Diabetes management is difficult, but following a healthy lifestyle can help prolong the lifespan of a diabetic person to that of a non-diabetic person. A healthy lifestyle is a combination of healthy diabetic diet and regular exercise. However, the diabetic diet plays a much important role in managing diabetes as it has a direct impact on the blood glucose level. A diabetic diet is not only about what you eat, but also about how much you eat and when you eat.
Why do diabetics need a diet plan?
Doctors usually advise diabetics to consult a dietician on developing a diabetic diet plan to keep the blood sugar level in check. This diabetic diet plan is important as it also helps to manage other aspects of a diabetic person’s health such as avoiding obesity and reducing risk of heart diseases. Food also has an impact on a person’s mood and overall mental health. Thus, a proper diabetic diet is an essential need for people with diabetes.
What can diabetics eat?
It is important to consume foods that can increase your blood sugar levels in low amounts. Here’s what one should keep in mind when it comes to food for diabetics-
- Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are of three types – sugars, starches and fibers. While sugars are simple carbohydrates, starches and fibers are complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates cannot be broken down easily by the body, therefore conversion into glucose is at a much lower rate than in case of simple carbohydrates.
Diabetics should consume large amounts of fiber while controlling the intake of starches and sugars. Glycaemic index is an index which tells whether a carbohydrate infuses glucose into blood quickly, moderately or slowly. High glycaemic index means quick glucose infusion and is therefore dangerous. Sugars, found in honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, white sugar, and starches, found in potatoes, rice, oats, millet, sorghum, usually have a high glycemic index. Healthy carbohydrates which have low glycemic index are usually found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy products and are ideal food for diabetics.
- Proteins – It is a myth that a diabetic diet must be rich in protein. Protein, as all other nutrients, should only be taken in the required amount. In fact, consumption of large amounts of protein can increase insulin resistance and worsen the complications of diabetes. A special group of protein known as lean proteins, which have very low amounts of undesirable nutrients like saturated fats and dietary cholesterol, are preferred in the diabetic diet. Proteins can keep muscle groups strong and can help maintain an active lifestyle. Some well-known sources of proteins are nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, eggs, fish, lean meat (chicken, pork, beef).
- Fats – Fats are an essential part of the diabetic diet. There are different types of fat, some of which are good for your health and some which are dangerous. Unsaturated fats are preferable in a diabetic diet as it can help protect the heart. Saturated fats are dangerous for people with diabetics as it increases the cholesterol level in blood. Although fats are an important part of the meal, it is as important to keep the level of fats consumed low as they can lead to obesity and increase the risk of diabetic complications. Other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are usually found in the above mentioned food. Other sources for essential nutrients include dairy products, table salt, etc. which are recommended food for diabetics.
Useful practices in following the diabetic diet:
- Eat regularly at the same time everyday. Eating 6 times per day in small quantities is advised. Eating small meals prevent the risk of sudden increase in blood sugar level. Eating at the same time regulates the body’s cycle and can help manage blood sugar level effectively. Consuming the same amount of calories each day is also preferred.
- Maintain a journal of all the foods consumed as this can help identify critical points when sugar levels increase or decrease abnormally. Avoid the foods which cause these fluctuations.
- Sweeten your foods yourself. Avoid buying sweetened products, instead buy unsweetened versions and add healthy sweeteners yourself, so that both the limit and quality of sweeteners added is in your control. For example, buy plain yogurt or unflavoured oatmeal and add a fruit yourself to sweeten the food.
- Have your friends or family keep you in check and help you overcome your desires to overeat or eat unhealthy foods which can be harmful in the long-term.
- Keep alcohol consumption to minimum as it can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Long-term consumption of alcohol also can cause high blood sugar levels. Alcohol also impairs your judgement and might make you take poor food choices.
- Make sure to include healthy foods like leafy vegetables, fenugreek seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, apple cider vinegar, strawberries and eggs in your diabetic diet to control blood sugar levels
Eating a healthy diabetic diet is absolutely necessary when it comes to managing diabetes. It is the best and easiest way to keep your blood glucose level in the desired range and prevent or delay diabetic complications. A healthy diabetic diet also has other benefits like reducing cardiovascular diseases, aiding in losing weight and preventing some types of cancer. It is important to find the right balance between taste and health, and a diabetic diet does not disrupt this balance.
A healthy diabetic diet along with regular physical activity can help you live a long, happy life!