profiles: a systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention trials.”  Accessed April 18, 2018.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=PMID%3A+27405372

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