A healthy diet is key to keeping your blood sugar levels in check and diabetes under control...
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a lifelong condition caused by a failure of the blood sugar regulation mechanism in the body. This is controlled by a hormone called insulin. Diabetes results when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin or cells of the body become resistant to insulin so blood sugar levels are not controlled as they should be. Without the proper function of insulin, sugar cannot enter muscle or fat cells, causing serious secondary complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, neuropathy and other complications.
Type 1 diabetes
Insulin dependent, less common and usually develops before the age of 30.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. The exact cause is unknown but some believe that it is an autoimmune response in which the body attacks its own pancreatic cells. People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin for life.
Type 2 diabetes
Non-insulin dependent, used to be most common in later life but is becoming increasingly more prevalent in younger generation largely due to an increase in obesity.
In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin, but either it is not producing enough or the body does not respond to it properly. The most common cause of type 2 diabetes is obesity. In many cases, Type 2 diabetes can be avoided through eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking regular exercise and often can be controlled in the same way if diagnosed. However, some cases will require medication and your doctor should be the one to determine whether this is necessary.
...a note on Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects women during pregnancy, when some women have slightly higher than normal levels of glucose in their blood and their body cannot produce enough insulin to transport it all into the cells.
Symptoms of diabetes can include tiredness, thirst, frequent urination and skin infections. A full list of symptoms can be found at diabetes.co.uk . Diabetes must always be controlled under the management of a doctor. For further advice and information see: diabetes.org.uk
People with diabetes of either Type 1 or 2 have a higher chance of developing a range of health conditions including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulation problems, nerve damage and damage to the kidneys and eyes. If you are overweight then losing this excess weight healthily and steadily can have a very positive effect on blood sugar levels and can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It's also particularly important to build up a good exercise routine as this will help the body maintain good blood sugar levels.
Food choices for diabetics
Dietary modification is fundamental to the successful treatment of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, though making sensible choices will mean you can continue to enjoy a wide range of foods. It's imperative that weight is kept within the normal range. The dietary guidelines are very similar to those recommended for a healthy lifestyle: eat less sugar and fat, include more fibre-rich starchy foods and more fruit and vegetables with moderate amounts of meat, fish, milk and dairy. Choosing the right foods can make a big difference and eating regularly helps to ensure blood sugar levels do not fluctuate too much.
Foods to eat
- Starchy carbohydrates provide energy and to help maintain and control blood glucose levels so should factor in every meal, though portion sizes and carb intake should be discussed with a dietician to ensure you are eating to your individual needs. Look for wholemeal or wholegrain breads, high fibre breakfast cereals, wholemeal pasta and brown rice.
- Fibre can slow the rate at which the starch and sugar in foods enter the bloodstream. It can also help reduce blood cholesterol levels as part of a balanced diet. This kind of soluble fibre is found in oats, pulses, fruit and vegetables.
- Whether you are taking insulin or not, stick to low GI foods (see below for suggestions)
- Magnesium, chromium, zinc and vitamin B3 all help to stabilise blood sugar. Eat plenty of dairy products, green vegetables, whole grains, bananas, brewer's yeast, seafood and pulses to ensure adequate amounts of these micronutrients.
- Drink lots of water (avoid squash and sugary drinks) to keep hydrated.
Foods to avoid
- Diabetes is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease so avoid raising cholesterol levels by restricting saturated or trans-fats.
- It is best to keep to safe drinking limits, which mean no more than the 2-3 units of alcohol a day for women and 3-4 units a day for men. Excess alcohol will put pressure on your blood sugar regulation. Never drink on an empty stomach and if you have been drinking, always eat something with a low Glycaemic Index (GI) before going to bed to help stabilise your blood sugar.
- All simple, processed carbohydrates must be avoided. Eat a low-GI diet and cut back on sugary foods that cause blood sugar fluctuations.
Starchy vegetables (e.g. parsnips and cooked carrots)
Try to avoid eating:
- Over-ripe bananas
- Starchy vegetables such as parsnips & cooked carrots
- Fruit yogurts and desserts high in sugar
- Fruit juices
- Dried figs & dates
- White bread, baguettes and bagels
- Cream crackers & white rice cakes
- Iced cakes & pastries
- Scones, crumpets and waffles
- Sweet pies
- Fruit canned in syrup
- Breakfast cereals containing sugar
- Baked & mashed potatoes and chips
- White rice
- Corn & rice pasta
- High sugar jams & jellies
- Crisps and other potato & corn snacks
- Fruit drinks containing added sugar
- Fizzy drinks containing sugar
- Sweets & chocolate bars
- Thickened soups
- Table sugar
- Ice cream containing glucose syrup or high levels of other sugars
|Swap these higher GI foods...||For these lower GI foods|
|Refined sugary cereal||Oatmeal porridge, All bran or muesli|
|White bread sandwiches||Whole grain/granary bread sandwiches|
|White rice||Basmati rice, wholegrain rice|
|Biscuits/cookies||Small handful of nuts|
|Cola, red bull or other regular fizzy drink||Water|
|Sweets/sugar candy||Raw vegetable sticks with cheese or low-GI fruit|
|Milk chocolate bar||Plain dark chocolate (70% or more cocoa solids)|
|Jam or marmalade on toast||Egg on toast|
|Curry with rice||Curry with chickpeas or lentils|
Simple salads to keep those blood sugar levels in check:
Managing your weight can help control Type 2 diabetes. Check out some of our favourite low-fat recipes which don't compromise on taste:
Low-fat and low-sugar treats:
For further advice or information regarding the diagnosis or management of diabetes please consult your doctor
Jo Lewin holds a degree in nutritional therapy and works as a community health nutritionist and private consultant. She is an accredited member of BANT and is covered by the association's code of ethics and practice.
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