When I was 14 and just diagnosed with type 1, my doctor recommended that I weigh my food to measure how many carbohydrates I was eating. As a teenager, I thought the idea of using a cute little scale to weigh a potato sounded pretty cool.
This started off kind of fun, but I still didn't understand how a 10-ounce potato would affect my blood sugar, or how to measure my insulin dose to cover it.
Bottom line, I just needed to know how many carbohydrates I should eat in a meal, and what that should look like on my plate.
Not a hard question, but many of us just choose food and eat it. Whether you count carbs or not, we all want to understand food and know how to combine it on our plate.
There is no right or wrong answer to how many carbs per day is best.
Start by learning about the different types of carbohydrates, the simple carbs and the complex carbs that contain fiber and how each affect blood sugar levels and how you feel.
If you decide to eat a carbohydrate in a meal, pair this with a source of protein and healthy fat and see how it impacts blood sugar levels.
Combine these 3 macronutrients in meals, to ensure a slower absorption of the carbohydrates you eat and avoid a blood sugar spike:
Complex carbs with fiber
Hopefully our eyes aren't bigger than our stomach because portion size does matter. Reach and maintain a healthy weight, and to feel satisfied after eating and not stuffed.
Consider 5 factors to decide how many carbs per day you should eat:
1) How active you are
The more you move your body the more energy you need from food to keep up...all types of movement counts. (i.e., walking, biking, house cleaning, gym workout, swimming, playing with your kids, running errands, etc.).
Exercise also uses more carbohydrates as fuel, so the more you move the more carbs you can enjoy.
*Tip is to choose healthy carb options and consider portion size. (i.e., quinoa, black rice, chia seed pudding, sweet potato).
Here are two simple recipes that illustrate what balanced portions of carbohydrates with fiber, protein and healthy fat looks like per serving:
*A healthy low carb snack recipe to try - Date Nut-Butter Bites
*A balanced dinner - Cauliflower Rice Vegetable Stir Fry with Ground Beef
2) Your starting blood sugar level before a meal
Ideally, blood sugar level should be close to your fasting goal (between 75-95 mg/dl). This is a perfect starting point before eating, and if you're a type 1 diabetic or using insulin this makes estimating how much insulin to dose for a meal easier to calculate.
3) Trying to lose weight
Carbohydrates require insulin, which is a fat storing hormone, to turn food into energy for the body to use. Naturally when you reduce the number of carbs per meal, your body requires less or no insulin. Vegetables are non-starchy carbohydrates, with a few exceptions, like corn, carrots, peas, potatoes. My favorite way to reduce or even eliminate taking insulin for a meal, is to crowd my plate with non-starchy vegetables, and add a good source of protein and healthy fat. This balanced plate of food with minimal carbs will help you lose weight by reducing insulin levels and satisfy you.
4) Longterm goal is to reduce medication
If you are managing prediabetes or type 2 with an oral medication, the same rules apply. These medications are used to increase insulin sensitivity in order to bring blood sugar levels to a normal range. When we skip carbohydrates in a meal, as pointed out in the above example of a balanced plate, the carb load is lower and the need for insulin is also lower. This improves insulin sensitivity naturally and over time if you stay consistent, oral meds may be a thing in the past. *Work with your doctor on setting this goal*
5) Goal to dose less insulin
Counting carbs and measuring my food was where I began, now because I rely so much on vegetables to fill my plate, I can now dose less insulin per meal. This helps me better predict blood sugar, steady energy and feeling satisfied after adding protein and fat with meals. Focusing on reducing insulin levels works for everyone with diabetes or those who want to avoid a type 2 diagnosis.
So, how many carbs should a woman with diabetes eat per day? There's not a one size fits all answer to this question.
Base your decision on your lifestyle, activity level, time of day, and current medications or insulin dosage. Consider the five factors mentioned above, to estimate how many carbs you can include in a meal.
Most importantly, choose a quality source of complex carbohydrates to provide the energy your body needs at that time of the day and stage in your life.