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"Understanding Carbohydrates When You Have Diabetes"
Written by Syaidatun Yahya, Dietitian, National Kidney Foundation of Malaysia

The rise of new diabetes cases has continued to show alarming figures throughout the world. According to World Health Organization (WHO), 346 million people worldwide are diabetic – this figure swelled from the 30 million diagnosed in 1985, which is just about two decades ago. This is worth mentioning because in year 2009, 58 percent of the new dialysis patients in Malaysia are diabetics. A very common fact is that: diabetes and hypertension are the two most common causes of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) in Malaysia.

The most important thing of diabetes care for many individual is making food choices with carbohydrate control as their main concern. Carbohydrate is the food group that affects blood glucose level the most. It’s because that the body turns carbohydrates into glucose, eating carbohydrates makes one’s blood sugar levels raise. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean you should avoid carbohydrates altogether if you are diabetic. Carbohydrates are a healthy and important part of a nutritious diet. Carbohydrates are found primarily in plant foods like grains, fruits and vegetables as well as dairy products.

The American Diabetes Association recommends 45 - 65 percent of total energy intake for patients with diabetes comes from carbohydrates. Each patient has a different requirement based on their age, body composition, lipid and glucose levels, activity patterns, medications as well as other medical concern. A dietitian will assist patients to estimate their carbohydrate requirement individually and assist the patients to apply this in their current diet intake.

For starters, the “plate method” can be a useful tool! Pick up your plate and apply meal patterns as follows,

  • Half a plate of non-starchy vegetables - such as the greens, carrot, tomato, cauliflower,  cabbage
  • Quarter plate of carbohydrates (palm size) - such as rice, noodles, meehoon, kueyteow, pasta, breads
  • Quarter plate of protein -  such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs

This method will give you some idea on the appropriate carbohydrate intake for each meal. However, this guide is not individualized to you therefore the requirement may vary. In addition, patient needs to include around two pieces of fruit each day, a balanced portion of whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, lean meat and fish to better manage the diabetes.

Examples - Food Group

Cereal, Grains  & Bread
Rice, porridge, kueyteow, meehoon, pasta, idli, puttu mayam, thosai, chapatti, bread, oatmeal, muesli, flour and products made from flour, ie. biscuits

Starchy Vegetables
Baked beans, lentil, corn kernel, peas, sweet potato, tapioca, yam, breadfruit, potato, water chestnut

All kind of fruits contain carbohydrates
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