Karlene Karst, RD
Diet and exercise are key for preventing type 2 diabetes. Consuming a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and "good fats can stimulate weight loss and keep blood sugars within a healthy range.
Diet and exercise are key for preventing type 2 diabetes. Consuming a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and "good" fats can stimulate weight loss and keep blood sugars within a healthy range. Exercise aids in weight loss, helps lower blood-sugar levels, and makes insulin more efficient.
Dietary changes are a priority for diabetics. The fuel your body needs is called glucose, a form of sugar. Glucose comes from foods such as fruit, milk, some vegetables, starchy foods, and sugar. Control blood-glucose levels by eating a balanced diet and small but frequent meals. This will help your blood sugar stay balanced.
Diabetics should adopt a simple rule: Do not eat any white foods: no white sugar, white flour, white pasta, or white rice. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals and form an essential part of a healthy diet. Studies have found that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of diabetes.
Carbohydrates and Fibre
Dietary carbohydrates from cereals, breads, grains, legumes (beans and lentils), vegetables, fruits, and dairy products should provide the largest percentage of the calories you consume each day. Carbohydrates should be chosen based on their "glycemic index" (GI). This is a measure of the degree to which blood-glucose levels rise in response to a given food. It is important to choose foods that are converted into sugar slowly, to prevent surges in blood sugar levels.
Generally, dietary carbohydrates that are high in fibre (legumes, whole grains, and flaxseeds) have a low GI (i.e., slow conversion). High-GI foods include refined and processed carbohydrates and simple sugars; these foods will have a quicker, more direct impact on your blood-sugar levels and should be avoided. For example, white bread is given a GI of 100 based on how quickly it is converted into blood sugar. Foods that have a GI of less than 100 are converted into sugar more slowly than white bread, while foods that have a GI of greater than 100 are converted into sugar more quickly than white bread. The Canadian Diabetes Association website offers a useful Glycemic Index chart at www.diabetes.ca/files/Diabetes_GL_FINAL2_CPG03.pdf.
Dietary fibre is an essential part of a healthy diet for all Canadians, not just those with diabetes. Most Canadians receive only one-quarter to one-half of the Institute of Medicine's daily recommended intake (25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men). Most low-GI foods are high in fibre, which can also help lower the risk of heart disease and improve digestion and bowel health.
The Canadian Diabetes Association states that, for every 10-gram increase in cereal fibre, the risk of heart disease decreases by 30 percent. By simply adding one-and-a-half cups of oatmeal to your breakfast, you will be increasing your daily fibre intake by 10 grams. Sprinkling one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds on your cereal will increase your fibre intake by another three grams.
Protein: Slow Those Carbs Down!
Health Canada recommends that the general population including people with diabetes should be consuming about 0.86 g/kg protein per day. That means a 60-kg (135-pound) person should eat about 51 grams of protein daily. Protein is found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, as well as in vegetable sources like tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
For diabetics it is important to combine protein with carbohydrates at every meal, as the protein may help slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. For example, combining fruit with plain yogourt or cottage cheese is a great way to get both protein and carbohydrates.
Good Fats Play a Role
Understanding the many types of fat can be a daunting task. Currently, Health Canada recommends no more than 30 percent of calories come from fat and no more than 10 percent from saturated fat, with the remainder coming from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.
For diabetics, the majority of dietary fats should come from monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil and avocados; the polyunsaturated omega-3 fats found in salmon, mackerel, and tuna, as well as in nuts and seeds; and by using healthy cooking oils like coconut butter and ghee (clarified butter). Vegetarians, or those who find it difficult to consume sufficient quantities of omega-3s in their diet, may want to consider supplements to ensure they are receiving the appropriate balance of omega-3s and -6s. Clinical research shows that omega-3s and -6s can help to stabilize blood-glucose levels and help to prevent some of the unwanted complications such as diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage caused by prolonged high blood glucose levels).
Limit consumption of the toxic trans fatty acids, found in many of today's processed and convenience foods, shortening, and fast foods. Trans fatty acids are made through the process of hydrogenation. Because trans fats are man-made, the body can't recognize them as nutrients or digest them properly. When reading ingredients, look for key words such as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils; these indicate the presence of trans fatty acids. Nutrition-facts panels in Canada are now required to list the amount of trans fats per serving, making it easier for consumers to recognize which food items contain these unwanted fats.
Healthy Eating for a Healthy Life
Eating healthy will help you feel better; stay healthy longer; achieve the best possible management of your blood glucose, blood fats, and blood pressure; reduce complications arising from diabetes; and achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Consider consulting a dietitian who can help you determine the best diet plan for your lifestyle.