Living with diabetes 2 - Nutrition and diet

More and more people have to live with diabetes and it's consequences. Since this is a very topical subject I made a blog-series about it. This is the second blog post. Make sure to read the first one as well.

When suffering from diabetes, it’s one of the most important things to change and control your eating habits, but it also can be the most challenging aspect of diabetes self-management. However, it’s absolutely doable!

Switching to a balanced, nutritious diet doesn’t mean living in deprivation. It means to focus on tasty, energy boosting foods, which will improve your health, your mood and your performance throughout the day.

Of course, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' eating pattern, as usual. Especially, when it comes to managing diabetes, because it means maintaining healthy blood sugar level. Your target blood sugar level should be 6 mmol/L fasted or up to 8.7 mmol/L 90 minutes after a meal.

It’s crucial to check your blood sugar levels on a regular basis!

Low glycemic index (GI)


A diet based on low GI foods can be effective for people with diabetes. Furthermore, portion control has to be applied to this diet.

Basically, low GI diets focus on carbohydrates that have a low GI value and are more slowly digested by the body. Hence, you avoid blood sugar spikes.

Glycemic Index (GI)

The GI is a measure of the blood sugar-raising potential of the carb content of a food, compared to pure glucose (which has a GI of 100). If you suffer from diabetes the GI can be a great managing tool.

  • GI of 55 or below: low (peanuts, bean sprouts, grapefruit, apples, carrots, bananas, snickers bar)
  • GI of 56-69: moderate (oatmeal, ice cream, raisins, white rise, sugar)
  • GI of 70 or above: high (white bread, watermelon, popcorn, sports drinks)
Glycemic load (GL)

More important than the GI though, is the glycemic load.

For example, a watermelon and a doughnut have the same GI of 76. However, one serving of watermelon provides 11g of carbs, while a medium doughnut provides 23g of carbs.

Hence, the GL should help you figure out how different sized portions of different foods affect your blood sugar levels.

You can calculate the glycemic load by using the following formula:

GL = GI x gr of carbs / 100

  • Low GL: 0 to 10
  • Medium GL: 11 to 19
  • High GL: 20 and over

Keep in mind that the actual blood sugar increase of a whole meal will be different, if protein and fat is added to the meal, since GI and GL only refer to a plain carbohydrate, eaten in isolation, which should never be the case for a person suffering from diabetes.

Diabetes and ketogenic diet

Considering a ketogenic diet when suffering from diabetes can be very beneficial when it comes to diabetes control, lowering blood sugar levels and reducing excess weight.

Macro nutrient distribution:

  • Less than 50g of net carbs
  • Roughly 2g per kg body weight of protein (you could go a bit lower)
  • Remaining calories from fat

Simple as that. No, fat does not make you fat, that's nonsense! Too many calories make you fat. Period.

Don't be afraid of dietary fat! In this diet, it's your primary fuel and you need it. If you follow the plan outlined in our keto article, you'll be fine.

Being on a very low-carb/high fat diet means, your blood sugar levels will be kept at a constant low, but healthy level. This encourages the body to break down body fat and uses it as it's main energy source (instead of glucose).

People who need insulin medication will usually require a smaller dosage (or none at all), due to the absence of carbs in the diet.

How to take control of diabetes

Eat regular meals


One of the most important aspects in managing diabetes is controlling your appetite. Therefore, space meals evenly throughout the day. Especially, if you need an insulin injection twice a day.

Cut back sugar


No, that doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to eat any sugar. Don’t panic. You’re aiming for a healthy, balanced diet, so you can include some sugar. Provided you don’t overdo it.

However, you can use alternatives for plain table sugar, such as honey, maple syrup or mashed bananas.

Half fruits, half vegetables


Fruits contain a lot of fiber, minerals, vitamins and may even satisfy your sweet tooth. Always opt for whole fruits and try to skip fruit juices.

In terms of vegetables, include more non-starch veggies, such as leafy greens, asparagus, carrots and broccoli each day.

Slow digestive carbohydrates


All carbs affect blood sugar levels. Hence, you have to be conscious of the amount and kind of carbs you eat.

