Fast, medium and slow-acting carbohydrates

Fast, medium and slow-acting carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are digested at different rates by the body and are divided into 3 main groups: slow, medium and fast-acting carbohydrates.

The table below gives examples of food and drink for fast, medium and slow-acting carbohydrates and what you need to take into consideration when carb counting:

Type of carbohydrateFood and drink examplesWhat this means for carb counting
Fast-acting• glucose drinks, tablets and gels
• ordinary soft drinks and full sugar squash,  fruit juices     

• chewy sweets, gums, jellies, mints.
These foods and drinks cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels and may be good first line hypo treatments.

If they are not being used as a hypo treatment, these carbohydrates should be matched with fast-acting (bolus) insulin.
Medium-acting• bread, chapattis
• potatoes and sweet potatoes
• breakfast cereals and oats
• rice and pasta
• flour
• most fruit
• milk, yogurt and ice cream
• potato products e.g. chips and crisps • products made from flour, eg biscuits, cakes, Yorkshire puddings, pancakes, pastry
• breaded products e.g. breaded fish and scotch egg
• honey, jam and other conserves
• sugar/brown sugar

By working out the amount of carbohydrate in these foods you will be able to control your blood glucose levels by matching the carbs with the right amount of fast-acting (bolus) insulin.

• pearl barley
• dark chocolate
• peas, beans and lentils
• some vegetables, including sweetcorn, squash/pumpkin and parsnips
• some fruit, including tomatoes, cherries, grapefruit, lemon and lime
• nuts, seeds, Quorn, tofu, soya

Although these foods do contain some carbohydrate, they are absorbed very slowly and may not need to be matched with insulin, unless eaten in large quantities.

It’s important to note that foods having a combination of fats, proteins and carbs produce a gradual rise in your blood glucose levels. Fats slow down the digestion process and absorption of glucose in the blood from carbohydrates.

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