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Nutrition Basics

About Carbohydrates

DEFINITION OF A CARBOHYDRATE:  A carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients utilized by the body; the other two macronutrients are fat and protein.  All of these three macronutrients are components of food that supply energy (in the form of calories) to the body. Foods typically have some of each one of these macronutrients in them just in different proportions. 

TYPES OF CARBOHYDRATES: Generally speaking, there are three types of carbohydrates: Starches (also called complex carbohydrates), sugars and fiber.

-Starches: (Complex carbohydrates): Complex carbs are foods, some of which contain

vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The following are some examples of starches or

complex carbs: oatmeal, brown rice, potatoes, beans, peas, lentils, corn and wheat.

Starches tend to be higher in carbs and can take longer to digest. According to Dr. Whitaker, diabetics can have a hard time digesting starches as well. While starches tend to digest less quickly than simple sugars, they can still cause blood sugars to spike several hours after eating them.

I've run into many diabetics who eat the above starches believing that they're healthy for them. What's important to pay attention to though, is that while some starches may indeed be healthy for a healthy person, we diabetics have compromised health. As a result, what's healthy for a healthy person, may not be healthy for diabetics due to the primary need to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and eat lower carb foods. Starches are often too high in carbs to be productive foods for diabetics.

-Simple sugars like pastries and fruit juice will raise your blood sugar the most quickly and cause blood sugar spikes. You may notice that many simple carbohydrates like white bread, bakery goods and white rice are softer in their texture.

-Fiber is the type of carbohydrate that the body can't digest. Though most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules, fiber cannot be broken down into sugar molecules, and instead it passes through the body undigested. Fiber helps to regulate the body's use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check by slowing the rate of sugar absorption.

About Fats



Fat is one of the macronutrients that our bodies need, the other two being carbs and protein. There are nine calories of energy in one gram of fat whereas there are 4 calories of energy in each gram of both carbs and protein. So, of the three macronutrients that our bodies need, fat stands out as the most powerful energy source of the macronutrients.


Fat also has more than twice the calories of protein or carbohydrates. It’s also interesting to realize that carbohydrates burn quickly (say, within 20 minutes of exercising) so the body then turns to our fat stores for additional energy.


There is a lot of confusion today about which kind of fats we need most and where to get them into our diets. Let’s try and unravel some of that information:


Fats are nutrients that our bodies need to produce sufficient amounts of energy for our bodies to function properly. In short, the right fats are good for you and in fact, are required by the body. Aside from providing needed energy, fats also help us in these ways:



  •   Help regulate blood sugar

  •   Keeps our hair and skin healthy

  •   Produce hormones like testosterone and estrogen

  •   Fills up our fat cells to provide insulation and warmth for our bodies

  •   Helps us absorb the fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E and K

    • Note: these 4 vitamins cooperate synergistically with each other as well as with essential minerals like Magnesium. To boost absorption of these vitamins, be sure to have some fat with your veggies. A few examples include: Organic butter, olive oil or coconut oil.

  •   Helps control inflammation in our bodies as well as helping with blood clotting

  •   Fats are essential for muscle movement

  •   Fats are needed in our diets for brain development (the brain is 60% fat) (don’t call me fat head!)

  •   Fats build cell membranes and the covering of nerve cells




Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad fats include trans fats. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle.


There are basically three kinds of fats: saturated fat (found in animal products like meat and milk which tend to be solid at room temperature) and unsaturated fat. All fats are actually a mix of the two types, the percentage of each kind determines which is called saturated and which is called unsaturated.


Trans fat is the third kind of fat and is rarely found in nature. You’ll find trans fat in many baked goods, fried foods and processed foods. Beware of these foods as trans fat has been linked to health issues among them, heart disease. There is much controversy about fats and diets but one thing everyone agrees on is that Trans fats are very bad for you.


Note that food manufacturers are not required to put trans fats on their labels if the amount in the product is less than 0.5 grams. Trans fats create inflammation, contribute to insulin resistance and can harm you even in small amounts.


Saturated fats have been unfairly demonized due to a flawed study by Dr. Ancel Keys who erroneously linked higher saturated fat intake to higher rates of heart disease. The truth is that saturated fat found naturally in animal and plant sources is NOT the villain. It’s the trans fats found in margarine, vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that are to blame. Avoid these at all costs!


Baked good and fried foods can be high in saturated fat because they are made with ingredients loaded with saturated fats such as butter, cream and lard. These foods may be high in dietary cholesterol. Certain plant foods such as Coconut oil contain saturated fat but no cholesterol.


