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A Diabetic Guide to Eating Well
Currently, 54 crore adults are living with diabetes in the world, out of which around 7.7 crores are Indian adults. The number is predicted to increase to 15.2 crores in India by 2045. Understanding how type II diabetes impacts your body can help you take steps to control your blood sugar and prevent the harmful effects that we see when our blood sugar is left unchecked.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic illness that occurs when the body has difficulty regulating its blood sugar. The food you eat is converted by your body into sugar (glucose), which is then circulated through the bloodstream to be utilized as energy and retained in your cells for later use. An essential hormone called insulin is secreted by your pancreas, which assists the cells in absorbing and storing glucose.
People with type 2 diabetes have increased resistance to insulin, which makes it more difficult for cells to absorb glucose and results in elevated blood sugar levels. This should not be confused with type 1 diabetes, which is characterized by insufficient insulin production and results in raised blood sugar levels.
You may be at potential risk for diabetes if you are:
- Overweight or obese
- 45 years or older
- Have a history of type 2 diabetes in your family (think parent, brother, or sister; not so much extended family)
- Engage in physical activity no more than three times a week
- Have gestational diabetes ever (Diabetes during pregnancy)
Prolonged high blood sugar levels can cause certain health problems, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, that increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It may also result in blindness and kidney failure, among other complications. Thus, preventing and managing diabetes is essential for your health and well-being.
The good news is that you can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes to a large extent with simple lifestyle changes. These include following a regular exercise routine, shedding weight if you’re overweight, and adhering to a nutritious diet.
Effect of Diet on Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by a condition known as insulin resistance, in which the body cannot efficiently use the hormone insulin to carry blood sugar, or glucose, to cells and muscles for energy. This results in higher-than-normal levels of glucose accumulating in your blood, which could be dangerous for your health. Thus, the key to living well with diabetes is to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level, which can be achieved by making the right food choices and planning healthy meals.
Simply put, limit calories if you are overweight, and eat healthy foods in the right amounts at the right times. This helps you better use the insulin that your body produces or gets through medication and your blood sugar stays in your target range as much as possible.
Weight loss: 1st line of treatment
If you’re overweight and have type 2 diabetes, you will lower your blood sugar, improve your health, and feel better if you lose some of your extra kgs. Losing weight will increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin and as a result, insulin resistance shall reduce. And research shows that losing 5% of your extra weight will make you less likely to get heart disease. So, start by focusing on losing that 5% and keeping it off.
Regular physical activity can help in controlling weight and lowering your blood sugar levels. Depending on your capability, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of strenuous exercise per week. Exercise not only aids in weight loss, but it also causes blood glucose to be used up by your muscles. On the other hand, it’s generally safe for someone with diabetes to cut 500 calories a day.
Elements of a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet will not only improve your immune system and overall health, but it will also aid in weight reduction and management. Here are a few important elements of a healthy diet.
1. Choose healthier Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the major energy source for your brain and muscles. During digestion, carbohydrates break down into glucose, which then circulate in the blood. Therefore, you should not consume excessive amounts of carbohydrates.
Make wise choices when it comes to your source of carbohydrates – ideally, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are good sources. Avoid eating sweets, white bread, pasta, rice, candy, and sugary soft drinks, as well as other highly refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are known to cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels.
Focus on healthy carbohydrates, such as:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Whole grains
- Legumes, such as beans and peas
- Low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
2. Heart Healthy Fats
We all require fat in our diets because it provides us with energy. Diabetes increases your chances of acquiring other chronic health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. That is why it is crucial to limit your intake of saturated fat, which can lead to heart disease and a variety of other complications, and instead focus on unsaturated fats, which are beneficial to your heart. Try to replace saturated food items (beef, lamb, full-fat dairy products, etc) with foods containing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Nuts and seeds
- Plant-based oils (Canola, olive, and flax seed oils)
Protein aids in the normal development and growth of your body. This macronutrient is the foundation of the body’s defensive systems, antibodies, enzymes, and hormones. It also aids in the slowing of carbohydrate digestion and the absorption of glucose into the blood, resulting in more stable blood sugar levels. Protein also increases satiety, allowing you to feel full for longer. People who consume foods of animal origin can obtain high-quality protein from lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, and eggs. Plant sources should be considered for some or all the protein requirements. Plant foods like soy-based tofu are excellent sources of non-animal proteins. The same is true for nuts and legumes like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils.
4. High-Fiber Diet
The presence or absence of dietary fiber is the only element that distinguishes healthy carbs from all other carbs. Foods rich in fiber with carbs are metabolized slowly by the body, resulting in a slower rise in blood sugar levels. Fiber-rich foods can give you the feeling of fullness for longer periods of time, helping you to eat less, which could also benefit in weight loss. In fact, fiber is solely present in plant-based foods.
Fiber is categorized into two types: insoluble fiber, which is found in whole grains, and soluble fiber, which is found in beans, dried peas, oats, and fruits. Soluble fiber appears to reduce blood sugar levels via enhancing insulin sensitivity, which may indicate that you require less diabetes medication.
Basics of Meal Plan
Food portions in type 2 diabetes meal plans are designed to meet your energy demands while avoiding excess calories, which are stored as fat and lead to unwanted weight gain.
People with diabetes should consume a specific number of calories each day, depending on their age, level of activity, present weight versus ideal weight, body frame size, and other factors. The key to healthy eating with diabetes is to balance the type of food and the quantum of food you eat each meal. Portion sizes are important.
- Try to include a variety of healthy foods from all food groups with correct portions and amounts
- Reduce the consumption of simple carbohydrates. Whenever you eat carbs, choose nutrient-rich sources like vegetables (especially non-starchy ones), whole grains, fruits, legumes, and dairy products over processed foods with added fat, sugar, and salt.
- Cut back on saturated fat consumption (found mainly in animal products). Even healthy fats like olive oil should only be consumed in moderation.
- Drink water instead of sugar-laden beverages, such as those that are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose.
- If you have high blood pressure, cut your daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams.
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Do not skip meals, skipping meals can fluctuate blood sugar levels.
Now that you understand what foods are better if you have diabetes, placing the right foods and portions on your plate is simple. In order to have a balanced diet divide the plate into quarters; ¼ protein or meat, ¼ carbs, and ½ vegetables and fruit. Using 9-inch dinner plates and bowls will prevent you from stacking food onto a large dinner plate, which is a good habit to get into if you want to reduce weight.
Try to find what works best for you by experimenting with different foods.
With diabetes, it is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and supporting your mental health. Always monitor your blood sugar levels and seek immediate medical attention if you notice any worrying symptoms.
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