Tips for healthy eating with Diabetes
Eating a healthy balanced diet is key to managing blood sugar levels and preventing complications in people with Diabetes. Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, are taking insulin or are on oral medication, diet can help to manage your symptoms and keep you healthy in the long-term. Here are some top tips for healthy eating with Diabetes:
- Eat small regular meals
Eating regularly helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable and helps to prevent low blood sugar levels which can occur from skipping meals. Eating regularly will also help you to feel fuller and more satisfied which will help you to control your portions better at each meal thus preventing high blood sugars. Aim to eat at least 3 meals a day, about 5-6 hours apart. Depending on your activity levels, hunger and medication use, you may need to add 1-2 snacks in addition to your main meals.
- Don’t be scared of eating healthy carbohydrate foods
One of the cornerstones for diabetes management is understanding how much of each food you need to eat to best manage your blood sugar levels.
All foods containing carbohydrates eventually turn to sugar in your body. However, some of the healthiest foods in the world are high in carbohydrates: vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, beans, nuts and seeds all contain carbohydrates. If you were to eliminate these foods altogether, you would end up missing out on many of your key nutrients and antioxidants. These foods are known to help prevent diabetes-related complications and controlled amounts of high-fibre carbohydrates throughout the day should not spike your blood sugar levels.
The correct portion size for carbohydrate rich-foods will be unique to each individual depending on your weight, height, age, activity level, medication use and insulin sensitivity. A Registered Dietitian can help calculate your recommended carbohydrate portion sizes for your body.
- Control your sugar intake
Added sugars and low-fibre starchy foods can spike blood sugar levels, especially if eaten in big quantities. Examples of these foods include: sweets, chocolates, cooldrinks, table sugar, white bread, white pasta and pastries. If you are Diabetic, it is best to limit these foods and to rather focus your diet around healthy high-fibre carbohydrate foods such as whole fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread, brown rice, barley, sweet potatoes, etc. Look for high-fibre, low-sugar alternatives for your favourite treats and snacks.
Certain foods like fruit juice are low-fibre and high-sugar but are still considered healthier alternatives as they contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. If you include foods such as fruit juice in your diet, make sure to include them with a high-fibre balanced meal and to count them as part of your carbohydrate portion for that meal. You may have to dilute your fruit juice to lower the carbohydrate content at your meal.
On the other hand, vegetable juices made from fresh produce, are also low-fibre but are generally lower in sugar and can be a great way to consume more vitamins and minerals. These can be included in your diet as a beverage or for adding flavour and nutrients to soups, smoothies, stews, baked goods and salad dressings.
Your Dietitian can help you to learn what your individual carbohydrate intake should be at each meal and if you are on insulin, how to adjust your dosages to cover your carbohydrate intake at different meal times. Both fruit and vegetable juices should be counted as part of your carbohydrate portion at your meals.
- Eat balanced meals
Balanced meals help to ensure that you eat a wide variety of nutrients and that the glycaemic load (a measure of the total carbohydrate content) of your meal is controlled so that you don’t get high blood sugar levels.
- Aim to have at least 1-2 servings of fruits or vegetables at each meal. This forms part of a balanced meal and help you to meet your daily nutrient needs.
- You can add a serving of high-fibre starchy foods to every meal as guided by your Dietitian.
- Lastly, it’s important to add a small serving of protein-rich foods to each meal. This will help to lower the glycaemic load of the meal, keep you feeling fuller, and help to prevent you from filling up on too much starchy food.
Image credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Diabetics can enjoy a variety of foods as long as they are included as part of a carbohydrate-controlled meal-plan. Having knowledge of how food can affect your blood sugar levels and future health can help you to live a long healthy life and avoid diabetes-related complications in the future.
Jessica Kotlowitz is a Registered Dietitian (Msc. Nutr. Stell.) with a passion for plant-based nutrition.