There is controversy surrounding saturated fats. Some reports say it drives up cholesterol. Others say the link between saturated fat and heart disease is unclear. The best strategy is to replace saturated fats (when possible) with polyunsaturated fats that are unprocessed. Avoid highly processed fats if possible.


Animal fats contain beneficial levels of omega-3s. Other generally healthy fats include:

  •   Avocados

  •   Grass-fed meats

  •   Coconut and MCT oils

  •   Raw cacao butter

  •   Raw nuts such as pecans and macadamia nuts

  •   Organic pastured eggs




There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Foods made up of these are liquid at room temperature such as olive oil. Foods containing unsaturated fats include:

  •   Nuts

  •   Plant oils such as canola, vegetable and plant oils (beware of heavy processing with oils and avoid where   

  •   Salmon, anchovy, mackerel

  •   Olives

  •   Avocados




Found mostly in plant-based foods and oils can improve cholesterol levels as well. These are essential fats that our bodies cannot make so we must get them from food.


There are two types of Polyunsaturated fats: Omega-3s and Omega-6s.  

  •   Omega-3 fats are essential for optimal brain health. Most people get too much omega-6 fats (such as in
      vegetable oils)

  •   The most important thing to know about getting the essential fatty acids (polyunsaturated fats), Omega 6’s
      and Omega 3’s, is that it’s necessary to get them thru foods and to maintain a balance between them. 

  •   Omega-3’s are found in foods like wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts and mackerel

  •   The ideal ratio between Omega-6 : Omega-3 is 1:1.

  •   The healthy range goes from 4:1 to 1:4.

  •   Research shows that current Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios with the modern western diet ranges between 15:1
      and 17:1 or according to Dr. Mercola, this ratio today is closer to 20:1 to 50:1. This is NOT a healthy ratio!


The take away today is that we’re getting too much Omega 6 fatty acid in terms of processed fats, which can be harmful to your body.


The best ORGANIC oils to consume are: extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and butter from grass pastured cows.


The most important fats to avoid are: margarine and shortening, soy oil, corn oil, canola oil and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats



Most people are storing large amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids in their body fat and it can take years to get rid of them. Avoid Omega-6s as much as possible in vegetable oils and eat plenty of Omega-3 rich animals like grass fed beef or Wild Salmon. You may also want to supplement with fish and Krill oil.


For Vegetarians and Vegans, Flax seed and Chia seeds are excellent sources of Omega-3s.




For low heat cooking, Coconut, Olive and Safflower oils are great. Try to get the least processed oil you can… that is, Extra virgin Olive Oil and Virgin Coconut Oil. Getting Virgin Safflower Oil is harder but it is possible. For higher temperature cooking, we recommend Avocado Oil which is not only healthy but also has a higher smoke point.


Fats – Cheat Sheet


2 fats are considered essential fatty acids, Linoleic Acid (LA) and Alpha-linoleic Acid(LNA). Both are converted in the body into DHA and EPA. Best sources are:

  • Flax Seed

  • Chia Seed

  • Hemp Seed

  • Walnuts

Use the whole seeds, raw and unprocessed and keep them in the fridge or freezer

Flax and Chia seeds are most easily absorbed when they are soaked and ground

Conversion to EPA and DHA is increased 10 fold if eaten with coconut or coconut oil


If you use Fish Oils as a source of fatty acids choose carefully. Be sure the fish is cold water fish from deep in the ocean to reduce exposure to heavy metals and toxins and be sure to use a reputable company.

About Proteins



Definition of a Protein: A nutrient that is found in food that is an important part of our diets and is also essential for normal cell structure and functioning. So, proteins are a critical part of every cell in our bodies and their basic structure.


One gram of carbs = 4 calories, one gram of protein = 4 calories, one gram of fat = 9 calories


When you think about proteins, think about a string of pearls. The “pearls” are amino acids and they’re held together by peptide bonds. One of the things that make proteins so fascinating is that they can break up (or break down) and form different kinds of strings of pearls (proteins) for various bodily functions. Protein chains fold and twist into very specialized shapes, which then determines the function of a particular protein.


As life sustaining macronutrients (carbs and fats are the other two), the amino acids in protein don’t just make other proteins, they can function in other ways as well. For example, they can help protect your heart and support your metabolism, too. Amino acids can also become a source of energy when you’re lacking fats and carbs.


