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Feature Articles: Food Fitness and Health

The Scoop on Sugar and Carbohydrates

Karma Metzgar, C.F.C.S. Northwest Regional Director
University of Missouri Extension

Auto lancet for glucose testing

Diabetics often have frequent questions about how to adapt a recipe so it’s “sugar-free” or a host inquires about diabetic-friendly foods. While at one time sugar and sweets were discouraged, those foods in moderation, are now acceptable.

The “in” word is carbohydrates or carbs for short. Each diabetic has their specific menu plan to follow and their balance of carbs, fats and proteins to eat-regularly. So, instead of counting teaspoons of sugar (pre 1994 era) for a diabetic menu plan, now we count carbohydrates and every person’s amount is different depending on their lifestyle, health style, and medication. It is extremely important to follow your doctor and dietitian’s prescription for your diet. To a diabetic, is doesn’t make any difference if the carbs are from sugar or found in food, carbs are carbs. 

Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source, powering everything from jogging, to breathing, and digesting food. Glucose is the main form of carbohydrate used for energy. Because it circulates in the blood stream, it’s often called blood sugar. 

Your body doesn’t turn all of its blood sugar into energy at the same time. As blood sugar levels rise above normal, insulin (a hormone from your pancreas) signals your liver, muscles, and other cells to store the extra enery. Some gets stored in the muscles and liver. Some glucose may also be converted to body fat if you consume more calories than your body needs. 

When blood sugar levels drop below normal, another hormone works to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range between meals. Once glucose is back in your bloodstream, it’s again ready to fuel your body cells. 

Whether from sugar or complex carbohydrates, like starchy foods, one gram of carbohydrate fuels your body with the same amount of energy: four calories per gram. Other energy sources are protein with four calories per gram and fat with nine calories per gram. 


In addition to counting carbs, include these tips into your eating and lifestyle habits. These habits are for everybody! 

  • Eat three meals a day 
  • Fill up on “free foods” such as lettuce, celery, broth, etc. 
  • Avoid high consumption of fruit juices because they are mostly carbs.
  • Include beans in your meals at least twice a week. 
  • Eat a high fiber cereal that contains 6 grams of fiber per serving for breakfast; avoid those cereals that are high in sugar. 
  • Avoid adding sugar to beverages or cereal. 
  • Try a vegetarian entrée for supper. 
  • Be physically active on most days of the week. 

These few tips are a part of a fact sheet on Help for Type II Diabetes: A Dietary Guide by Candance Gabel, MS, RD, LD, Associate State Nutrition Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension Family Nutrition Education Program. 

Information was adapted from the Prevention and Therapeutic Nutrition Handbook.



Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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