Lifestyle changes can help people control their diabetes.

Choosing to eat healthy foods in reasonable portions can help keep blood sugars stable. That’s why it is important for people to learn more about their food so they can make the best choices to keep themselves healthy.

One nutritional term that is frequently discussed in relation to its effect on blood sugars is the glycemic index (GI). It measures how fast a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose.

The GIs of foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food, such as white bread. A food with a high GI raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium or low GI.

Examples of carbohydrate-containing foods with a low GI include dried beans and legumes, all non-starchy vegetables, sweet potatoes, corn, most fruit and many whole grain breads and cereals.

Foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are the best choices to stabilize blood sugars. These high-fiber, plant-based foods are also the same foods recommended for good health.

However, not all low-GI foods are healthy. Fats and fiber tend to lower the GI of a food, so meats and fats do not have a high GI, because they do not contain carbohydrates.

In this case, just because a food has a low GI doesn’t mean it is healthy. For example, milk chocolate has a lower GI than brown rice, but it is not the better nutritional choice. Lower-GI foods that are high in fat are also higher in calories and may prevent weight loss.

Other factors can also affect the GI of a food, including the food’s ripeness, storage time, processing and cooking method. As a general rule, the more cooked or processed a food is, the higher GI the food will have.

The GI represents the type of carbohydrate in foods, but it doesn’t address the amount of carbohydrates that are eaten. Studies show that the total amount of carbohydrate in food is a stronger predictor of blood glucose response than the GI.

For this reason, it is recommended that people with diabetes practice carb counting, which requires them to eat controlled portions of carbohydrate foods spread throughout the day.

Based on research, for most people with diabetes, carbohydrate counting should be the first tool they use to manage blood glucose. They should also ensure that most of these carbohydrates are coming from high-fiber foods.

Monitoring portion sizes also helps people manage their weight, which in turn, has a great effect on blood sugars.

No one meal plan works for everyone. The important thing is to follow a meal plan that is tailored to personal preferences and lifestyle.

For more information on carbohydrate counting and setting up an individual meal plan, contact Joan Plummer, RD, LMNT, CDE, Columbus Community Hospital at 402-562-4462.