There are basically two types of amino acids: essential amino acids and non essential amino acids although some folks also include semi-essential. Our bodies need a total of 20 amino acids and can make 11 of those 20 amino acids on its’ own. The other 9 amino acids are called “essential” because our bodies can’t make them so we need to get them from the food we eat.


When a certain food contains all nine of the “essential” amino acids, it’s called a “complete protein”. Examples of complete proteins are quinoa, soybeans and animal products. Many plant-based foods lack all nine of the essential amino acids and the current theory is that you’ll get all the proteins/amino acids you need by following the RDA. What amino acid one food lacks, you’ll get from another protein. When two or more incomplete proteins are combined, they can make a complete protein.


The essential amino acids are:

  • Arginine

  • Histidine

  • isoleucine

  • Leucing

  • Lysine

  • Methionine

  • Phenylalanine

  • Threonine

  • Tryptophan

  • Valine

The non-essential amino acids are:

  • Alanine

  • Aspartate

  • Asparagine

  • Cysteine

  • Glutamate

  • Glutamine

  • Glycine

  • Proline

  • Serine

  • Tyrosine


As diabetics, we all know that diabetes is “immediate” in that what we eat will show up very quickly in our blood sugar readings.  One of the things that we’re looking for in eating is to slow down the rate of sugar absorption in our systems. We want to avoid huge spikes in our blood sugar and eating protein can help with that. So, try not to eat any carbs by themselves as that will probably spike your blood sugars. Instead, eat some protein before you eat your carbs to help buffer any potential spikes.




Again, proteins are an essential part of human diets and indeed, are required by our cells to function normally. Proteins are necessary because they do the following:


  • Cellular repair and replication

  • Immune Function

  • Proteins are the building blocks of muscle mass, bones, cartilage, skin and blood

  • *Helps stabilize blood sugar levels

  • Promote heart health

  • Neurotransmitter Formation

  • Helps build enzymes

  • Helps with blood clotting

  • Protein helps regulate electrolytes and fluid balance in the body




The amino acids that make up proteins can be found in a variety of different foods. The highest amounts of protein are typically found in animal products like meat, dairy and fish. Smaller amounts of protein are found in some plant sources like seeds and beans and nuts .


How much protein do I need?


This is the real question and there’s considerable controversy around this subject.

Protein needs vary depending on a number of factors such as age, weight, how much you work out, stress levels, etc. Daily protein amounts then vary from person to person. After considerable research and without having individual information, the general rule of thumb seems to be that daily protein requirements should be roughly ½ gram of protein per pound of body weight.


Dr. Bernstein, in his book The Diabetes Solution recommends at least 1 to 1.2 grams of protein/day per kilogram of ideal body weight for non-athletic adults. You can go to to determine your ideal body weight.


This might make it easier: According to Dr. Bernstein in the book, The Diabetic Diet, a typical sedentary adult who weights 150 lbs. may need roughly 57 grams of high quality protein/day to avoid protein malnutrition.  That’s roughly 9 grams of protein needed for every 25 lbs.


According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most Americans get more than enough protein in their diets.




Protein is used post workout to repair and rebuild muscles. As a result, for athletes,  protein needs increase. A recommended daily protein intake then ranges up to .9 for every pound of body weight. This recommendation varies according to the individual as well as the type and extent of exercise. Generally speaking, exercising can then require anywhere from a 25 to 50% increase in daily protein needs





Carbohydrates are the first and fastest macronutrient to be digested but protein breakdown is less efficient and takes longer. As a result, the effects of eating protein on blood sugar levels tend to happen anywhere from a few to several hours after eating.




Knowing that eating protein helps slow down carb absorption, there are several ways that diabetics can use that information to help with their blood sugar control. Here are some of those:


  • Eat a variety of the highest quality of different proteins/day (Some will be complete and others will bind to one another to make complete proteins)

  • Eat protein first to help buffer sugar and eat carbs along with protein

  • Spread your total protein requirement throughout the day

  • Consider eating a little protein before bedtime each night but be careful and make sure to test your blood sugars prior. Log and test your results

  • Consider starting your day out with a protein shake to help stabilize your blood sugars throughout the day

  • Dr. Bernstein in The Diabetes Diet recommends keeping protein amounts the same for each meal day to day

  • Avoid whey protein as it’s a top allergen.


Not all protein drinks or powders are the same. Some have fillers or are high in carbohydrates. Click here for our recommendation for one of the best protein powders on the market today.

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