Changes to your diet may help manage diabetes by lowering blood sugar, but can be overwhelming with all the different recommendations and dietary needs that exist.
Focus on following a healthy eating plan low in fat and calories. Learn to count carbohydrates at regular mealtimes. Include low-glycemic index carbs like vegetables, beans and whole grains as part of your meals.
Carbs from food and beverages have the greatest influence on blood sugar levels, so keeping track of grams of carbohydrates is critical in managing diabetes. Total carb counts found on food labels typically include sugars, starches and fiber – be sure to consider serving sizes when counting your carbohydrates!
Limiting carb intake is often more effective than insulin or other pharmacologic treatments for controlling glycemic levels in people living with diabetes. Studies demonstrate this with respect to diet – with adherence rates as high as or exceeding any other approach, often outpacing current American Diabetes Association recommendations and helping reduce mealtime insulin dosage by up to 50 %!
Protein intake recommendations for people living with diabetes vary based on the stage and treatment modality of kidney disease, but KDIGO 2020 recommends an optimal daily protein intake of 0.8 g/kg of bodyweight.
Note, however, that low protein diets are associated with an increased loss of body proteins as their rate of breakdown increases during insulin deficiency, while amino acid synthesis decreases (Nair et al, 1995).
People living with diabetes should avoid foods containing added sugars or processed fats, and consult their physician before beginning a gluten-free meal plan. Although following such a regimen may be necessary due to celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance, for most it’s unnecessary – the key to creating good eating habits is making small steps and gradually altering them over time.
An optimal diabetic diet must contain low levels of total fat, saturated fat and trans fat as well as moderate amounts of monounsaturated fat, along with sufficient quantities of fiber.
Numerous observational studies that employ semiquantitative food frequency questionnaires have documented an association between diets rich in fatty acids and incidences of diabetes. This may be explained by how their composition can alter membrane insulin sensitivity.
One study discovered that replacing SFA with MUFA (such as linoleic acid) improved insulin sensitivity among healthy subjects; however, the difference was not clinically significant. These results suggest that changes to fatty acid composition could play an important role; however, larger controlled trials will need to confirm this hypothesis.
People living with diabetes should consume a diet rich in vegetables and non-starchy carbohydrates such as beans, low-fat dairy products and leafy greens. Sugary foods and beverages should also be limited.
Vegetable and whole-grain carbohydrates are best for people living with diabetes as they do not cause their blood sugar levels to spike; however, cake, candy and ice cream should still be enjoyed occasionally.
Carrots, broccoli and cauliflower are ideal vegetables for people living with diabetes. Cabbage also makes an excellent addition, thanks to its fiber content as well as providing iron, potassium, vitamin K1, A and K2. All three are low on the glycemic index and easy to digest; however those living with diabetes should avoid starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn.
Some individuals living with diabetes are advised to limit their fruit consumption as this can raise blood sugar, while others are encouraged to incorporate fruits into any eating plans developed by their medical team.
Whole fruits tend to have low glycemic index values and should be eaten sparingly by diabetics, while processed fruits found in syrup or the freezer section should only be eaten occasionally.
Berries offer low glycemic index values and are packed with vitamin C and fiber. Try them as a delicious dessert option, on top of yogurt, or in one of these smoothie-inspired recipes!