Managing Diabetes With Healthy Eating Habits

Healthy eating, combined with routine exercise and weight control, is important to manage diabetes. People with diabetes should eat mainly high-fiber carbohydrate foods such as wholegrain breads and cereals, and vegetables and fruit. They should also reduce their consumption of fat, especially saturated fat. Controlling the portion size of meals is often necessary to maintain an ideal body weight. It's also a good idea to see a dietitian who can help you develop a healthy eating plan.

Healthy eating habits help a person with diabetes to:
- Maintain general good health
- Control blood glucose levels
- Achieve normal blood lipid (fat) levels
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Prevent the complications of diabetes

No special diets required: Healthy eating for people with diabetes is no different than for everyone else. People with diabetes do not need to prepare separate meals or buy special foods, so relax and enjoy healthy eating with the rest of your family. See "Basic eating guidelines" below.

Physical activity: Along with healthy eating, physical activity is important. Be as active as possible. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days, and make the most of other opportunities to be active.

Follow these basic guidelines for planning healthier meals:
- Eat normal meals throughout the day; you need to have a morning meal, lunch, and dinner.
- Limit the portions of your meals and snacks...too much food will lead to an increase in weight.
- Choose a food containing some carbohydrate at each meal; for example, one cup of pasta, rice, or cereal, two pieces of bread, or a medium potato.
- For most people, the total carbohydrate content of a meal needs to be between 30-50 grams.
- Between meals, limit the carbohydrate content of a snack to 20 grams. For example one piece of fruit, a small tub of yogurt, a small slice of cake or one biscuit.
- Make sure breads, biscuits and cereals contain at least 3 grams of fiber per 100 grams.
- Select a variety of healthy foods from the different food groups. Include cereals, fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and lean meat.
- Fill up on low-calorie foods such as salad and vegetables.
- Avoid saturated fats that are found in animal foods like whole milk, ice creams, butter, and cheese, as well as palm oil and coconut products, processed meat and snacks, and fast foods.
- Consume small amounts of unsaturated fats like olive, canola, or sunflower oils, margarines, fish with high oil content, seeds, nuts, and avocado.
- Baked items like cakes and biscuits should be eaten only occasionally and in small serving, even when they are low in fat.
- Avoid candy, chocolates, and sweet soft drinks.
- Don`t add salt when you cook or at the table, and reduce the use of highly salted foods.
- Eliminate alcohol.

Counting the carbohydrates in your eating plan: The amount of carbohydrates in meals has a great impact on blood glucose levels. By eating three regular meals a day and spreading your carbohydrates evenly throughout your day, you can maintain your energy level without causing a huge jump in blood sugar levels. Most people are advised to have some carbohydrate at each meal. This could include having either a cup of rice, noodles, cereal, two slices of bread/rolls, or a medium potato. If you take insulin or diabetes medication, you may also need to eat snacks between meals. Check with your diabetes educator or dietitian.

Glycemic index: Some foods release glucose into the bloodstream more quickly than others. Foods that produce a slower rise in blood glucose levels are described as having a low glycemic index (GI). Healthy foods that have a low GI include cereals and breads high in fiber, spaghetti, fruit, beans, and dairy products. Rice and potato have a higher GI but are still healthy choices that can be eaten in moderation. Some packaged foods promoted as 'low GI' may be high in fat and calories; ice creams, for example. Always check the list of ingredients and the calorie content of packaged foods. The GI values of foods are only an average taken from ten healthy people, who can show large variations. Therefore people with diabetes are advised to test their blood glucose levels to determine the effect of various foods on their own blood glucose levels.

Sugar and a healthy eating plan: People with diabetes who follow a healthy eating plan can include some sugar in their diet. However, the sugar should be eaten in nutritious foods, such as cereals or low-fat dairy products, rather than in sweets or soft drinks. You can use artificial sweeteners to replace some sugar if it helps to reduce your total sugar consumption and control weight.

Restrict fat in your diet, especially saturated fat: All fats are high in calories. Eating excessive amounts of fat leads to weight gain, fluctuating blood glucose levels and higher blood fat levels. The type of fat you eat is also important. People with diabetes have a greater risk of developing heart disease so try to eat less saturated fat. Foods high in saturated fat include meat fat, whole dairy foods, cream, solid cooking fats (such as butter, lard, and shortenings), oils such as palm and coconut, and other products that contain these fats (i.e., fried foods, cakes, biscuits, convenience foods).

When you do eat fats, choose mainly:
- Polyunsaturated fats and oils - found in polyunsaturated margarine (check the label); sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, and sesame oils; fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines, salmon, and tuna; nuts, and flax seeds.
- Monounsaturated fats and oils - such as canola or olive oil margarine, canola and cold pressed virgin olive oil; avocado, seeds, and nuts.

Eat moderate amounts of protein: The body uses protein for growth and repair. Protein foods often contain fat. Most people only require one to two small servings of meat or other protein foods each day. The best protein foods to choose are those that are low in fat, such as 1/2 cup of beans, peas, or lentils; 90-115 grams of fish or seafood, lean meat, and poultry (without the skin). Three daily servings of low fat milk, skim milk, or dairy foods, i.e., 250 mls of milk, 40 grams of cheese, and 200 grams of yogurt.

Sample meal plan: Choose foods you like and which satisfy you, and include carbohydrate foods in each meal or snack to help manage blood glucose levels. You can eat your main meal at lunch or dinner.

Morning meal - Choose from:
One cup of high fiber cereal with low-fat milk and one piece of fruit;
Two slices of toast (preferably wholegrain, wholemeal, or high-fiber white bread) with a thin spread of margarine, peanut butter, or jam, and a small glass of fruit juice.

Light meal
Soup (preferably one with vegetables and beans or pea's.
A sandwich using wholegrain or wholemeal bread.
Tossed salad.
90-115 grams of meats that are leanand low in fats, skinless poultry or seafood; or, 2 eggs; or, 35 grams of reduced-fat cheese; or, a 1/2 cup of beans or lentils).
One piece of fruit.
Water, tea or coffee.

Main meal
One cup of cooked rice or pasta, or one medium potato. Lots of fresh vegetables. 90-115 grams of seafood, lean meat, or skinless poultry; or half a cup of cooked beans pea"s or lentils. One fruit or one small yogurt. Water, tea or coffee.

Talk to a dietitian People with diabetes should discuss their food habits with a dietitian so that appropriate dietary recommendations can be tailored to each individual.

Disclaimer - This article is for information purposes only. All information on this page is provided "as is" without any warranty of any kind. The information on this page should be used responsibly and at your own discretion. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon without making other inquiries appropriate to the circumstances.

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