Eating like a diabetic is often said to be the way that every person should eat, even non-diabetics. Certain foods affect glucose levels in different ways. But the body of a non-diabetic is able to intervene to prevent sudden spikes (sharp increases) in blood glucose levels. Diabetics cannot do so as efficiently. Therefore foods that can rapidly increase blood glucose levels have to be avoided. But these problem foods are not always as obvious as one would think. Refined sugar is a problem in diabetes but so are many other foods that may not have a sweet taste. Simply going by foods which taste sweeter than others is a careless way to control your diet if you are a diabetic.
Choosing Foods for Diabetes
Normally the body keeps a fairly tight control over the blood glucose levels. It ensures that these levels stay within a relatively narrow range, between approximately 79.2 mg/dL (4.4 mmol/L) to 110 mg/dL (6.1 mmol/L). Even though the blood glucose levels can dip slightly lower or rise slightly higher and still be within the norm, the blood glucose levels in diabetes mellitus can rise above 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L). The reason for this inability to limit the glucose levels is that diabetics either lack sufficient insulin or their body does not respond as normal to insulin. The pancreatic hormone insulin is secreted in response to high blood glucose levels to reduce it.
The blood glucose levels in turn are determined by the food you eat. Food is first digested in the gut. Then it is absorbed into the bloodstream where it travels to the liver and is processed. Glucose is the simple carbohydrate that can be used for energy production. But high levels of glucose in the bloodstream can be a problem. It irritates and even damages cells. If very high, it can even lead to serious diabetic complications like ketoacidosis and a coma. Therefore diabetics have to be selective about the foods they eat as well as taking their diabetic medication. Exercise has also shown to help with glucose control as well as weight loss.
The glycemic index (GI) of foods is one way of ascertaining which foods should be avoided in diabetes. It is a measure of how quickly the blood glucose levels rise after consuming certain foods. A high glycemic index means a faster rise in glucose levels. Since the body’s glucose control mechanisms are inadequate, diabetics should avoid high GI foods. Low GI foods are a better option as it causes a gradual rise in glucose levels that the body is able to control. Spies in the blood glucose levels are therefore less likely to occur.
Remember that diabetics still need to have a balanced diets with adequate portions from each type of food group. Apart from glycemic index, the size of food portions needs to be controlled so as to avoid overeating. Here are some of the foods to avoid, which are often considered among the worst foods for diabetics. Sometimes it is not just the type of food that is the problem but the way in which the food is prepared.
The starches are carbohydrates which often make up the largest part of most meals. This includes bread, rice and potatoes.
- Both white and brown bread should be avoided. Whole-grain bread is a better option and rye bread or breads marked as low GI are ideal.
- A baked potato is a better option. French fries should be avoided but baked fries are well tolerated.
- White flour tortillas, especially if fried, should be replaced by whole-wheat and corn tortillas.
- Cereals made of refined grain and added sugar are to be avoided. Instead opt for whole grain cereals with no sugar.
Most vegetables are not a problem for diabetics. The way it is processed and prepared is the bigger issue. However, diabetics should keep a food diary and take note of any vegetables that cause a rise in their blood glucose levels. This rise may be highly individual – while it can affect one diabetic it may not affect another.
- Do not cook vegetables with butter, cream or cheese.
- Try to limit the extent of the cooking. Keep it as fresh as possible and eat more raw vegetables.
- Canned vegetables should be avoided as is the case with pickles due to the high sodium content. This is more of a problem if you have hypertension (high blood pressure).
Fruits and Fruit Juices
Fruits have more sugars than vegetables but can still be consumed by diabetics. These natural sugars are different from refined sugar. The high fiber content within fruits also plays an important role in altering the speed at which it is absorbed into the bloodstream. However, certain fruits like watermelons can raise blood glucose levels rapidly. A food diary can help differentiate individual responses.
- Fresh fruit is always the best option for diabetics.
- Fruit canned in sugary syrup must be avoided.
- Although 100% fruit juice with no added sugar can be consumed, it should be drank in moderation. Mixed fruit juices or punch with sugar and other ingredients are best avoided.
- Products made of fruits like applesauce and fruit rolls should not be eaten.
Meat and Other Proteins
The protein in meat, eggs and fish are better tolerated but not the fat within it. Tofu and beans are other good sources of protein. It is important to ensure that a healthy balance between all the food groups is maintained, and not only a meat diet.
- Always opt for lean meat without the skin (for example skinless chicken pieces).
- Do not fry meat, fish or eggs or cook it in oil or lard.
- Low fat cooking preparation should also be used for beans and tofu.
Dairy is another good source of protein but it is also high in fat. Fortunately many dairy products are now available in low fat options. Select the following dairy options:
- Skim milk or 1% fat milk.
- Low fat cheeses, including cottage cheese.
- Low fat yogurt and sour cream.
Whole milk and regular dairy products are to be avoided.
Fats and Oils
Fats are an important part of a balanced diet but is only required in small quantities. These days foods are often cooked in large amounts of oils and fats. Furthermore fatty foods are often cheaper and more easily accessible. Fat is also included in many foods to enhance the taste. Foods that contain large amounts of fats combined with refined sugar and refined flour should be avoided.
- Vegetable oil and margarine are better options than lard and butter.
- Opt for baked snacks rather than fried snacks.
- Low fat mayonnaise and and light or fat free salad dressings should be used instead of the regular variety.
- Air-popped popcorn is better than popcorn prepared in oil and butter.
It is important to select beverages that are free of sugar. Regular milk and cream can be a problem as well so should either be avoided or low fat options used in coffee and tea.
- Energy drinks are among the worst beverages for diabetics as it is laden with sugar. Many sports drinks are suitable but diabetics should try to avoid energy and sport drinks as far as possible.
- Regular water is probably the best option for diabetics. Remember that the body gets enough micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and salts) from food. 100% fruit juice without sugar is also acceptable.
- Small amounts of alcohol can be consumed by diabetics. Spirits, liquers and cocktails should be avoided. A small quantity of light beer or wine can be consumed occasionally.
- Coffee and tea are both acceptable beverages for diabetics provided that sugar and regular milk or full cream is not added to it.
Diabetes diet. Mayo Clinic