Make smart food choices when managing diabetes
Trying to design a diet around diabetes may not only be extremely confusing, it can be very frustrating as well. Some food suggestions seem downright counterintuitive. For example, eating an apple (which tastes as though it has a lot of sugar in it) is alright, but eating a banana is not?
Ideas about what to add to your menu and what to eat in moderation or avoid altogether follow.
GLYCEMIC INDEX VS GLYCEMIC LOAD
As diabetes has become more prevalent in the United States, more research has been conducted in all facets of the disease. There is still quite a lot that has yet to be learned about diabetes. The benefit of the glycemic index scale vs the glycemic load scale is just one example.
Prior to the last 5 to 10 years, most healthcare providers and dietitians would advise patients to eat foods that have a low glycemic index. These types of foods don’t raise blood sugar after eating them as much as other foods do.
Although the glycemic index is accurate, it is incomplete for two reasons. First, glycemic index only focuses on how quickly a particular food is broken down and then releases sugar into the bloodstream. Second, the glycemic index doesn’t take into account how many carbohydrates (and how big of a serving size) a particular food has. So the glycemic index does not completely evaluate how much stress is placed upon the ability of the pancreas to reduce blood sugar.
For example, the glycemic index of a potato chip is relatively low. So that should be great news then, right? According to the glycemic index alone, potato chips are a good food for people with diabetes to eat. Of course, this isn’t true because when you consider the amount of carbohydrates and how many potato chips the average person eats in one sitting, potato chips are actually a bad food choice for people with diabetes.
The glycemic load fills some of the gaps that the glycemic index is missing because it takes into account the amount of carbohydrates and, perhaps, most importantly, the average serving size, and thus what the total increase in blood sugar will be after eating a particular food. For this reason, it’s best to watch the glycemic load when trying to decide which foods are and are not good for you.
FOODS TO EAT
A high-fiber diet will assist in digestive tract health. Some foods that are high in fiber and also good for people with diabetes include vegetables such as carrots, fruits such as apples and oranges, and whole grains. When it comes to bread choices, look for whole grain and whole wheat, which are generally better than white bread.
Eat at least two servings of heart-healthy fish per week. These types of fish include cod, tuna, halibut and salmon. Also, try to have fats in your diet that have what are called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as avocados, almonds and peanuts.
FOODS TO AVOID
For most people with diabetes, avoiding foods that are rich in trans fats — such as margarine, certain types of baked goods and fast foods — is critically important due to the increased cardiovascular risk that you already have if you are someone with diabetes.
Trans fats are more difficult for the body to break down, and cause bigger problems in the body than monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats do. Also, it is generally a good idea to limit your sodium intake to less than 2,000 mg a day. We know that diabetes and chronic high blood sugar can directly cause high blood pressure. If you also have high blood pressure, then your provider may recommend lowering your daily sodium intake even more. One simple adjustment you could make is to add less salt to your food when you’re preparing your meals.
It is best to avoid most premade juices, which are frequently loaded with excess sugar.
In the late eighties and early nineties, the big focus in nutrition and dieting was to reduce fats. So, as a result of supply and demand, food processors started reducing fats in their foods because consumers sought out these types of foods. But there was one problem: Fat tastes good. So now their foods didn’t taste as good as they used to, and consumers were either purchasing from other companies or consuming less entirely.
The solution? Sugar. After food companies started realizing that they could replace fats with sugar and simultaneously solve the problem of the demand for low-fat foods and still make their food taste good, they added sugar to foods. What resulted is the spike of obesity and incidence of diabetes.
This can be explained by basic physiology: When sugar is consumed, insulin is secreted. As a hormone in the body, insulin functions to stimulate a process known as lipogenesis, which creates fat. So every time we eat large amounts of sugar, there are large amounts of fat produced as a direct result of the release of insulin.
Generally, when foods are processed, they undergo changes that frequently result in a reduction of health benefits. For people with diabetes, processed foods will provide a significant increase in glycemic load. Eating an apple is generally ok if you have diabetes. However, apple juice is one of the worst things you can drink. Why? The answer lies in what is added to the apple juice prior to it being packaged: sugar.
It’s a good idea to cook as much of your own food as you can so you can control the ingredients. If you pull something out of the freezer and toss it in the microwave for 45 seconds, it’s convenient, sure, but it’s also probably loaded with salt and preservatives as a result of processing and not as good for you as a meal you made from scratch, monitoring the ingredients.
NO ONE IS PERFECT
If you have been newly diagnosed with diabetes, you may find it helpful to consult a nutritionist regarding which foods are good and which are bad for controlling blood sugar. Even if you have had diabetes for several years but have never met with a dietitian or nutritionist, it might be worth asking your provider during your next visit if it would be a good idea for you to do so.
The food choices that you need to make once diagnosed with diabetes are limited. But don’t be discouraged and quit before you even try,
Make subtle changes to your diet, and continue to build off them over time. Type 2 diabetes is a condition that generally takes years to develop, and, frequently, years of poor diet and exercise play a role in its development.
As a result, there are often years of poor diet and exercise habits that need to be changed. Like any other habit, it can take as long or even longer to fully break it. Be patient with yourself, and try your best. Making subtle changes over time is more sustainable than trying to totally change a habit overnight.