General Dietary Tips for Diabetics
Diabetes is characterized by blood glucose levels that are above normal, healthy limits. A chronic condition, diabetes is caused by several factors.
What is diabetes?
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fails to produce insulin. Because insulin transports sugar into cells, when a body lacks insulin, its cells starve for energy. In type 2 diabetes, there is plenty of insulin in the body, but sugar still cannot get inside the cells. In both types of diabetes, sugar in the blood becomes very high. As the starving cells repeatedly signal they need more sugar, the body is stimulated to make more sugar, to crave more sugar, and to release more insulin in the blood. [Learn more about the causes of diabetes here.]
With so much sugar in the blood, things can soon go bad. Since bacteria feed on glucose, infections are more frequent. In addition, the blood becomes more acidic, which disrupts the body's pH balance. Fermentation can also be a problem, as yeast grows more easily in high sugar environments. While most cells must manually transport sugar inside their walls with insulin, some cells (such as blood vessel, nerve, kidney, and eye cells) do not. These cells, when overloaded with sugar, cause many of the symptoms associated with diabetes, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Kidney failure
- Nerve problems.
The amount of sugar in your blood is affected by how many simple sugars taken in, or in other words, what you eat. There are 2 approaches to control blood sugar levels and prevent problems associated with high blood sugar:
- Changing the sugar in your diet
- Improving the transportation of sugars into the cells.
What should diabetics eat?
The short answer is, lots of:
- Whole grains
- Good quality lean meats.
Minimize consumption of processed foods, simple sugars, and foods high in fat. Foods that help control blood sugars are high-fiber foods with lots of complex carbohydrates. Simple, processed, and concentrated carbohydrates should be avoided. This includes foods with:
- Sugar cane
- High fructose corn syrup
- Concentrated fruit juice
- Processed foods (breads, pastas, and baked goods).
These foods all have simple sugars that the intestines absorb quickly, which in turn rapidly increase blood sugar levels.
While foods high in fat are absorbed slowly, many types of animal fats increase inflammation in the body, making tissue healing more difficult. Foods high in fat can also affect blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Foods with more complex carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly and can actually aid in transporting glucose into the cells. Water-soluble fiber has been shown to be the most beneficial in controlling blood sugar because it slows digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. The majority of fiber in cell walls comes from plants. This is why vegetables are particularly good sources of water-soluble fiber. They include beans, oat bran, nuts, seeds, vegetable, and fruit with pectin such as apples and pears.
A healthy, diabetic diet is similar to a diet that is healthy for most people. Eating good quality foods that are high in nutrients and fiber can help normalize blood sugars. Working with a doctor and being vigilant about diet can make a difference in the long-term health of a person living with diabetes.
For more information on diet tips for diabetics see the following articles from TheDietChannel: 3 Holiday Eating Strategies for Diabetics, 8 Ways to Control Your Blood Sugars and Diabetes & Diet: Control Your Blood Sugar with Mini-Meals.
For information on diabetes contracted during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) see the following article: Diabetes & Pregnancy: Control Gestational Diabetes with a Healthy Diet.
For information on alcohol and diabetes see the following article: Alcohol: How Much Can Diabetics Drink Safely?