Does your blood sugar level rise to an alarming level? A clear indication that you may be susceptible to a common yet neglected lifestyle disorder – Diabetes. Across the globe, this ‘sugar’ disorder is widely prevalent such that it may practically go unnoticed for a suffering person. However, there are few casual symptoms of diabetes, for e.g., feel thirsty or dryness of throat, urge to urinating frequently, occasionally feel hungry, experience fatigue, hazy vision, or sudden weight loss. A well-supervised diabetic diet chart supported by a disciplined exercise routine is the first line of support to keep the disorder under check.
Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes are the two variants of this life-long disorder. Type 1 is more common among children whereby the pancreas does not function properly to secrete insulin. Comparatively, Type 2 is considered the milder of the two as the pancreas releases some quantities of insulin into the bloodstream though it may not be sufficient to regulate blood sugar in our body.
Prevention is better and inexpensive than cure. This proverbial saying fits well for diabetes diet which is both prevention and a cure. Following a strict diet regime and taking ample care of your body with physical activity plays a crucial role to minimize the complications of the disorder.
3 Essential areas of a diabetic diet:
- Portion size:
“It takes five minutes to consume 500 calories. It takes two hours to burn them off.” – Anonymous
In India, we all are always confused about the portion size we consume per meal (i.e. food quantity and distribution in our plate). Portion size for a daily diet is essential for diabetic patients. Actually, it is a very easy formula. Your portion size will depend on your RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances). Then based on your total calorie, you can divide carbohydrate, protein, and fat portions.
Let observe with an example:
Recommended Dietary Allowances of an Indian diabetic normal person will be 1800 kcal per day. Carbohydrate requirement is around 50-55% of the total prescribed calorie, protein requirement. Protein requirements vary between 1 to 1.2 gm per kg of an individual’s body weight (i.e. portion size resembles a small pack of cards). Eventually, fat provides the remaining calorie requirement.
- Type of food:
“Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices are good investments.” – Bethenny Frankel
Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the three significantly important nutrients in our diet.
- Carbohydrate: For a diabetic person, a complex carbohydrate is recommended while simple carbohydrates are strictly restricted.
- As simple carbohydrate (i.e. sugar, honey, jaggery, sweets, chocolates, muffins, fruit juice, carbonated beverages, plain rice, maida, sabudana or tapioca, etc.) does not contain any fiber so the body absorbs quickly leading to a spike in blood sugar level.
- In comparison, foods with complex carbohydrates are fiber-rich (i.e. Wheat, fruits with skin and pulp, rice with vegetables, salads, any kind of vegetables, wheat bread, wheat noodles, wheat pasta, etc.), thereby digestion and absorption period are longer than usual.
- Protein: Eat good quality and quantity of protein.
- Indian diet lacks in both good quality and quantity of protein. It is advised to have a sizable portion of 1st class of protein, e.g. egg, fish, chicken, lean meat, etc. in your diet if you are non-vegetarian.
- However, a vegetarian plate must have protein from plant and dairy sources such as broccoli, home-made paneer, low-fat cheese, different pulses and legumes, soybeans, mushrooms, tofu, etc.
- Fat: Healthier fat eases your blood flow.
- Good fats such as Omega 3 and 6 should be consumed as they are good for the body. Natural sources for these are daily cooking oil (e.g. rice bran oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, canola oil, soya oil, corn oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, unsalted nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, etc.). These are also low in cholesterol and are trans fat-free.
- In contrast, saturated fats increase the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood, thereby causing heart ailments and arterial blockage. Found primarily in animal products and processed foods like red and processed meat, ghee, butter, ‘vanaspati’, mayonnaise, biscuits, cakes, pies, and pastries. A life-long fit-tip would be cut down on using oils in general for cooking, instead, try to grill steam or bake foods.
- Meal frequency and time:
“Healthy eating is a way of life, so it’s important to establish routines that are simple, realistically, and ultimately livable.” – Horace.
Your daily food intake should be spread across 3 major meals per day (i.e. breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and 3 healthy snacks in-between meals to resist the urge to satiate your hunger. The number of snacks should never be equal to any of the 3 meals; rather, it should be fewer portions. A bed-time snack helps a diabetic patient to overcome mid-night or early morning hypoglycemia.
Magical foods to control Diabetes:
For several decades, physicians and nutritionists have deliberated on the role of diet as it slowly and steadily manages diabetes and its prolonged consequences in the long term.
Certain foods have been proved to be ‘wonder foods’ to curb sugar spikes in blood and improve insulin resistance. Further, costly expenditure on life-support medications and lifestyle monitoring devices and consumables, e.g. portable testing strips can be significantly reduced by considering optimal and healthy food choices. Let’s examine a few food wonders.
