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Diabetes Diet

Those that suffer from diabetes mellitus know that regulating their diet is one of the most imperative means of controlling the disease’s ill-effects. Eating the right foods can help lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels to prevent the potential complications of the condition. Learn how dietary changes can improve your health, what changes to make, and how to make these changes with the information included below.

Why Does Diet Help?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease characterized by the body’s inability to effectively regulate the production of insulin, a hormone that regulates glucose in the bloodstream. Insulin is naturally produced in the pancreas, and it enables cells both to absorb glucose compounds from the bloodstream when needed and to store excess quantities of the sugar in the liver when they are not.

Patients afflicted by diabetes mellitus lack sufficient insulin to perform these tasks due to insufficient production of the hormone, an inability to utilize the insulin that is produced, or some combination thereof. This inability to produce or utilize insulin may result in a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream that can consequently damage blood vessels throughout the body. This destruction, in turn, may lead to complications like heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.

When insulin is in short supply, in addition to taking injections of the hormone, patients may seek to prevent the damage caused by excess amounts of glucose by reducing their intake of foods that contain it. This doesn’t just mean avoiding foods with refined sugars like candy and soda, but it also requires patients to recognize foods that metabolize into glucose and to control the consumption of any substance that adds sugar to the bloodstream when digested.

Regulating Blood Sugar: The Low-Carb Diet and The Glycemic Index

Carbohydrates are a central component of nearly any diet. Foods made largely of either simple or complex carbohydrates provide our primary sources of energy and should generally account for more than 40% of the calories we consume; however, many carbohydrates can cause an unwelcome spike in blood sugar that may be particularly dangerous to those afflicted with diabetes.

One common mentality when considering dietary changes to accommodate diabetes is to decrease carb consumption. While this may reduce blood sugar levels, it may not prove feasible due to our reliance on carbohydrates as a source of energy; in fact, most health authorities agree that carbohydrates should account for 40 - 60% of our caloric intake. Certain classes of carbohydrates, however, contribute more to a healthy diet than others.

There are three central types of carbohydrates: starches (complex carbohydrates), sugars (simple carbohydrates), and fiber. Common sources of starches include legumes and grains, while fruit and milk are sources of natural, healthy sugar. Fiber is an indigestible plant part that provides a feeling of fullness and maintains digestive health; common sources of fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.

Though natural sugars like fruits and milk are not without their benefits, artificial sugars found in artificial syrups and sweets should be avoided. Many sources of fiber and starch also supply essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Because of this, even when reducing your intake of artificial sugars, you will actually want to maintain a well-balanced diet that supplies a blend of sugars, starches and fiber.

To balance carbohydrate consumption with healthy blood sugar levels, many rely on a tool called the glycemic index (GI). This index assigns a value to foods based on the increase of glucose in the blood initiated by their consumption.The value intends to provide an estimate of both the total rise of blood sugar a food causes and the pace at which this increase will occur. The higher the number of a food’s GI value, the more rapidly it will cause blood sugar levels to rise.

High GI foods, then, such as white bread, corn flakes, short grain white rice, popcorn, pineapple, and pumpkin should typically be avoided by diabetics. On the other hand, low glycemic foods such as whole grain breads, sweet potatoes, peas, and select fruits should account for the majority of carbohydrates in any healthy diet. Aside from the glycemic index, however, there are additional factors for both healthy and diabetic persons to consider when determining their diet.

What Foods Compose a Diabetes-Friendly Diet?

Watching your carbohydrate intake is a great start, but there are many other considerations to a healthy diet. In addition to eating an adequate amount of healthy carbohydrates, it’s essential to consume sufficient supplies of both protein and healthy fats. On the other hand, limiting our intake of saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and trans fats may also prove beneficial to our health.

It’s also important to remember that foods don’t simply fall neatly into a category of “protein” or “carbohydrate,” rather, they are composed of a blend of different compounds and nutrients. As such, you should look at your plate as a whole every meal rather than considering what to add or subtract from your overall diet. Personal preference, additional health complications, and financial resources will each influence what you put on your plate.

We recommend eating a blend of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and lean meats to supply all the nutrients your body needs. Of the lean meats you may consume, fish provide a healthy supply of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that should help mitigate the risks of heart disease associated with diabetes. Opting for gluten-free grains like oats, quinoa, and farro may also prove beneficial, as those with type 1 diabetes are at greater risk for developing Celiac disease.

