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Diabetes: Diet

Being a diabetic is not easy. What you eat is fundamental to your good health and beating or controlling diabetes.  Knowing what to eat can be confusing. There are 3 basic food groups: 

  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Carbohydrates
It is necessary to have all 3 food groups in your diet in order to achieve balance and get the proper nutrients.  Most diabetics count carbs and consult a nutritionist.  The amount of food and kind of food you eat is closely related to your blood sugar control.  You can never go wrong with a colorful plate of food – blues, greens, purples, reds, oranges, and yellows. 

Being a diabetic is about balance.  Eat a diet high in complex carbohydrates, low in fat, high in fiber and constantly consult the Glycemic Index for good foods to eat.  Also, check out the U.S. government’s diet pyramid for diabetics.  Part of being a diabetic is knowing how much you can eat, what to eat, and when to eat it.  Usually a low-glycemic diet will:
  • Help or improve your blood sugar levels
  • Help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce your blood pressure and risk of heart disease

Nutrition is key for diabetics:

  • Avoid nutrient deficiencies
  • Get lots of fiber
  • Avoid sugar – natural or artificial
  • Count your carbs and avoid the bad, refined food carbs
  • Avoid saturated fat
  • Get enough, but not too much, protein

Before the Glycemic Index, nutritionists predominately relied on the U.S. Food Exchange System. 

According to Wikipedia, “In the 1950s, the American Diabetes Association, in conjunction with the U.S. Public Health Service, brought forth the "exchange scheme". This was a scheme that allowed people to swap foods of similar nutritional value (e.g. carbohydrate) for another, so, for example, if wishing to have more than normal carbohydrates for pudding, one could cut back on potatoes in one's first course. The exchange scheme was revised in 1976, 1986 and 1995 (Chalmers & Peterson, 1999, p85). However, not all diabetes dietitians today recommend the exchange scheme. Instead, they are likely to recommend the same healthy diet that is recommended for everyone, that is, one that is high in fiber, involves eating a good range of fruit and vegetables (ideally, five portions a day) and one that is low in both sugar and fat, especially saturated fat.”

Here are a few steps to making healthful food choices for you and your entire family with or without diabetes:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables. Try picking from the rainbow of colors available to maximize variety.  When eating fruit, sprinkle some cinnamon on it.  It may act as an insulin substitute in Type 2 diabetes.  Also, whole fruit is better than juice, and limit your servings to no more than 4 servings per day or two 8-ounce servings of fresh juice, which you can dilute to decrease the rate at which sugar enters your bloodstream.  Raw veggies are better than cooked ones.  Olives, soybeans, nuts, artichokes, mangos and onions have shown to produce positive effects on blood sugar control.  These foods have a low glycemic rating and are high in fiber.  The Glycemic Index is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is digested, enters the bloodstream, and raises blood sugar levels.
  • Reduce your exposure to pesticides.  Buy organic products, which are grown without pesticides.  Some experts believe that pesticides could contribute to having diabetes.
  • Eat to regulate your blood sugars.  Avoid refined sugars and white flour products. 
  • Choose lean meats like cuts of beef and pork that end in "loin" (for example, pork loin and sirloin). Remove the skin from chicken and turkey. Do not overeat meat – a vegetarian diet is actually best - and always buy meat without hormones or additives.  Diabetics can also eat chromium-rich liver and organ meats. 
  • Eat good fats.  Choose liquid oils for cooking instead of solid fats that can be high in saturated and trans fats. Remember that fats are high in calories. If you're trying to lose weight, watch your portion sizes of added fats.  I always recommend olive, vegetable, and nut oils for daily use.
  • Low-fat dairy products are an excellent source of protein.  Avoid full-fat dairy products.  There are so many wonderful choices that will give you the same – if not better – flavor.
  • Reduce your salt intake and increase your potassium
  • Choose whole grain foods over processed grain products. Diets rich in whole grains – a major source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, minerals and B vitamins - have been shown to decrease the amount of sugar absorbed in your body
  • Drink lots of water and avoid soda, fruit punch, sweet tea and other sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • Cut back on high-calorie snack foods and desserts like chips, cookies, cakes and full-fat ice cream.  If sugar, fat, or salt is one of the first 3 ingredients listed on the label, avoid it.  Instead, try eating oat or rice bran crackers with nut butter or cheese for snacks.
  • Watch your portion sizes.  Eating too much of even healthful foods can lead to weight gain.  Most diabetics try not to exceed a1,600-calorie per day diet.  Everyone is different.  Consult your doctor and nutritionist – create your own health team.
  • There are “free” foods you can eat without counting carbs.  Here are some examples: bouillon or broth, sparkling water, coffee or tea, diet soft drinks, sugar-free drink mixes, sugar-free hard candy, sugar free Jell-O, 2 tablespoons or less of jam or jelly and sugar-free syrup.  If your serving contains more than 5 grams of carbohydrate, then you have to count it in your diet.  Don’t cheat.  Your health depends on it.

Take vitamins and supplements, which can be very effective in controlling diabetes. Also add spirulina to your diet, which helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.  Other excellent foods that help stabilize blood sugar levels include berries, brewer’s yeast, egg yolks, fish, garlic, kelp, sauerkraut and soy.

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