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December 26, 2007 > Learn the Low Down on Carb Counting

Learn the Low Down on Carb Counting

Washington Hospital Seminar Focuses on Diabetes and Carbohydrates

If you have diabetes, you need to know about carbohydrates. Found in many of the foods we eat, carbs have the most significant effect on blood sugar levels because they are broken down into sugar in the digestion process.
For years, people with diabetes were told to avoid sweets at all cost. But more recent research has shown that all food containing carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels.
"Knowing which foods contain carbohydrates is critical for people with diabetes," said Anna Mazzei, a registered dietician at Washington Hospital who will present an upcoming seminar on counting carbs.
Part of Washington Hospital's free Diabetes Matters education series, "The Low Down on Carb Counting" will be held on Thursday, January 3, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, MD Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register for the seminar, call (800) 963-7070.
With diabetes, the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy for daily living. People with diabetes are encouraged to keep their blood sugar levels under control to reduce the serious long-term complications of diabetes, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage and blindness. This can be achieved through a combination of medications, exercise and diet.
Calories in food come from three sources: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Each affects blood sugar differently.
"The carbs in the food you eat are the body's main dietary source of sugar," Mazzei said.
Carbohydrates are found in foods containing starches, sugars and grains such as fruits, dairy products, refined sugar, pasta and white bread and unrefined grains like those in whole grain breads and brown rice. The body digests carbs by breaking them down into sugars, which stimulates the production of insulin in the pancreas.
We Need Carbs
The body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates to function properly. If you don't eat enough carbs, you can experience fatigue, muscle cramps, and poor mental function.
Counting the number of grams of carbohydrates and evenly distributing them at meals can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. Mazzei will provide an overview on carbohydrate counting as well as tips for controlling portion sizes.
"The key to controlling carbohydrates is portion sizes," she said. "Meal planning is all about portion control."
Mazzei will also explain the glycemic index, which ranks foods based on how they affect blood sugar levels, and the role of sugar substitutes in meal planning.
There are several factors to consider when determining carbohydrate intake, including whether you are overweight, taking insulin, or have other health concerns. People with diabetes should work with their healthcare provider and dietician to determine what their daily carb intake should be.
To learn more about counting carbohydrates, register for the seminar at (800) 963-7070. To find out about other diabetes education classes, call (510) 745-6556.
For more information about other Washington Hospital programs and services, visit

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