The word “diet” is often enough to strike fear into stoutest of hearts. Even worse is when that odious word is coupled with some medical condition or descriptor. Among these is the diabetes diet.However, putting this nutritional epithet into practice is not nearly as challenging as it may sound, nor is it particularly difficult to adhere to. In fact, a diabetic-friendly diet is an ideal way to eat healthier in general. The basis of this diet is an emphasis on healthy foods that are low in calories and fat coupled with observing regular mealtimes and maintaining a consistent eating schedule.
Why Is Diet Important for Diabetics?
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes involve a deficiency in insulin production. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin at all. In type 2 diabetes, insulin production typically starts out normally but begins to deteriorate as beta cells in the pancreas begin to deteriorate. In addition, type 2 diabetes is also characterized by insulin resistance. This means that the body is unable to use insulin in a maximally efficient manner.What exactly is insulin, you may ask? Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels. It does this by helping to facilitate the removal of glucose from the blood stream and into cells where it is used for energy. The varying deficiency of insulin that characterizes both types of diabetes causes blood glucose to remain high in sufferers.Food that is high in calories and in fat cause a greater spike in blood glucose levels, and people with diabetes cannot naturally manage this rise (and consistently high levels are likewise unhealthy in non-diabetics as well). Significantly elevated blood glucose levels cause a condition called hyperglycemia that incurs blurred vision, fatigue, vomiting and host of other unpleasant symptoms. Unchecked hyperglycemia can ultimately lead to diabetic coma, and consistently high blood glucose can, in the long run, cause damage to the heart, eyes, kidneys and nervous system.
Keep Regular Meal Times
For people living with diabetes, diet is about more than just eating a certain selection of foods in specified portions. It’s also equally important to eat on a regular schedule, at the same time intervals each day. Maintaining consistent eating habits helps your body to more effectively use the insulin that it is able to generate and/or the supplemental insulin obtained through injections.
Eat Diabetic-Friendly Foods
A proper diabetic diet is founded on an understanding of the three good carbohydrates: sugar, starch and fiber. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, while starch and fiber are complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates, as the name suggests, are structurally simple and easy for the body to break down, and so provide a sudden rush of glucose into the blood. Complex carbohydrates are more difficult to break down, and so provide a more extended and even release of glucose into the bloodstream.Fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes and low-fat dairy products are all good sources of sugar and starch. Ideal high-fiber foods for diabetics include the good carbs listed above (with the exception of dairy) as well as nuts, wheat bran and whole-wheat flour. In general, refined and processed foods should be avoided; these preserve starch and sugar but strip away the important element of fiber.In addition to maintaining healthy blood glucose levels, it’s important for diabetics to maintain their blood pressure and blood cholesterol. One of the best ways to do this is to replace meats found on land and in the air with those found in the sea—particularly, fish. Red meat and poultry are both high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which can restrict blood flow and increase blood pressure. Fish like tuna and halibut are lower in saturated fat, and others like sardines and salmon are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which improves overall vascular health by lowering the amount of certain fats in the blood stream. Additionally, foods that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—such as avocado, pecans and walnuts—can also help to control the levels of blood cholesterol (but should be consumed in moderation, as they tend to also to contain high amounts of calories).For type 2 diabetics, a generally healthier diet is an ideal way to reduce weight. This in turn makes it easier to control blood glucose levels—not to mention all the other health benefits that a healthier body mass brings with it.This is far from a comprehensive guide to healthy eating for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, though. Anyone living with either of these afflictions should consult a dietician to develop a program that is best for them and their individual condition.