Diabetic nutrition is one of the most important topics of conversation in the world of diabetes. The foods we eat and the exercise we undertake determine the overall quality of life we have as diabetics.
I always advise people to consult a dietitian to get the best out of your foods. With the right diabetic nutrition you will stave off long term complications including heart disease and have the energy to experience life to the fullest.
The most important factor
I would say that nutrition is slightly more important than exercise. In fact if you are looking to manage your weight then it boils down to 80% what you eat and 20% of exercise activity that you undertake.
Being overweight or obese can lead to problems in the long term. Being overweight puts you at serious risk of heart disease, stroke or even cancer. It is stating the obvious here but fast foods, junk food and food loaded with sugar is going to give you a one way ticket to an early grave.
Get the balance right
When it comes to diabetic nutrition you need to have the correct balance of carbs, fats and proteins. Eating a diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated fat makes a lot of sense. You also need to eat the appropriate meals in terms of size and substance throughout the day to match the diabetes medication that you take. You need to play attention to –
- The regulatory of meals you spread over the day
- The portion sizes that you eat
- Eating the right mix of carbs, fat and protein
- Judging the food you eat against the level of physical activity you undertake on any given day
To get a comprehensive overview on the correct diabetic nutrition it is helpful to breakdown and analyse each of the major food groups and their effects on the body.
Fat has the highest calorie content of all the food groups. Eating too much fat of any description will make you stack on weight effortlessly. This will make managing your diabetes all the more harder. It is important to note however that our bodies require fat, but it is the type of fat that is crucial.
Raises your levels of LDL or bad cholesterol. Saturated fat is found in animal products such as meat, cheese, milk and butter. They are also found in non animal products such as coconut milk and cream and palm oil. To avoid saturated fats go for low or reduced fat options. Trim the fat off your meat and remove the skin from other animal products such as chicken. Avoid fried foods and limit fast foods and takeaways eg Chinese food, McDonald’s etc.
A small amount of these fats are actually good for you body. They are found in sunflower, corn and sesame oils and in margarines. The fat found in oily fish such as salmon and tuna is also polyunsaturated fat. The Japanese are notorious for living long and healthy lives. They have a lot of fish in their diets so do the math.
Again these are essential fats to be eaten in moderation. They are found in foods such as olive oil and avocados,
One of the if not the most important food group in diabetic nutrition. Carbohydrates are the energy source that keep our bodies and brain functioning in an optimal fashion. When carbs breakdown in the body they are turned into glucose in the bloodstream. It is important to monitor closely the amount of carbs we put in our body as it impacts the levels of insulin we require. Consulting a dietician will help you extract the most bang for your buck out of carbs. The amount of carbs you need will depend on your age, your weight and the levels of activity you do. Reducing the amount of carbs you eat can have a very big impact on your weight levels too. Ideally you should look out for low GI carbs or slow release carbs such as wholegrains, rolled oats, lentils and sweet potatoes.
I added an extra supplement here as I believe white rice and white pasta to be very bad for diabetics. I can rarely mange my blood sugar levels effectively after eating white rice, especially if I eat them at night before bed. My blood sugar levels are always through the roof the next morning. The research I have done suggests that there is very little in terms of nutritional value in white rice anyway. I eat brown rice or wholegrain pasta as an alternative. I have also found carb-free pasta and rice made out of a Japanese vegetable called Konjac which is also very good.
Protein is used by the body to grow and repair muscles. Pure proteins have no impact on your blood sugar levels. Meats, eggs and cheese are the biggest sources of protein. Nuts and seeds are also sources of protein.
A word on sugar
Obviously sugar has a big impact on our bodies as diabetics. Sugar should be monitored and even limited but certainly not avoided altogether. In fact, sugar is required if our blood sugar levels drop too low. Sugar does find its way into foods that are not considered to have high quantities of sugar eg some salad dressings and yoghurt are loaded with sugar. It makes sense to always check the nutritional content on the label of foods.
Sweeteners such as Splenda make for a good alternative to sugar. It can be used on breakfast cereals, in cakes and in tea and coffee. Diet sodas such as diet coke use sugar substitute and are a good alternative to full strength options.
Whether you are a diabetic or not it is essential that you drink plenty of water every single day. 8 glasses is the benchmark. Water flushes your entire system out and is the absolute best thing you can put in your body, hands down!
Nutrition is the single biggest issue for diabetics in terms of managing their condition. The foods you eat today will determine the quality of life you will experience tomorrow. A lot of diabetic nutrition is simple stuff and is about getting the simple things right ie avoid processed, fatty foods. Limit the amount of sugar you put in your body via soda pops and sweets etc. It is not rocket science but it could save your life.
For further commentary on popular diets out there and their impact on diabetes please see below
Please add any comments below on your nutrition or what you consider to be good or bad foods.