If you were recently diagnosed as diabetic or told that you need to watch your glucose levels, you may be thinking about this can affect your diet and general lifestyle. Experts say that this condition may require you to be more mindful about what you eat, but the general advice is usually to follow a healthy diet, and that concept is not that different from the one the rest of people are told to follow.
Before continuing, a word of caution: while based on information from official or trustworthy sources, this does not constitute any form of medical or nutritional advice, as it is meant for general purposes only. Always talk to your doctor of healthcare provider for actual diagnosis or treatment. Don’t follow any new diet or make any major changes to your current one without qualified assessment, and always do it in a way that’s also safe for your mental health.
It’s important to know that, if you suffer from diabetes, your diet shouldn’t differ much from that of a person who is not diabetic but wants to stay healthy. As Diabetes UK notes, there is “no such thing as a diabetic diet”. Instead, you should focus on eating well, and bring that effort to the supermarket when you’re shopping in the supermarket aisles. The key is following a healthful, balanced diet while controlling your condition. And yes, diabetics are also entitled to that occasional treat, experts say.
Tips for healthy and safe eating if you need to watch your blood sugar levels
This charity has some resources to help you choose healthy foods that suit your needs and provide you with all of the essential nutrients your body and mind require to function properly. Generally speaking, the advice to look beyond the prepared meals, as they can be helpful if you’re in a rush, but they are far from being your only option.
For lunches, for example, you may want to look at the food labels to check the amount of salt and fat, when you’re looking at sandwiches, for example. If you want to keep these nutrients under controlled, fruit will probably be a better choice. The same applies to water, instead of carbonated drinks. Preparation can help you organise more easily, so it’s also advised to plan ahead of the week and be sure of what you have to buy to have plenty of fruit, salads, wholegrain bread or fish in your fridge or pantry. To save time, it’s also smart to cook more than you are going to need — in the case of soup or pasta and reserve it for the next day.
The UK National Health Service recommends getting a minimum of 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day. They are low in calories and generally gentle on your sugar levels. To reach this recommended goal, you can consume them in a variety of preparations, whether it’s frozen, canned or dried. This is helpful, considering you may save a few bucks and want to prepare in advance. Likewise, fruits and vegetables will probably be cheaper if you buy them in season, or from local providers. And for the record, potatoes do not count as one of your daily vegetables, Diabetes UK say.
Aside from vitamins, protein or fibre, you also need calcium. While they are not the only sources of this nutrient, it’s true that dairy products are all high in calcium and sometimes protein. As a drawback, they can also be high in fat and salt. As a recommendation, experts advise to buy cheese with an intense flavour, so you get more flavour in a smaller amount. You should read the food labels and watch out for “low fat” versions of products like yogurts, as they could be very high in sugar. Instead, you can go for plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with foods like wholegrain muesli or fruit.
Protein is important for many reasons, but it doesn’t have to come from meat or fish. This nutrient induces satiation, per Diabetes UK, so it can be useful to avoid undesired snaking. Lean meats are preferred, as is trying plant-base alternatives. Lentils, chickpeas or soya are high in protein. In the case of fish, oily fish is preferable, because of its omega-3 content, a fat that is known for protecting your heart.
If you want to make sure your pantry is always full with ingredients for a quick and healthy bite, some canned or dried products can prove very handy. It’s also the case for some vegetables that can last fresh a long time, like onions, or dried legumes like beans, chickpeas or lentils, which contain lots of fibre and won’t ramp up your blood sugar levels that quickly. Other alternatives are tinned foods like tomatoes or tuna, as well as wholewheat products —pasta or rice—, spices and oils —olive, sunflower or rapeseed—, which you can use with a spray if you want to make sure you don’t include too much of them.
Many diabetics need to be mindful about their diet, and that’s particularly true for carbohydrates, because they are converted into glucose once they reach our system. Experts acknowledge it’s important to pay attention to this process, but not every carbohydrate is the same. For instance, wholegrain cereals are preferred, because they affect your blood sugar levels more slowly, compared to industrially refined options. Because they keep the “grain” part, they are also richer in fibre, a nutrient your body need for the correct function of your digestive system, and can make you feel full for longer. We have already mentioned some examples, like wholegrain pasta, basmati rice or porridge, but they also include quinoa, couscous or yam.
Food high in sugar
Probably the most delicate aspect, you should know that is okay to enjoy sugary foods from time to time, as long as you do it in moderation, Diabetes UK says. It’s worth noting that this is not that different from what non-diabetic people are told, after all. The only difference is that you may handle sudden blood sugar spikes in a different way, which is why wholegrain foods were recommended before.
If you feel like enjoying one of these foods, the charity advises to opt for versions that are sugar-free, low-fat or diet-friendly. If you need to reduce consumption, you can do it gradually to create a habit, taking healthier steps slowly but steadily. If it’s everything about the sweet flavour rather than sugar itself, remember that fruit can be a great option for dessert, as many fruits are sweet and generally won’t affect your levels as much. Sweeteners are also a better option than sugar.