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The 'Diabetes' Diet - Nutrition and Managing Diabetes

Almost all the same rules of healthy eating apply to a diabetic-friendly diet - that is, one that is high in produce, fibre and lean proteins, moderate in carbohydrates and low in fat.

Nutrition plays a big role in diabetes management. It’s one of the most important ways to take control of your diabetes because it has the biggest effect on the level of glucose in your blood. Contrary to popular belief, a ‘diabetes’ diet is not one devoid of sugar and taste. In fact, it looks very much like the balanced diet promoted by health experts – that is, it’s a moderate calorie diet high in produce, fibre and lean proteins, moderate in carbohydrates and low in fat. You don’t even need any special foods or complicated measurements!

Slow food

All carbohydrates break down into a simple sugar – glucose. In people with optimal insulin function, the body easily converts this glucose into energy and is able to store any access as glycogen (a stored form if glucose). For diabetics, insulin resistance means glucose cannot be processed and excessively high levels are of glucose remain in the bloodstream.

Because carbohydrates play such a big role in raising blood sugar levels, one of the main dietary interventions for a diabetic is to limit the amount of carbohydrates consumed. This does not mean doing away with carbohydrates entirely; carbohydrates after all are essential energy-giving foods.

Instead, the idea is to choose high-fibre complex carbohydrates – otherwise known as low glycemic index (GI) foods. Compared with refined carbohydrates that flood the system with a sudden rush of glucose, these slow release carbohydrates take much more time to be digested and release a constant slow stream of glucose into the blood stream. This prevents the body from producing too much insulin at once and gives the insulin that is released the time to convert blood sugars to energy. The fibre in low GI foods also helps to keep you feeling full and less likely to overeat. This has the added benefit of helping you maintain your ideal weight.

Some good examples of low GI foods include:

  • Leafy vegetables
  • Apples, berries, oranges and stone fruit
  • Whole-grains (brown rice, stone-ground/steel cut oats, whole barely, etc.)
  • Lean meats
  • Seafood
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

The ‘slow’ principle applies not only the foods that you eat but how you eat as well. If you eat slowly, chew well between each bite and be mindful about your meals (no watching TV while eating) – you not only digest better but will likely eat less as you are more aware of the moment when you become full.

Being smart about sugar

While it’s common to do away with sugar in a diabetic diet, you don’t have to abstain totally. The key is moderation and knowing how to balance your overall carbohydrate intake.

  • If you want dessert, refrain from having carbohydrates for your main meal
  • Include a little healthy fat in your dessert; fat slows down the digestion of food so will prevent sugar levels from spiking too quickly. However, the operative words are ‘a little healthy fat’ – so choose healthy fats such as nuts, peanut butter or yoghurt
  • Eat your dessert at the end of a meal. This follows the principle that this slows down the digestion of sugar, preventing a spike
  • Enjoy your food. Since it’s a treat, treat is as such. Savour each bite and pay attention to how it tastes and makes you feel. In other words, make your indulgence count!
  • When nothing but a cold sweet fizzy drink will do, mix sparkling water with a little juice or soda to create a refreshing drink
  • Baking? Try to reduce the amount of sugar in your recipes by about 25 per cent – a little goes a long way and chances are, you might not even miss the sugar! You can also try using fruit to sweeten baked goods. Natural unsweetened apple sauce, bananas or unsweetened drief fruit are great options for cakes, pancakes and other confectionary desserts
  • Go half-and-half. Share your dessert eat only a half serving and top up the other half with fruit

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