A diabetic diet is a healthy eating plan that is built around foods to help manage your blood sugar.
A specific diabetic diet is especially important since some foods that are considered healthy to some might have negative effects on your blood sugar.?
As a starter, let’s divulge what a diabetes diet is and is not.
What is Diabetes?
In the simplest term, “diabetes is a group of diseases that affects the way the body uses blood sugar (glucose), a type of sugar that the body gets from foods.
Glucose is the body’s main source of fuel. Just a like car that runs on gas, your body needs glucose for energy.
Here’s how it works with people with no diabetes:
- You eat food.
- Your body breaks down the food into glucose (sugar) for your body’s energy. This is done during digestion.
- Your pancreas creates a hormone called insulin.
- The insulin works to help glucose get into the body’s cells. In other words, it’s responsibility is to diverge.
- Once insulin delivers glucose to the cells in your body, the body is met with the energy it needs to run. At this point, everyone is happy.
In a well-functioned body, the energy gets distributed to the cells that need and use them for bodily functions.
In this process, insulin works as a messenger that gets glucose out of the blood to the cells of the body where they are needed.
But in cases of patients with diabetes, the body either can’t make insulin or the insulin doesn’t work in the way it should.
The energy distribution gets stalled and glucose stays in the blood, causing the blood sugar level to go up high.
Inevitably, excess sugar left in the blood makes people sick unless they get proper treatment.
It’s the generalized and oversimplified version of what diabetes is, but in actuality, not all diabetes is the same.
There are two major types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Each type causes high blood sugar levels in a different way.
Type 1: The body (pancreas) can’t produce insulin. The body can still get glucose from food, but the glucose can’t get into the cells due to the lack of insulin. So it stays in the blood. This raises your blood sugar level very high.
Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5% of the diabetes population.
Type 2: Type 2 diabetes is the most common and accounts for 95% of diabetes. The body still produces insulin, but not enough of it or the cells in the body do not react to insulin the body makes.
Because of that, glucose is less able to enter the cells or effectively do its job of supplying energy. Scientists and doctors refer to this as insulin resistance.
This causes the pancreas to produce even more insulin and results in overworking the pancreas.
When this continues to happen, eventually the body reaches a point where it is no longer able to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
When someone’s blood sugar levels are repeatedly high, it’s a sign that he or she has pre-diabetes.
Pre-diabetes is a state where the body is becoming resistant to insulin. It’s the state before developing type 2 diabetes.
The types of treatment for type 2 diabetes vary. While some get prescribed medications to help with the insulin to work better, others need insulin shots or an insulin pump to control their diabetes.
In addition to taking diabetic medications, eating a healthy diet can help keep your blood sugar under control and eventually get off the meds completely.
Some studies show that overweight and obese people are at risk for type 2 diabetes.
If you find yourself at risk, following a healthy diet may also help you lose weight and get to a healthier weight before it leads to the diabetes development.
A perfectly well planned diabetic diet helps balance blood sugar and encourage weight loss and maintenance.
To get started, let’s review each macronutrient (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and how they affect your body.
Carbohydrates are needed to help provide your body, brain, and nervous system the energy to function. They’re the body’s main source of energy.
They also provide important vitamins and minerals, and they are your body’s only dietary source of fiber.
As for calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates equals 4 calories.
I know carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation over the years, but the truth is we need carbs for energy, and they’re very good for us when eaten in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet.
One misconception about carbohydrates is that they are only found in bread, pasta, and rice. Carbohydrates are included in many foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which should always be your preferred choice. Carbs are also found in fruit juice, dairy, and many other grains such as quinoa, chia seeds, and millet.
Another misconception about carbs is that they cause you to gain weight. Carbohydrates, just like fats and proteins, provide your body with calories. If you consume too many calories no matter what the food, the extra calories are stored as fat.
The point here is carbohydrates are good for you and should be part of diabetic diet planning. Just make sure to build your meal plan around the healthiest carbs, but do not avoid eating carbs.
How Does Carbohydrates Works?
Carbohydrates (carbs) are the body’s primary source of energy. During digestion, carbohydrates break down into glucose or sugar to be used as the energy.
Carbohydrates are the main macronutrient that raises blood sugar. But don’t be alarmed– choosing the healthiest carbohydrates in a portioned amount is the key to better management.
Eating a consistent number of carbohydrates throughout the day every day is the main way to keep your blood sugar under control.
It is also typical for many your calories to come from carbohydrates. As a general rule, about 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.
In grams, that’s about 225 to 325 grams of carbs based on a 2,000 calories a day diet.
But of course the number of servings depends on your calorie needs– always ask your dietitians for their advice.
Look for Variety
The best way to help your body meet its nutritional goals is to eat a variety of carbohydrates, which include everything from fruits, vegetables to whole grains.
Use this list when shopping for diabetic foods for your diet:
Low (GL: 55 or lower)
Medium (GL: 56 to 69)
- Honeydew melon
High (GL: 70 or higher)
Low GI Vegetables, with GI scores less than 30, include:
Fast facts about GI values of foods
- Frozen green peas score 39 on the GI index
- Carrots score 41 when boiled and 16 when raw
- Broccoli scores 10
- Tomatoes score 15
- green beans
- snow peas
It is worth remembering that the GI gives a relative value to each food item, and it does not refer to an amount of sugar.
