A healthy diet is an essential part of diabetes management as it can help to control blood glucose (sugar) levels and achieve a healthy weight.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes, actually called diabetes mellitus, is a condition in which the body has a reduced ability to control the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. The body produces a hormone called insulin that encourages the uptake of glucose from the blood, thereby helping to control blood glucose levels.
In people with diabetes, there may be insufficient insulin to control blood glucose levels or alternatively, there may be enough insulin but it may not be working properly. Either way, without enough effective insulin, the level of glucose in the blood will rise above normal levels. High levels of glucose in the blood can eventually cause damage to blood vessels and nerves. Small blood vessels such as those that deliver blood to the kidneys and eyes are particularly susceptible to damage in people with poorly managed diabetes.
Blood glucose levels normally vary between 4 and 6 mmol/L (fasting). People with diabetes should strive to achieve blood glucose levels as near as possible to the normal range in order to avoid short and long term diabetes complications.
Individual blood glucose targets should be discussed with your diabetes health professional team. Individual targets may vary for a variety of reasons.
Good diabetes management can help reduce the risk of complications such as:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Eye problems
- Foot problems
- Circulation problems.
Diabetes and Diet
It is important that any dietary advice is tailored to your individual needs. An Accredited Practising Dietitian will consider personal health and lifestyle influences and help to separate the facts from the myths surrounding diet and diabetes.
Some common dietary myths that are not correct include:
- People with diabetes should eliminate all food containing carbohydrate
- People with diabetes need to avoid sugar completely
- People with diabetes need to eat mostly foods high in protein and fat.
However, evidence shows that people living with diabetes may need to modify the following:
It is important that both the type and amount of dietary fat are appropriate. Foods containing unsaturated fats are a healthier choice than foods high in saturated fats. It may be important to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet and replace with unsaturated fats.
It may be helpful to increase the amount of fibre eaten. Fibre can make meals more filling and evidence suggests that soluble fibre (found in foods such as beans, fruit and oats) may help to control blood glucose levels. Try to choose high fibre breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables each day.
Foods containing carbohydrate include bread, rice, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereal, potato, corn, legumes, fruit, milk and yoghurt. It is important to include some of these foods with each meal. Some people with diabetes use ‘carbohydrate exchanges’ to work out how much carbohydrate to eat and when to eat it. The carbohydrate-containing foods that provide the best blood glucose level control are those that are slowly digested and absorbed into the blood stream. These are foods with a low glycaemic index (GI).
It is important to include regular meals each day. Skipping meals can affect blood glucose levels and leave you feeling unwell. For more information on low carbohydrate diets and diabetes, see our hot topic.
Regular physical activity is also important in managing diabetes. Try to be active each day.