Diabetic Diet – Demystified
We’re going to demystify the diabetic diet. So, we’ll be looking at eating healthy in general because, guess what, the diabetic diet is suitable for everyone in the family (unless you have other health or dietary problems).
Let’s start with a really stupid question, why do we eat?
We eat for nourishment and energy. Sometimes we eat for celebration, tradition, or just entertainment. But mostly, we eat to keep our bodies functioning well and that’s the main thing to remember when thinking about what to eat!
The Goal of a Diabetic Diet
The goal of a healthy diabetic diet is to provide nutrients and energy to the body while maintaining blood glucose levels as close to ideal as possible.
What to Eat
Before we look at what to eat, you’ll need to know that while there are some principles of the diabetic diet that are pretty much universally agreed upon by doctors and nutritionists, there are others that are still somewhat controversial and the subject of research and debate.
Let’s start with the easy stuff, first.
Mostly Agreed Upon Principles
- Eat plenty of vegetables: For good carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, cancer-fighting properties… They are like the trump cards! Eat a variety. Go for different colours, textures, and flavours. Always try the local, seasonal stuff. And include plenty of greens!
- Eat lentils, beans, and sprouts: For proteins and fibre. They help you feel full and aid in digestion. When well cooked they are comfort foods. And sprouted they add crunch. Ground up into flour or batter they can replace grains in baking.
- Eat a limited amount of fruits: For vitamins, minerals, fibre, and your sweet hit! Eat fresh, rather than in juices, or sugar-laden compotes, jams, and pies!
- Eat a small amount of nuts and seeds: For protein, healthy fats, and nutrients such as calcium. Nuts and seeds are concentrated nuggets of nutrients and healthy fats. However they are high in calories so eat them in small quantities and go for different kinds. Try them mixed into your salads, ground into butters, or just roasted as a quick snack.
- Use healthy fats: For vitamin absorption, nerve and immune health, cell development, and for heart health. Get them from nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and oils such as olive, coconut, safflower etc.
- Avoid unhealthy fats: Saturated and trans fats (both solids at room temperature) tend to clog up your arteries and put you at risk for heart disease, which is even more dangerous if you have diabetes.
- Avoid refined grains, refined flours, and refined sugars: These have most of the nutrients stripped out of them, and because of the ease of absorption into the blood stream they are likely to spike your blood sugars for no corresponding benefit to your health!
Somewhat Controversial Principles
- How much carbohydrates to eat: Most diet recommendations call for including some amount of whole grains in your diet. Whole grains contain fibre as well as nutrients that are good for your brain. They also help you feel full. What’s not clear is whether diabetics should aim to eat as little carbs as possible, or whether they can eat normal doses and regulate their insulin or medication to cover for it. Some people recommend a higher protein, lower carb diet while others say eat equal amounts of carbs and proteins. The important thing to note is that if you do eat carbohydrates, ensure you are eating them with the fibre and nutrients still in them – so go for whole grains, whole grain flours, and experiment with less known but nutritious grains such as millets.
- Whether to eat sweet things: While there is no debate that sugar, dates, maple syrup and other sweeteners spike blood glucose levels, it’s debated whether this means diabetics should totally avoid these products or should consume them in very limited quantities. If you do include these in your diet try to go for those which have nutritional benefits along with sweetness (jaggery has iron, dates have fibre).
- Whether to eat artificial sweeteners: It is also debated whether zero calorie sweeteners such as stevia and sucralose or low glycemic index products such as levulose should be used in desserts instead of regular sweeteners. Some of this debate is because these alternative sweeteners have not been around enough or tested thoroughly enough to be considered fully safe. However, some of the debate is based on manufacturers duping consumers by using these sweeteners and then labelling their products as diabetic friendly when they actually have a lot of refined flours, unhealthy fats, and other harmful ingredients.
How to Cook and Eat
- Eat freshly cooked, local, and seasonal: When possible, eat freshly made food that uses local and seasonal ingredients. This kind of food is likely to have retained the most nutrients and will also be suitable for the weather in your location.
- Eat raw, steamed, baked, stir fried, grilled, fermented: The idea is to use methods that keep the nutrients in, or in some cases unlock the nutrients from the food, while using only small quantities of healthy fat in the process.
- Eat often but smaller portion sizes: Until your system is re-tuned to understanding how much it needs to eat at each setting, try eating smaller portions and allowing time for your body to signal that the food is enough. Smaller portions also help with maintaining blood glucose levels.
My Take on Eating Healthy
With Immediate Effect – From right now!
- Never overeat.
- De-link food from emotion, boredom, and reward.
- Take an interest and be aware of what you eat.
Best Practices – Get into the habit!
- Eat fresh, home-cooked meals made with good quality ingredients.
- Experiment with different levels of carbs, measure your glucose, listen to your body, and adjust accordingly.
- Gradually build a collection of tasty, healthy recipes that work for you.
Take it to the Next Level – Have fun
- Appreciate good food by savouring the tastes, smells, and sights.
- Try new foods, preferably made from locally grown produce.
- Cook for yourself once in a while and feed friends and family too!
Diabetic Friendly Food Week Starts 22 November! Please do participate! Click here for details.
For more on the diabetic diet, try these: