Even the thought of following a traditional diabetic diet can be really scary. A long list of tasty foods you can never ever eat for the rest of your life! What is offered on your diet chart is bland, boring and monotonous food every single day and there are absolutely no holidays. Also no options when you eat out. This generation has people with diabetes who are young and in the most productive years of life and they cannot cope with this kind of “life sentence”.
The good news is that it is possible to smartly chart out a diet where nobody has to stay away from any kind of food completely. What needs to be understood is ‘when to eat what and in what quantity (portion size)’.
The understanding that many have is, glucose and carbohydrates influence your sugar levels. But the fact is that anything you eat influences your sugar levels!
Understanding the various food groups and their effect on diabetes
These are primary sources of energy. 40% to 60% of a diabetic diet should comprise of carbohydrates. They are primarily divided into simple and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates release sugar into the blood very rapidly causing extreme changes in blood sugar levels. Many of these also do not provide any nutrition and only add to the calories consumed, so are labeled as “empty calories”. These spikes and fall in blood sugar levels cause addictions and weight gain. For example, Candy, softdrinks, maida based biscuits and snacks, fruit juices, fast foods.
Complex carbohydrates are “fibre rich”. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. They provide gradual and sustained energy to the body and help maintain blood sugar levels. They also provide a sense of fullness for a longer period of time helping weight loss. So these are termed as “good carbs”. These are foods in their natural state. Example, oats, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, certain dairy products.
Most of our everyday carbohydrate requirements should come from “good carbs”. Carbohydrates are essential at every meal and the amount of carbohydrates should be maintained at every meal for effective control of diabetes.
Proteins are responsible for growth and repair of the cells. Enzymes and hormones (including insulin) which are necessary for the smooth functioning of the body are made of proteins.
Antibodies that protect us from infections are also made up of proteins. In a diabetic, 20% to 30% of the diet should comprise of proteins.
Proteins should be a part of every meal. Protein rich foods added to a meal help prevent sudden sugar spikes in the blood.
The richest sources of proteins are eggs (limit egg yolks), chicken, fish, milk and milk products (except butter). Plant protein is found in beans especially, soya beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Plant protein is healthier as animal products contain saturated fats (bad fats). A blend of proteins from different sources should be consumed for maximum benefit. A word of caution though, too high protein in diet increases load on kidneys, so consulting a dietician is essential before adding too much protein to the diet.
Fats are an essential part of healthy diet as they are a source of heat and energy. They provide the essential fatty acids which are required for various body functions and are also essential for the utilization of fat soluble vitamins.
We must be alert about how much fat we consume as they are very high in calories more than double of carbohydrates and proteins and are prone to getting stored in the body causing obesity and obesity related illnesses.
In a diabetic diet maximum 20% to 30% of daily caloric requirements should be from fats. They can be classified into the unsaturated (good) variety and saturated (bad) variety.
The “good” fats are found in fish, fish oils, flax seeds, nuts, seeds, olive and olive oils.
The “bad fats” are found in meat, poultry, full fat dairy, butter, egg yolk, coconut and palm oils. Not more than 10% of total calories should come from bad fats. Transfats (Dalda) are even more harmful than bad fats and should be avoided as much as possible. Cookies, cakes, chips, bakery products are high on transfats. Consumption of good fats should also be restricted as any fat causes obesity.
Role of Fibre in Diabetic Management
Initially fibre was understood as an inert substance present in various foods, as it has no nutritional value. But today we have understood the positive effects of fibre by understanding the way it influences energy release of carbohydrates and the absorption of fats. Also, it has a bulking (filling) property so it can reduce hunger pangs and it also expands stool volume and acts as a stool softener.
Types of fibre are, Insoluble fibre and Soluble fibre
Insoluble fibre: Richest sources are wheat bran and other whole grains (most of the insoluble fibre gets lost in the process of milling and polishing of grains), seeds, skins of many fruits and vegetables. These have a bulking and stool softening property. Psyllium husk (isabgol) is also a god source of insoluble fibre.
Soluble fibre: Richest sources are oats, beans, lentils, seeds, brown rice, barley, apples, vegetables - mainly potatoes and broccoli. Soluble fibre delays the stomach emptying time thus slowing down the release of sugar in the bloodstream. Thus spikes of high sugar in the blood are avoided and there is a sustained release of energy in the body. Also soluble fibre traps cholesterol and reduces its absorbtion in the blood stream thus preventing complications and helping in weight loss.
Diabetes can be managed better by adding fibre to every meal (both soluble and insoluble). Consume 3 to 5 portions of fruits and vegetables daily, whole grains, seeds and nuts as mini snack to get optimum fibre in diet.
In a nutshell….
Do not skip meals. Eat small quantities every 3 to 4 hours. Maintain regular meal timings. Always have a good breakfast. Eat 2 main meals and 3 to 4 mini meals. Restrict the portion size at each meal.
Have food from all groups in recommended amounts at every meal. In the carbohydrate group, choose from good carbs. Consume proteins from different sources. Limit consumption of fats mainly saturated fats. Avoid tansfats completely. Carbohydrate consistency meaning consuming the same amount of carbohydrates (as recommended by a dietician) at the same timings daily, prevents ups and downs in blood sugar levels and is very important in control of diabetes.
Make your diet a “high fibre diet”. It should comprise of both soluble and insoluble fibre rich foods.
You don’t have to give up any food completely. Take professional help to make place for your favorite foods in your diet chart. Remember, 'Moderation' is the key.