Diabetes affects the body in many different ways, and can even be deadly, but your dietary choices can also have a large impact on how much this condition affects you. A diabetic diet containing grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, fats, and dairy is your best bet if you want to live a normal life with diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes has been called a modern-day pandemic by some, and more than 350 million people around the world are affected by it. Diabetes comes in two primary forms, Type I and Type II, as well as gestational diabetes, which is limited to pregnant women. These two forms of diabetes refer to the deficiency that your body has related to insulin production and glucose balance. When we consume carbohydrates that break down into simple sugars, our blood sugar rises. Insulin is responsible for transporting this glucose to the body’s cells, where it can be used for energy production. Now, in the case of diabetics, either the body is unable to make enough insulin or is unable to use the insulin that it produces. This can be very dangerous, but the full range of diabetic symptoms and treatments is beyond the scope of this article (Learn everything about diabetes on our dedicated page, found here.)
Since diabetes is a condition that is primarily affected by the diet, and your sugar intake, the food you eat is clearly very important. As mentioned above, there are a number of food types that are good for diabetics, as well as many items that people should avoid, or moderate. Now, let’s get right into it, explaining the proper dietary outline for someone suffering from diabetes, which is also good as a preventative measure for those who are at high risk.
Starches and Grains
Obviously, the most relevant dietary item for a diabetic patient is carbohydrates. Many people develop diabetes because of their unchecked consumption of these foods. Starches come in many forms, including bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta, among many other types of grains, such as millet, sorghum, and rye. Some of the worst choices in this area are breakfast cereals and white bread, as these are basic processed foods made of refined white flour.
The carbs in these food items break down into simple sugars, often overloading your pancreas’ ability to produce enough insulin to keep up with the supply. The other problem is that plain starches are often additionally sweetened with sugar (e.g., cakes, desserts, pastries), which just compounds the problem. Creating a diabetic diet means making personal sacrifices, but realizing that it is worth it in the long run.
If you are a diabetic, regulating your intake of sugar and carbohydrates is of the utmost importance. Starches with more complex sugars, such as sweet potatoes, whole grains, wild rice, and quinoa are the wisest choices when it comes to carbs, but even then, they should be eaten in strict moderation, in accordance with the type and severity of your diabetes. These “better” starches also have more mineral concentrations and fiber, making them beneficial for overall health and blood sugar regulation if you add them to your diabetic diet.
In terms of protein, if you’re going to access it through meat, stick to poultry and fish. These protein sources contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and tend to be lean, as compared to red meat. Choosing processed meats can increase your cholesterol levels and increase your blood pressure. These are two of the main precursors to diabetes and can be very dangerous in conjunction with the condition.
If you’re seeking protein as a vegetarian, you are immediately at lower risk for diabetes, and you also have a wealth of options, including beans, nuts, and seeds to access protein. You should moderate that intake, however, as some of those foods can be high in calories, and as a diabetic, you want to avoid obesity at all costs.
Diabetic patients should definitely include fruit and natural fruit juices in their diet. This not only provides a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants but also a good source of carbohydrates that aren’t high in simple sugars. Fruits can improve your immune system, and the fiber they contain can optimize your blood sugar levels and decrease your risk of cardiovascular issues. Fruit juices that are artificially sweetened, such as canned syrup or fruit concentrate, do not provide nearly as many nutrients, and far more sugar, so avoid these whenever possible when planning your diabetic diet.
Even in the world of vegetables, some are better than others when it comes to diabetes. Leafy greens like spinach and kale, as well as broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, are all healthy options, as they provide a significant amount of dietary fiber and minerals, but have low levels of calories and more complex carbohydrates. Some vegetables are more starchy, which translates to higher levels of simple sugars, so it is best to eat corn and mashed potatoes in moderation, if you are at high risk of diabetes.
Obesity is one of the most commonly linked conditions to diabetes, so manipulating your fat intake is extremely important. Many of the most fattening things (junk food, snacks, sweets) are also high in carbs and sugar, so as you are gaining weight, you are also putting more strain on your body to regulate blood sugar levels. Saturated fats and trans fats should always be avoided, as they contribute to high cholesterol and increase the dangers to diabetic patients. Some fats, however, are important for your body, such as monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. Foods containing these fats, like pecans, walnuts, salmon, tuna olive oil, avocados and sunflower oil, can all be safely added to your diabetic diet to reduce inflammation and prevent the accumulation of cholesterol.
Dairy products come in a variety of levels, namely based on the fat content that is included. Full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese can contribute to obesity and poor cholesterol balance, which should be avoided by someone suffering from diabetes. Low-fat dairy options are readily accessible and will do a lot more good for you in the long run. Greek yogurt may be one of the best options for dairy intake, as it is very low in calories and saturated fats.