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(2) Colleen Davis

Question: How can diet control my blood sugar levels?

We often hear that sugar is the bad guy. Carbohydrates in foods do turn into sugar in our blood, but this is not a terrible thing! The sugar in our bloodstream is used to provide our body’s cells with energy. When blood sugar levels remain in a normal range, your body receives a steady source of energy to help keep you focused and active throughout the day.

Problems can start; however, when the level of sugar in our bloodstream becomes too high or too low. Irregular blood sugars can lead to dangerous consequences. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels are especially a problem for those with diabetes. With diabetes, cells are not able to take in the sugars for energy as they usually would. Cancer treatment can also impact blood sugar levels, whether it is from radiation, steroids, or some types of chemotherapy. In cancer patients with diabetes, poor control of blood sugar levels can lead to an increased risk for infections and hospitalizations. To avoid these consequences, diet (and compliance with any prescribed medications) plays a HUGE role.

By eating a consistent amount of carbohydrates throughout the day, blood sugar levels are better controlled. To eat them consistently, it helps to know which foods contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are in foods such as milk, yogurt, fruit, starchy vegetables (like beans or potatoes), grain foods (like rice, pasta, or oats), and sweets (like cake, cookies, sugar, honey, and more).

Keep in mind, no food is off limits (unless one has a specific medical condition indicating otherwise). However, “simple” carbohydrate foods made with white flour and sugar often contains little nutritional value and can raise blood sugar levels too quickly, especially when eaten alone. Blood sugars can even rise too fast for those without diabetes or treatment side effects. When blood sugars go up too much, they can crash back down and turn to low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can cause feelings of irritability and fatigue and may potentially lead to overeating later on. Protein, fiber, and fat can help with controlling blood sugars to prevent these issues. By including them with meals and snacks, they help slow digestion and cause the body to release sugars more steadily. Therefore, it is useful to point out that controlling blood sugar levels is beneficial for all of us!

Furthermore, it is essential to monitor when and how much carbohydrates one eats. The amount of carbohydrates needed per meal and snack varies from person to person and should be evaluated by a professional, preferably a registered dietitian. For context, it may be recommended to a person with diabetes who consumes 2000 calories per day to have 3 to 4 carbohydrate choices (or 45-60 grams of carbohydrate) per meal--this would vary depending on how frequently the person eats during the day.

One carbohydrate choice = 15 grams of carbohydrate. Nutrition labels are very helpful with determining how many carbohydrates are in a food, but make sure to pay attention to total carbohydrate (not just sugar, because sugar is a type of carbohydrate) and the serving size. If nutrition information is not available, one can utilize the USDA’s FoodData Central https://fdc.nal.usda.gov.

By spreading out the carbohydrates we eat throughout the day and including other nutrient-dense foods alongside them, we can fuel our bodies to carry on!

Come join our Registered Dietitian, Colleen Davis Seung, at the August 1 presentation of the Health Eating and Activity for Living (HEAL) Class where the subject of “Controlling Blood Sugar Levels with Diet & Exercise” will be explored. Please call Mission Hope at 805.219.HOPE (4673) to make a reservation.

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by Marion Regional Medical Center Cancer Program invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address: mariancncercare@dignityhealth.org

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