Healthy Diets for Diabetics
Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is tightly regulated by insulin in the body. Controlling blood sugar after a meal can reduce risk of long-term health issues such as heart disease and kidney disease.
A diet with the right balance of carbs, protein and fat is key. Water is important as well—dehydration is linked to high blood sugar.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are one of the body’s main sources of energy. Health organizations recommend that 45 to 65 percent of a person’s calories come from carbohydrates. Counting carbohydrates is an important part of diabetes management because too many or too few carbs can raise or lower blood sugar levels significantly. It is important to learn how to read food labels to find out how much carbohydrate a serving contains.
There are three types of carbs: simple sugars, starches and fiber. Foods and beverages that contain carbohydrates are listed as such on a nutrition label under the nutrient category “total carbohydrate.” Starches have long, complex chains of sugar molecules and take longer to break down and supply glucose into the bloodstream. They are found in foods such as whole grains, beans and vegetables. They also provide vitamins and minerals.
Simple sugars are found in foods such as candy, soda and some breakfast cereals. These are also known as bad or refined sugars because they do not offer the nutrients that complex sugars do. Bad or simple carbohydrates are digested quickly, providing a burst of glucose into the bloodstream followed by an unhealthy crash of energy and a build up of fat in the body, especially around the waistline. A recent study published in JAMA (opens in new tab) found that following a low-glycemic diet did not improve insulin sensitivity, systolic blood pressure or cholesterol.
Vegetables are low in fat and calories, high in dietary fiber and full of minerals, especially calcium and iron. They contain phytochemicals, which may prevent certain diseases. They are also rich in vitamins, particularly A and C. Getting adequate amounts of vegetables in the diet is essential for health, especially in diabetics who need to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
Vegetarians and vegans are more likely to eat the recommended 3-5 servings of non-starchy vegetables each day. Vegetables are easily prepared in many ways, including steamed, roasted and stir-fried. They are a main ingredient in cuisines around the world and offer a wide variety of nutrients that can help lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and fight heart disease.
It is easy to see why a vegetable-rich diet is important for anyone, but it is especially crucial for people with diabetes. It helps to keep blood sugars stable and may even delay the onset of diabetes complications.
The definition of “vegetable” is usually based on what portion of the plant is eaten: leaves (lettuce), stalks or stems (celery), roots (carrot), tubers (potato), bulbs (onion) and flowers (broccoli). Fruits like tomatoes and peppers, and seeds such as peas are also considered to be vegetables.
It is best to choose vegetables that are low in carbohydrates, such as green leafy veggies (spinach, kale), asparagus, carrots and broccoli. These vegetables are low glycemic and contain antioxidants, vitamin C, B vitamins, folate and potassium.