- Whole grains:
Whole grains or cereals are an amazing substitute for refined grains in our diet; it reduces the risk of diabetes mellitus.
Brown rice, bulgur wheat, buckwheat, oats, millet, quinoa, and barley all are useful brown cereals and recommended for diabetic patients. Further, Beta-glucans in oats and barley prevent blood glucose levels from increasing after the intake of food.
Whole grains (brownish) are loaded with more fiber and nutrients vs. refined white grains. Fiber [has a lower glycemic index (GI)] helps to slow the digestion process in the stomach and gut, allows nutrients to be absorbed by the body at a slower and consistent pace, and prevents a sudden spike in blood sugar levels.
Epidemiological research indicates that patients with Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) who consume an average of two-to-three daily servings (60–90 g/day) of wholegrain have a 21–32% reduction in the incidence of T2DM compared with those who rarely or never consume wholegrain. This reduction can be easily targeted by substituting at least half of the refined cereal foods in the habitual diet with the wholegrain ones.
- Green leafy vegetables:
Next, green leafy vegetables with loads of nutrients provide us energy while are surprisingly low in calories. This happens due to the fact that green vegetables are low in carbohydrates which is one of the causes of the rise in blood sugar levels. Leafy and green veggies provide the necessary dietary fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals known to decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
It is recommended to eat raw vegetables as a bowl of salad (avoid any mayonnaise dressing) at the beginning of meals since cooking vegetables can destroy certain phytochemicals.
Consuming nuts occasionally as snacks along with a controlled diet can help in improving blood sugar levels in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Almonds are known to lower blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal.
Studies have shown that eating pistachios that contain the hormone glucagon-like peptide1, helps in reducing the risk of diabetes.
Walnuts also are known to reduce blood sugar levels and the risk of diabetes.
Garlic in our food improves glycemic status and can potentially reduce fasting and post-prandial blood sugar levels.
Garlic also contains vitamin B6 and vitamin C. Vitamin B6 helps in carbohydrate metabolism and vitamin C helps to maintain blood sugar levels.
Diabetics can consume raw garlic or add it while cooking foods or sprinkle garlic supplements available in the market to spice up their diet and snacks.
Cinnamon effectively reduces the risk of diabetes and related complications.
Cinnamon enables signalling of insulin receptors thereby releasing insulin. It is also a powerful antioxidant, preventing the development of diabetes.
Further, studies prove that cinnamon tapers down and prevents a sudden rise in sugar levels after meals.
A cup of beans or lentils each day combined with a low-glycemic diet helped lower blood sugar levels and Coronary Artery Disease risk in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Beans contain a healthy dose of fiber, nutrients, and protein keeping us full for a longer time (i.e. takes time to digest while lowering an intermittent urge to eat) and reducing our carbohydrate intake.
A low glycemic index (GI) effectively reduces blood sugar levels. Beans (i.e. GI of soybean is 15, kidney beans are 28 and chickpeas is 33) are an excellent source of vegetable protein.
Hence, beans are extremely beneficial for diabetics.
- Fatty Fish:
Salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel are different types of fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are supreme nutrients to avoid diabetes-related complications like nephropathy, cardiomyopathy, neuropathy, retinopathy, etc.
Fatty fish is also loaded with proteins, making us feel full for a long time and reducing our carbohydrate intake.
Foods which are red flags and should be avoided by diabetic patients:
1. Sugar or sugar-mixed variants:
- Refined sugar
- Aerated, carbonated drinks loaded with sugar
- Sweetened high-fat yoghurt
- Sweets, cakes, biscuits
- Fruit juices
2. High calorific content:
- Deeply fried foods
- White bread and White rice
- Refined flour (Maida)
- Dried fruits
- Packaged snacks
3. Contains excessive preservatives:
- Processed meat
- Red meat
- Canned foods
- Ready-to-eat food meal packages
- Zero calorie or low calorie labelled products
Remember this therapeutic warning for diabetes – following a diet regime cannot replace the medicine dose or reverse the sugar imbalance disorder completely. However, a monitored diet plan will always complement any prescribed medicine to deduct sugar from your body and add years to your life expectancy.
“Doctors won’t make you healthy. Nutritionists won’t make you slim. Teachers won’t make you smart. Gurus won’t make you calm. Mentors won’t make you rich. Trainers won’t make you fit. Ultimately, you have to take responsibility. Save yourself.” – Naval Ravikant
Dr. Amrita Das, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra, Bangalore