How Should I Eat as a Diabetic
The more we learn about diabetes, the easier it has become to control the disease and live a normal life. If you have diabetes, you can still eat a fun and exciting diet full of flavor—and even sweets—just by being a little mindful of the kinds of foods you’re consuming. There are recommended dietary guidelines that exist to help keep you healthy and prevent diabetes from causing other chronic illnesses like heart disease.
The Right Diet
Everyone’s needs are different, so be sure to check in regularly with your doctor and nutritionist to find the diet that’s right for you. But in general, it’s important to match the energy you consume with the energy you’re burning. People who are more active need to consume more calories, and people who are less active need to moderate their calorie consumption to keep from becoming overweight or obese, which can make diabetes more difficult to manage and increase the risk of strokes and cancer, among other diseases. Even if your diet is healthy, if you eat too much food, you can still be at risk of obesity and high blood sugar.
What you do eat should be high in nutrients and low in sugar, with a few exceptions as a special treat – but this is not much different than what a non-diabetic should be eating! And while you’re eating healthy, exercise is a great way to manage your blood sugar, lower your cholesterol, and keep your weight in check.
Because fats have the highest energy content of all foods, eating too much fat can cause you to gain weight and make it more difficult to keep your blood sugar under control, even if you’re taking insulin. But not all fat is bad—there’s good fats and bad fats, and understanding the difference will help you make healthy choices.
Saturated fat is important to limit or avoid entirely because it contributes to raising your bad cholesterol levels. Animal foods like red meats and dairy tend to be high in saturated fats, so a vegetarian or vegan diet goes a long way towards avoiding them. If you already eat vegetarian or vegan, be sure to limit foods that include palm oil and coconut milk or cream. If you do consume meat and dairy, choose lean meats like chicken instead of processed deli meats, and trim off any skin and fat before you cook it. Low-fat dairy products are better than whole-fat alternatives. And of course, fried foods like french fries and fried chicken, as well as sweets like chocolate and cakes, should be eliminated from your diet or saved for special occasions.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, by contrast, help provide your body with the fatty acids and vitamins that it needs. These are “good fats” that are not only okay to eat but actually healthy for you! Sunflower, soybean, sesame, and corn oils all contain polyunsaturated fats, as do some margarine, but always check the label! Some oily fish, like tuna and salmon, as well as fish oil, contains polyunsaturated fat that’s high in omega vitamins that are good for your body and brain. Monounsaturated fats can be found in some margarine as well as canola and olive oils. And keep that avocado on your toast, because avocado is high in healthy monounsaturated fats.
If you need some healthy fats in your diet, try eating nuts and seeds, as well as nut spreads, for a combination of both kinds of healthy fats. Vegetable stir fries with canola oil, or fresh raw salads with olive oil vinaigrettes, are easy ways to add healthy fats to your diet, while also getting the benefits of the vitamins and minerals found in vegetables. If you do eat meat, try to substitute some chicken and beef for fish, because it’s by far the healthiest for you.
Our bodies need carbohydrates because they are our primary energy source, but carbohydrates break down into glucose, which goes into our bloodstream. Insulin is the hormone that our bodies use to process glucose into energy we can use—which is the problem for diabetics, who either don’t produce insulin or don’t produce enough. This means that carbohydrates are one of the most important food groups to be mindful of, because it will have the biggest impact on blood sugar.
Different kinds of carbohydrates are processed by the body differently, and some have less of an impact on blood glucose than others. Whole grains, legumes, and pasta are good examples of carbohydrates that enter the blood stream more slowly and are easier for the body to process. Whatever kind of carbohydrates you’re consuming, it’s a good idea to eat more smaller meals throughout the day, rather than binging on large meals all at once. This will help your body moderate your blood sugar, and make it easier to match your insulin levels to your needs.
Let’s do away now with the myth that people with diabetes can’t eat any sugar. Whether or not you take insulin, it’s perfectly fine to have small amounts of sugar from time to time. But balance and moderation are key here. While it is possible for someone with type 1 diabetes to simply take more insulin to counteract a higher than usual consumption of sugar, it’s still critical to moderate your sugar intake, as too much sugar isn’t good for anyone and can cause you to gain weight, even if you are taking the right amount of insulin. A spoonful of sugar on some cereal, or some sliced fresh fruits, are always much better choices than cakes and candies.
When you’re scanning ingredients labels to avoid sugars, be careful of “secret” sugars that are hiding under different names like glucose and sucrose or corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. Instead, go for alternative sweeteners like Stevia and Equal, which can be used in place of sugar and are just as nutritious but don’t raise blood glucose levels as much.
Always check with your doctor and nutritionist to find a diet that works for you. You can book an appointment with our dieticians in Brisbane online. Once you know what you should be eating, Diabetes Australia can help you find recipes and tips so that you can truly enjoy your diet, while keeping your diabetes under control.