6 Ways to Consider Changing Your Diet If You Have Diabetes
Diabetes has now climbed to the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. It’s also a major risk factor for heart disease, the number one cause of death in this country.
How Does Diabetes Affect My Body?
After we eat a meal, our bodies get busy breaking down food to be used as energy or to be stored as fat. After the food is broken down we are left with glucose, the simplest form of sugar. A hormone called insulin gets released from our pancreas and starts traveling through our bloodstream looking for the glucose to bring into our cells. I like to use a little analogy here. Imagine all the sugar in our blood has a little padlock attached to it, and the only way to get the sugar in our cells for energy is to unlock it. Insulin is the only key we have for this padlock. People with diabetes produce little to no insulin, or over time, they become resistant to the insulin they are producing. The key no longer fits in the lock. Therefore, their cells are starving for energy and screaming "feed us, feed us!" In an attempt to quiet them down, the pancreas keeps pumping out more and more insulin, but it's just not fitting in the padlock. When this happens, there is no way to get the sugar out of the blood and into the cells for energy. This causes high blood sugar levels, which is the trademark symptom of diabetes.
The good news is that people with diabetes can live a long healthy life by managing their disease via their diet — (keep in mind that some people will require insulin.)
Here Are 6 Ways to Change Your Diet If You Have Diabetes:
1. Slim Down
Maintaining a healthy weight is vital for managing and preventing diabetes. People who weigh less tend to have better, more controlled blood sugar levels than people who are heavier. When it comes to weight loss and diabetes, a little goes a long way. Studies show that even losing 10-15 pounds can make a big difference in your health. Weight loss can be accomplished by ditching the packaged, processed foods, increasing vegetable intake and increasing physical activity to 1 hour per day (brisk walking, yoga or biking). Here's to a sweaty brow and a healthier you!
2. Keep It Consistent
When it comes to diabetes, consistency is key. Meals and snacks need to be eaten consistently throughout the day to prevent fluctuations in blood sugar. This means eating similar sized meals at regular times, and never going more than four-to-five hours without eating. This is especially important for diabetics on insulin therapy. Once insulin is injected it will starting working to bring your blood sugar down. If there is not enough food in your system after insulin is injected, you run the risk of low blood sugar which can be extremely dangerous. Diabetics should aim to eat three meals and two snacks per day for optimal blood sugar control and balance.
3. Carbohydrates Are A-O-K
Carbohydrates can be scarier than Freddy Krueger in the world of diabetes, but the truth is, carbohydrates are an essential part of the diet, even for diabetics. Foods that contain carbohydrates are often good sources of energy, fiber, vitamins, and minerals…all important for good health! When managing diabetes it is important to keep carbohydrate servings similar throughout meals to keep blood sugars nice and steady. In other words, it's best to have a small serving of carbohydrates (approx. 15-grams) such as 1/3 cup brown rice, 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt, or a small piece of fruit in each meal throughout the day rather than skipping carbs entirely in your breakfast and lunch and then chowing down on a jumbo bowl of pasta for dinner. Just as I would recommend for everyone, diabetics should get the majority of their carbohydrates from unprocessed whole grains (quinoa, millet, barley), fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. Eating carbohydrates along with protein, healthy fats and fiber will help to slow down the release of sugar into the blood. For optimal diabetes management, focus on proportioned meals that contain the right proportions of carbohydrates, fat and protein.
4. Forfeit The Fat (Trans Fat and Saturated Fat, That Is)
Since diabetes can lead to heart disease, it is essential for diabetics to keep their hearts in tip-top shape. Limiting trans fats (found in packaged and processed foods) and saturated fats (found in fatty cuts of beef, fried foods, poultry skin, and sausages) while increasing healthy fats (mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids) should be a focus of eating for diabetes. Keep in mind, studies show there is even a place for a small amount of real saturated fat in the diet. Swap the trans and saturated fats for heart healthy fats found in salmon, avocados, nuts, olive oil and flax seeds. These foods will not only keep your heart pumping longer, but when eaten in moderation with carbohydrates, can keep blood sugars in check.
5. Sugar in Moderation
For a long time diabetics had been told to stay clear of sugar and instead choose artificial sweeteners. I couldn't disagree more! Now, I'm not saying people with diabetes should load up on cheesecake and sugary soda, but they shouldn't be eating artificial sweeteners instead — no one should! The goal here is to limit sugar and kick artificial sweeteners out of the diet, as they are up to 700 times sweeter than sugar and just make people crave more. Although artificial sweeteners do not have an effect on blood sugar, they are not absorbed by the body and can be detrimental to health. A diabetic can have a few bites of dessert after dinner as long as the rest of the meal was in check. Like any healthy diet, the take home message for diabetics is to keep sweets a conscious indulgence in moderation, and make sure you track these in addition to your other carb choices.
6. Food Items to Add
Did you know that there are some food items that may actually be helpful for diabetics? Well, luckily there are, and here are a few: Cinnamon not only spices up your morning oatmeal, it may actually keep your blood sugar in check. Several studies have found that cinnamon improves fasting blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, so try adding it to cereal, tea, or sprinkle some on a tart apple for a snack. Chia seeds are a superfood high fiber and protein that have been shown to slow digestion and help keep blood sugar levels balanced. These seeds are also the highest source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce risk factors of diabetes and inflammation in the body. Sprinkle them in yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies or add to your favorite salad dressing. A few tablespoons of vinegar before a meal has been shown to reduce the spike in insulin and glucose after a meal. Try a simple vinaigrette or vinegar based marinade for a little pick me up.
Readers - Are you living with diabetes? Have you made any of these changes to your diet? Why or why not? Do you have other tips to recommend? Let us know in the comments below.
Keri Glassman is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women’s Health Magazine, and is the Nutrition and Health contributor for NBC’s New York Live. She is regularly featured on national television programs including NBC’s The Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, Access Hollywood Live, The View, The Talk, The Chew, Dr. Oz, The Doctors, The Rachael Ray Show, The Steve Harvey Show, MSNBC, The Fox News Channel, and CNN. Keri hosts an original series called “A Little Bit Better” which is featured on Youtube’s LIVESTRONG Woman channel.
Keri resides in New York City with her children, Rex and Maizy. Whether she is training for a marathon, going to the farmers’ market, or drinking her nightly cup of herbal tea, Keri lives and breathes a Nutritious Life while inspiring others to do the same.
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