Living with Diabetes
Diabetes is becoming increasingly more common in the world and South Asians are particularly at higher risk of getting it. Fortunately, there are several strategies one can employ to control their diabetes. This article contains some dietary tips that can help you live well with diabetes.
What is Type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition where your body cannot use the sugar efficiently from the food you eat. That’s why the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood is too high. This is because either your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin hormone and/or the insulin that is produced is not able to enter the body cells to work properly (insulin resistance). High blood sugar is harmful to the body, which is why it needs to be controlled.
How much your blood glucose goes up will depend on:
the amount of carbohydrate in the food and drink you consume
physical activity level
if you are overweight or obese
severity of diabetes
Foods that affect your blood glucose level
A carbohydrate is a macronutrient in our diet. Carbohydrates from food you eat are broken down to glucose that gives you energy. But they also affect your blood sugar (or blood glucose) level. The following foods contain carbohydrates:
Starchy carbohydrates: beans, lentils, dried peas, bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, starchy snack foods e.g. pretzels, chips etc. and starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, corn, peas, cassava. Other vegetables have small amounts of carbohydrates in them.
Sugary carbohydrates: baked goods, biscuits, cookies, sweets, chocolate, jams, ice cream, candy and sugary drinks.
Fruit, milk and milk products also contain natural sugars.
Diabetic foods: Foods labelled ‘suitable for diabetics’ have no special benefit. They are sometimes labelled for marketing to benefit the food companies. They are often high in calories and may still increase your blood glucose level! Read the Nutrition Facts Table before you buy them.
If you have diabetes, paying more attention to the type and amount of carbohydrate you eat will help you control your blood sugar levels. It is useful to spread carbohydrate throughout the day to keep blood glucose levels stable. A lower carbohydrate diet could also be an option for you! A dietitian can help to figure out a meal plan that balances carbohydrate foods and keeps you healthy.
Tips for a healthy balanced diet
In general, people with diabetes should enjoy a healthy diet; include a variety of vegetables and some fruit, eat protein-rich foods, reduce saturated fat and increase fibre.
The tips below will help you to achieve a balanced diet:
Eat regular meals – eating 3 meals and small snacks in between may help you to manage your blood sugar levels and avoid overeating.
Get your carbohydrates from whole grains, beans & lentils, vegetables & some fruit, low-fat milk and yogurt. Choose carbohydrates that have low glycemic index.
Fish is a good source of low-fat protein (white fish) and heart-protecting omega-3 (oily fish). Aim to eat two portions a week of fresh, canned or frozen oily fish, like mackerel, sardines or salmon. Vegetarians can get protein from soy foods like tofu, tempeh, cottage cheese and some from beans & lentils.
Reduce your intake of all fats, especially saturated fats e.g. butter, cheese, processed meat and baked goods.
Increase fibre-rich foods in your meals.
Eat small portions of food to help reduce and maintain a healthy weight.
It’s wise to cut back on added sugar. Enjoy the foods with no added sugar.
Keep foods containing sugar to an occasional treat and eat them in very small amount. Choose sugar free drinks whenever possible.
Stay hydrated. Drink 8–10 glasses of fluid per day in the form of water, tea and coffee and other sugar-free beverages.
Get active. Being active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It helps: • to control blood glucose by helping your insulin to work more effectively • to manage weight. Even losing 5-10% of your current body weight can help control your blood glucose.
Are you are making significant changes to your diet & physical activity level and losing weight? Talk to your doctor and registered dietitian before making any major changes to your diet and lifestyle, as it may not be suitable for you or your medication may need adjusting.
Diabetes Canada recommends that all people with diabetes receive advice on nutrition from a registered dietitian (RD). Regular counselling is crucial to help modify your diet to normalize and maintain glucose levels.
This article is intended for information only. It is not a substitute for medical or dietary advice given by a physician or a dietitian. Please consult your healthcare provider about how these tips may apply to you.