Aim for more complex carbs in your diet, which are more gradually absorbed by the body. Try beans, peas, lentils, sweet potatoes and oat-based cereals.

Build your meals around protein and a moderate healthy dietary fat intake

Protein can be very beneficial, as it’s more slowly broken down by the body than carbs.

It also has a minimal effect on blood sugar levels.

Check out some of our simple and fast to make protein snacks.

Dietary fat alone has little, if any, effect on blood sugar levels.

First think, then drink

Alcohol is very high in empty calories, which means the calories in alcohol contain nearly no nutrients. Plus, cocktails contain a ridiculously huge amount of sugar, which will lead to spikes in blood sugar levels.

Especially, when you are on insulin or other medications, it is not a good idea to drink much and often. Limit your intake drastically, if you drink on a regular basis.

Reduce salt


Eating too much sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure. This in turn increases the risk of heart diseases and stroke. You are already at higher risk, because of diabetes.

It is crucial to reduce you salt intake to 6g or less a day. Try cutting back on processed foods and junk foods and start eating fresh whole foods.

Drink more water

Water is the super important. It is vital to keep hydrated throughout the day and water is the best liquid to have at hand, because it contains no extra calories.

No calories means it wont affect your blood glucose levels!

Superfoods for people with diabetes

Beans


They are one of nature’s most nutritious foods. In fact, their high amount of fiber and protein makes them perfect if you’re following a plant based diet.

Beans can be a good way to control blood sugar levels, if you suffer from type 2 diabetes, because they'll be digested very slowly.

Broccoli


Broccoli is a non-starchy vegetable, which goes a long way in satisfying your hunger and boosts your nutrient intake dramatically.

Providing just very few calories and carbs, broccoli is one the foods that people with diabetes can enjoy almost without limits.

Tomatoes


Doesn’t matter if eaten raw or cooked, tomatoes are full of lycopene. Lycopene may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration.

A regular consumption of tomatoes might reduce cardiovascular risk, that's often associated with type 2 diabetes.

Dark chocolate


Mhhh, oh yes! Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which reduce insulin resistance, improve insulin sensitivity, keep insulin levels stable, drop fasting blood sugar and even blunt craving.

Isn’t that amazing? But you have to eat real dark chocolate (85% cocoa or higher).

Blueberries


My personal favourite, because they are super nutritious and tasty. In fact, they contain both insoluble fiber (which flushes fat out of our system) and soluble fiber (which slows down the emptying of our stomach and improves blood sugar control).

But most importantly, blueberries contain a natural chemical that is called anthocyanin. This chemical can lower your blood glucose levels, lift depression, even improve memories and also stimulate the release of adiponectin. Adiponectin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels, among other things.

Oats


Maybe you didn’t think of oatmeal as a superfood, but it really is. It may prevent you from developing type 2 diabetes.

Oatmeal is really high in magnesium, which helps our bodies to use glucose and secrete insulin properly. Enjoy them as a nice breakfast together with some blueberries.

Cinnamon


It is known, that cinnamon helps with blood sugar levels.

People with type 2 diabetes who took one grams daily have seen their fasted blood sugar levels drop by 30%. Furthermore, they reduced their triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol by more than 25%.

Cinnamon is rich in chromium, a mineral that enhances the effects of insulin. But that’s not all. This delicious spice also contains a huge amount of polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that gather up free radicals in your blood. By doing that, they protect you from cancer and lower the risk of inflammation.

Wild salmon


Since fish doesn't contain any carbs and mainly healthy dietary fat and protein, it has almost no affect on blood sugar levels at all.

Adding salmon to your diet will slow down digestion of other foods eaten with that meal and therefore increase fullness.

Conclusion

See, being diagnosed with any type of diabetes doesn't necessarily mean you have to give up all the foods you love. You can still enjoy a wide variety of nutritious and delicious food. The best diabetes diet is well balanced and includes a good amount of complex carbs, healthy fats and lean protein.

But don’t think, just because you are on medication you can eat whatever you want. Eating a high amount of processed junk food will lead to an increase of medication and maybe even insulin resistance.

Stay healthy!

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