Diabetes is an increasingly common medical condition in which the body has an impaired ability to control the quantity of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. To remove glucose from the blood, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin.
For those who suffer with diabetes, the body either produces insufficient glucose or the insulin that is produced is ineffective at removing the glucose from the bloodstream. In both cases, the end result is blood glucose levels which are abnormally high.
There are many risks associated with high blood glucose levels. These include damage to the small blood vessels and nerves throughout the body as well as a number of associated medical conditions.
In a healthy individual, blood glucose levels normally range between 4 and 6 mmol/L in a fasted state (such as upon waking).
Following a meal, these levels will rise slightly but are quickly returned to normal by the action of the hormone insulin. To avoid potentially dangerous complications, those with diabetes should aim to maintain normal blood glucose levels. This is usually achieved through proper diet or medication, and in some cases, both.
Risks of Uncontrolled Diabetes
There are many potential risks for those diagnosed with diabetes. Here are some of the most typical:
• Heart disease
• Eye problems including blindness
• Foot problems such as neuropathy and gangrene
• Kidney disease
• Circulation problems
Common Myths about Diabetes and Diet
It’s important that diabetics seek reliable advice for the management of their condition because there are many myths associated with the dietary management of diabetes.
Some of the most common misunderstandings are that:
• Sugar causes diabetes
• Those with diabetes should eliminate all carbohydrates
• Diabetics should only eat foods containing protein and fat
For reliable dietary help, diabetics should seek the services of a registered dietitian since these professionals are nutrition experts. They can be relied upon to provide accurate recommendations based on the latest medical treatment protocols.
Current Dietary Recommendations for Diabetics
There has been significant medical research into appropriate dietary and lifestyle recommendations for those with diabetes.
This research indicates that diabetics should eat regularly, consume appropriate quantities and types of dietary fat and carbohydrates, include sufficient fiber and engage in regular physical activity.
Basic dietary and lifestyle plan includes:
• Eat regularly: Skipping meals and snacks can affect your blood glucose control. Be sure to snack regularly and eat a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner.
• Consume proper dietary fat: Just like the general population, it is important to ensure that the amount and type of fat consumed is appropriate.
Current research suggests that the vast majority of our fat intake should be unsaturated, with the consumption of saturated and trans fats kept to a minimum.
A simple way to achieve this is to cook using olive oil rather than butter. Also, use an olive or canola oil based margarine on bread rather than real butter or other saturated fats like coconut oil.
• Include fiber: For many diabetics, increasing their dietary fiber intake may assist with managing blood glucose levels and keeping hunger at bay. Simple ways to increase dietary fiber include eating whole grain breads and cereal products as well as eating a wide variety of vegetables each day.
• Balance carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are found in foods such as rice, pasta, bread, and cereals. Vegetables such as corn, potatoes, legumes, fruits and dairy products also contain carbohydrates.
Diabetics should ensure that they consume some carbohydrates with each meal or snack. They should also aim to consume low glycemic (Low GI) varieties of carbohydrate containing foods since they are more slowly digested and absorbed into the blood stream.
This help to provide better blood glucose control. A registered dietitian can recommend the amount of carbohydrates you should consume, since the amount needed is generally personalized to each patient.
• Engage in physical activity: Try to engage in some physical activity each day. It will help you control weight gain and can assist with managing diabetes and your overall health.
Plant Diet For Managing and Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
While meat, chicken fish, and poultry have no direct effect on blood sugars, a plant diet greatly contributes to a diabetic’s health.
There are several ways in which plant diets help with management and prevention of the onset of type 2 diabetes.
• Vegetarians tend to have better insulin resistance and lower risks for incidence of type 2 diabetes.
• Vegetarian diets are high in fiber, which as previously mentioned, is key in controlling blood sugars.
• Vegetarian and vegan diets, when followed correctly, are naturally lower in calories than those that include meat and dairy. Since obesity is one of the highest risk factors for type 2 diabetes, eating a plant based diet is a great way to control weight gain.
In fact, weight loss is known to reverse type 2 diabetes. One very large study conducted by Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, found that Seventh Day Adventists (who are primarily vegetarian or vegan) weighed 30 pounds less on average than other Californians.
• Another interesting effect of plant diets for type 2 diabetes is the reduction of heart disease risk. Type 2 diabetics are at a higher risk for heart disease. However, those who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet reduce their risk by 1/3 mainly because these diets are virtually cholesterol free.
Eliminating meat also eliminates a major source of unhealthy saturated fats that greatly contributes to heart disease and high cholesterol.
It is important to consult with your doctor before starting any diet plan, especially if you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. However, research has shown that switching to a plant diet for the management or prevention of diabetes has its proven advantages over other types of diets.