The glycemic load (GL) refers to how much a person will eat in a serving.
Nitrates: Vegetables rich in nitrates include:
- beets and beet juice
- bok choy
- mustard greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- split peas
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber.
According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women should eat 25 g per day of fiber whereas men should take in as many as 38g a day.
Try aiming at getting your daily recommended fiber from real food, not supplements. Vegetables and fruits are naturally high in fibers and available year around.
Type 2 Diabetes Diet – 2 ways
- Plate Methods (Portion control)
- Carb Counting
Method 1. Plate Method (Control serving sizes)
If you are as lazy as me, you probably hate any diet that involves counting including calorie counting, carb counting and fat gram tallying.
The plate method removes all the hassles of counting and running calculations in your head. Instead, it uses a serving plate as a way to measure your foods and tell what to eat for how much.
It’s easy, simple and hassle-free, but super effective. Once you get used to the idea of this plate method, it literally becomes your second nature.
I don’t have diabetes, but this is the method I personally use to practice healthy eating. I use it to measure my food and ensure I eat a balanced meal every time.
One word of caution is, with American indulgent culture where everything can be super-sized and refilled for almost free, it’s too easy to have a misconception of what a proper serving size looks like. To accurately understand proper plate size, it’s recommended that you use measuring cups and directions of food labels in the beginning to serve your plate.
There are 3 easy steps to the Plate Method
Step 1: Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables.
These include all vegetables except potatoes, beans, lentils, corn, peas or winter squash.
Superfoods such as leafy greens and kale are excellent choices and usually low in starch content.
Step 2: Fill one-quarter of your plate with lean meat or other protein sources such as fish.
Lean meat choices include beef, pork, skinless chicken, fish, and eggs. Meat can also be substituted with foods like cheese, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, and tofu.
Baking, grilling, and boiling are three healthiest cooking methods that require no excess oil usage.
When cooking your meat, avoid frying or adding fats as limiting total (especially bad) fat consumption is necessary to lower blood sugar and blood cholesterol. For high-temperature cooking, coconut oil is recommended.
Olive oil is also great for low-temperature cooking and as a salad dressing.
Step 3: Use the remainder of the plate for carbohydrate
Your carbohydrate choice can be either fruit or milk and yogurt.
Method 2. Carb Counting
Mayo Clinic states carbohydrates have the greatest impact on your blood glucose.
Since the balance between your carbohydrate intake and insulin determines your blood glucose level, counting carb is a proven way to avoid the blood sugar level from going too high or too low.
As the name implies, carb counting counts how much carb you consume at each meal or snack to better manage your blood glucose level.
Carb counting is a bit more complex than the plate method, but if you take diabetes medication or insulin, it may be a necessary meal planning tool.
Carb counting has several steps, and here is how to get started.
Step 1: Speak with your dietitian to determine how many carbs you should aim for at meals.
Step 2: Look up the carb content of each food you eat. There are several ways to do this.
- Use online resource or mobile apps that list carb contents
- Use Nutrition Facts Label on most packaged foods. Write down the serving size and the total carbohydrate.
Step 3: Guess how much you’ll eat and do the math.
Will you eat 1 cup or 2 cups? If your chicken soup’s serving size is 1 cup and there is 12 grams of total carbohydrate in 1 cup of soup, having 2 cups will result in 24 grams of carbs.
There are additional tips on how to make carb counting diet work.
1. Be Consistent
Don’t skip a meal or over-indulge on one meal. The inconsistent eating pattern can cause your blood glucose levels to go too high or low.
2. Don’t Go Overboard On Non-Carb Foods
Just because you are not counting proteins and fats doesn’t mean you can eat them how much ever you want. High calories and too much fat can make controlling your blood sugar difficult and put you at risk for weight gain and other health problems such as heart disease and stroke.
Also remember, fats can be either good fat or bad fat. Fat from avocado, coconut and many seeds like chia seeds are considered good fats, while animal fat is high in saturated fat.
3. Carb-Counting Is Not The Same as Low-Carb Diet
Although you do need to control your carbohydrates, carb-counting is not the same thing as a low-carb diet such as Atkins diet or Paleo diet.
To balance your blood glucose level, you need to take in the right amount of carbs, not just low or absolute minimum levels. For example, the Atkins diet recommends eating 20 grams of carbohydrate a day. Depending on your carb needs, that may be too low for you.
Again, your goal is to keep your carb intake in your goal range.
Eliminating nor putting an extreme limit on your carbohydrate intake may not be all that healthy for you and appropriate for your diabetes treatment.
Speak with your physician and dietitian to find out what diet may work best for you.
There you have it! I hope you now understand what each type of diabetes is and few ideas on its treatment methods. Again, whether you have it or not, these techniques can be applied as part of your healthy eating approach to better your health. At best, it can prevent chronic disease and control it should you have it already.