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!
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:
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.