Healthy Habits & Additional Considerations

In addition to controlling what you put on your plate, limiting your portion size is an essential part of any healthy diet. By being aware of the amount you consume, you can prevent overeating that would otherwise lead to weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk of certain complications associated with diabetes and should, therefore, be a goal for anyone with the disease.

Regular exercise may also help to achieve this end and can help support a healthy heart. It should be noted, however, that exercise should be seen as a supplementary effort to a healthy diet rather than as a replacement for it. In addition to assembling a plate with a healthy composition and exercising regularly, it is also essential to limit your intake of salt, alcohol and processed meats.

Lastly, it is important to note that a healthier diet may reduce the need for diabetic medications. If your blood sugar levels decline then maintaining the same dose of insulin may lead to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Because of this, it’s important to regularly test your blood sugar levels and to work with your physician to determine the right dose of medication to adapt to any significant lifestyle change.

For snack ideas that contribute to a diet aimed at supporting healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, check out these recipes and snack recommendations provided by our resident Registered Dietitian.

Diabetes Recipes from Our Registered Dietitian

If you’re hoping to create a dish that satisfies a particular craving, these recipes offer both savory and sweet plates to please your palate at any time of day. When it comes to choosing quality carbs, think of foods like whole grain pasta, quinoa, brown rice, and farro which deliver fiber and protein along with the carbs to help balance blood sugar levels.

Quinoa Pancakes

Quinoa Pancakes Recipe

These delectable flapjacks are made with the healthful whole grain quinoa, and the recipe can also utilize brown rice flour to create confections that are completely gluten-free. Try this low GI alternative to your favorite breakfast food today!
Ingredients: Quinoa, whole wheat pastry flour (or brown rice flour for gluten-free cakes), eggs, milk, maple syrup or honey, raw pecans, baking powder, vanilla extract, salt.
Total Time: 15 minutes | Yield: 7 pancakes

Farro Vegetable Salad

Farro Vegetable Salad Recipe

Add some healthy carbohydrates to your diet with a dish that tastes great and supplies an ample amount of hearty nutrients.
Ingredients: Organic farro, sun dried tomatoes, frozen corn (thawed), scallions, black olives, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, salt, fresh dill, fresh mint, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar.
Total Time: 1 hour | Yield: 6 servings

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad {gluten-free}

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad Recipe {gluten-free}

Finding a wholesome source of fiber can be difficult, but our quinoa salad makes it simple with an organic source of carbohydrates that supports a healthy blood sugar level with the low GI grain, quinoa.
Ingredients: Quinoa, cherry tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh parsley, fresh mint, black pepper, salt.
Total Time: 40 minutes | Yield: 4 servings

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers {gluten-free}

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers Recipe {gluten-free}

Another great way to find your full fill of fiber, these stuffed peppers combine the wholesome quinoa with the nutrient-dense powerhouses of lentil, spinach and bell pepper.
Ingredients: Quinoa, green bell peppers, canned lentils, fresh spinach, feta cheese, frozen corn (thawed), salt, black pepper.
Total Time: 40 minutes | Yield: 6 servings (8 half-peppers)

Farro Risotto with Mushrooms

Farro Risotto with Mushrooms Recipe

An alternative to quinoa that’s just as powerful for providing protein and fiber is the flavorful farro; and, when combined with parmesan cheese, the two create a nutritious meal that tastes absolutely incredible!
Ingredients: Organic pearled farro, sliced mushrooms, garlic cloves, extra virgin olive oil, frozen peas, salt, fresh basil, parmesan cheese, hot water.
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Yield: 6 servings

No-Bake Pistachio Cookies

No-Bake Pistachio Cookies Recipe {gluten-free, vegan}

Searching for something to satisfy that sweet tooth without supplying a surplus of sugars and unwanted carbs? These palatable pistachio cookies cater to your diet with a surprisingly wholesome source of savor. Try this quick and simple recipe today!
Ingredients: Pistachios, unsweetened shredded coconut, gluten-free rolled oats, maple syrup, moringa powder, water, vanilla extract, cashews, almond butter, vanilla, coconut oil.
Total Time: 20 minutes | Yield: 16 cookies

Diabetes Snack Suggestions from Our Registered Dietitian

Controlling blood sugars is paramount for diabetics, which means focusing meals and snacks on foods that deliver a blend of quality carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

For more diabetic-friendly snack ideas, click here.