Regulating food intake is a crucial component of any diabetes treatment. Controlling the symptoms is dependent on your body’s ability to balance blood glucose levels, which can only be done if you eat the right amounts and types of food.
Goals for a Diabetic Diet
In general, a diabetes diet is not very different from the healthy, balanced diet doctors encourage for everyone. It is high in fiber and protein and low in fat, with an overall balance of nutrients. The difference is that diabetics need to be extra careful about their sugar intake, and therefore foods like carbohydrates and sweets need to be limited.
As a diabetic, the major goals you should try to achieve through your dietary habits are:
- Balancing your blood glucose levels: Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you will generally be given insulin or other medications to help your body break down sugar into energy. That is why you need to be sure your calorie intake is balanced with the medications, so that your body’s sugar level doesn’t rise or drop dramatically.
- Healthy lipid levels: Too much fat in your body can be dangerous and therefore your aim has to be to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol and triglycerides in the body, which also ensure the heart’s safety.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight only exacerbates symptoms of diabetes, which is why doctors always stress maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Avoiding complications: Diabetes has been known to trigger other diseases related to the heart, kidney, eyes, and feet. By following a strict diabetes diet you can avoid these complications.
Here is a guide to some of the common food components that need to be monitored on a diabetic diet:
When compared to fats and carbohydrates, proteins are a considered to be a safe choice for diabetic diets, since they do not raise the blood sugar level like carbohydrates, or supply high calories like fats. Experts suggest that for a diabetic, proteins should provide around 12% to 20% of the daily caloric intake. Each gram of protein is equivalent to 4 calories and it is usually recommended as a bedtime snack to maintain the glucose level. One of the richest sources of proteins is fish, which can be taken as one or two servings in a week. Other protein rich food products are soy and lentils.
Carbohydrates comprise the highest source of blood sugar. But in spite of abounding advice to the contrary, it is not true all diabetes patients should completely eliminate carbohydrates and sugars from their diet. In fact, doctors recommend that carbs account for 40%-60% of your daily caloric intake.
The carbohydrates that we consume are generally one of of two types. The complex ones found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and starches and the simple ones found in table sugar and processed foods. For a diabetic diet, complex carbohydrates from vegetables and whole grains are best, as they take more time to break down and contain fiber, which is extremely important for preventing heart disease, promoting weight loss and preventing type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, starchy foods like potatoes and pasta, while still necessary, should be limited. Simple carbs, however, should be avoided.
There are three main types of fats: 1) saturated fats, found in animal products (such as red meats); 2) monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in plant products (such as lentils, fruits and vegetables); and 3) trans fats, which are made artificially from plant fats to keep them stable at room temperature (trans fats can typically be found in foods such as fried and processed foods and margarine).
In diabetes diets fats should make up about 30%-35% of the caloric intake, but that does not mean just any type will do. Diabetics should stick with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, since animal fats and trans fatty acids are a major source of cholesterol and have a variety of negative effects on the health of the heart.
Plants, fruits, whole grains and nuts all have high content of the healthy fibers. Although fibers are not directly responsible for providing your body with energy, they help to cleanse the body by passing waste and water through the intestine to be removed as solid waste. The advantages of eating fibers are:
- They aid in proper digestion of the food
- They help to maintain a healthy weight
- They help decrease cholesterol levels and hence are good for the heart
- They have been known to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The glycemic index is a rating system that helps you know how certain foods or food groups affect blood sugar levels, which can help you decide the best things to include in your diabetes diet plan. The index measures levels of carbohydrates in foods for how quickly they affect blood sugar levels. It rates foods on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 representing the effects of a glucose tablet, which very quickly raises blood sugar levels.
For example, honey measures 91 while table sugar is 64. Some low glycemic index foods include barley at 22, soy at 14 and apples at 38. Using the glycemic index can be a useful tool in helping you to plan your diet effectively.
Factors affecting food intake
Your doctor will guide you in developing your diet plan, including what your daily caloric intake should be and food products you should avoid. But while you follow your diet, there are other factors that can influence your dietary habits that you need to keep in mind.
For example, while moderate exercise helps in burning off calories, reducing weight and helping the body utilize sugars, if you are exercising more or less than required, it may have a negative effect on your blood sugar. It could suddenly dip, causing hypoglycemia, or increase at an alarming rate, causing hyperglycemia. It is important to have foods and medications on hand to balance out extreme variations in blood sugar.
Likewise, when you are taking insulin, you cannot skip meals, as insulin will continue to break down sugar in your blood whether you have a sufficient amount or not. This may cause sudden decrease in the blood sugar level.
Pregnant women with diabetes, however, will have a slightly different diet than other diabetics, as their needs are different. It is extremely important that diabetic women consult with their doctors at all stages during pregnancy to find out what foods they need to be regulating.
General guidelines for Diabetes Diet
- Limit starchy foods like potatoes, white bread and pasta
- Avoid sugars such as table sugar, honey, sweets and fruits
- Eat lots of whole grains, such as brown rice and multigrain bread, instead of the refined options
- Drink plenty of fluids but avoid artificially sweetened juices
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking
- Avoid fried and processed foods
- Reduce salt intake