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By eating regular foods and snacks, following a sensible diet and concentrating on healthy foods you will find it much easier to stabilise your blood sugar levels.
Diet plays a huge part in controlling your diabetes. It is therefore important to be sensible and follow recommended guidelines for maintaining a healthy diet. There are numerous leaflets available containing very helpful advice and suggestions, many of which are available from Diabetes UK. In addition, you can discuss your own individual dietary requirements, with a registered dietician and this can be arranged through your Diabetes Specialist Nurse or GP.
The diabetic diet
You may have heard already that the diet followed by Diabetics is the normal healthy diet recommended for everyone else and this is true. It is important for Diabetics to try hard to follow the advice they are given with regards to diet, as it a key factor in balancing blood sugar levels. This need not be a chore and will in
time, become such a routine, that you will actually enjoy controlling your diet and will also become the envy of your friends and family. Once you get a feel for dissecting the information on labels on foods it will become second nature.
In short, the Diabetic diet should be low in sugar, low in fat, based on starchy foods and contain a regular intake of fruit and vegetables. It is accepted that good diabetic control has three key ingredients, diet, exercise and insulin.
Controlling your weight also helps you control your Diabetes.
The regular dietary principles are therefore:
Eating regular meals and snacks containing starchy carbohydrates
Reducing your sugar and salt intake and cutting down on fried and fatty foods
Increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables
Starchy carbohydrates give better control of sugar levels, as they are absorbed slowly. Regular snacks and meals help you to avoid low blood sugar levels. High fibre foods are also known to slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood.
You do not have to avoid sugar completely - it is a 'low sugar diet' - not a 'no sugar diet'. You should however regulate your sugar intake sensibly. The occasional treat is of course acceptable. You can easily have a small thin slice of your favourite cake, rather than the large portion you used to have and instead of missing out altogether. You will of course need the occasional sweet food to treat low blood sugar but you should not run your levels low in order to eat the wrong sort of foods.
Drinks that contain a lot of sugar will increase your blood sugar too fast so you should choose low sugar or sugar free varieties, or plump for mineral water as a healthier alternative. It is recommended that we drink up to 3 litres a day (5 pints) to maintain a healthy system and whilst this seems a huge amount you will be surprised how the quantities mount up. You may need to increase your fluid intake if you are seriously short of this figure. Drinking plenty of fluids will help you feel more energetic and this will help your body immensely - it stands to reason, as you would not get far in your car without petrol. Food and drink are vital body fuels and it is wise to improve the quality of them.
Do not be fooled into purchasing diabetic foods as they are expensive, high in calories and fat and can have a laxative effect in some cases. There are no advantages to buying these so-called 'special' foods - so stick to a normal and natural diet.
Starchy carbohydrates are slower acting sources of energy that help you stabilise blood sugar levels. Try to eat them regularly throughout the day and include some at meal times. The best examples are bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, cereals and fruit.
Fruit and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables provide fibre, vitamins and minerals essential to maintaining a healthy body. The overall aim is to have at least five helpings of fruit and vegetables each day. Raw vegetables such as carrots make ideal snacks between meals, as do rye biscuits and of course - fruit.
When shopping, choose semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, lean meat and oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and pilchards and eat fewer sausages, salami and pork pies. Cut down on crisps and if you must eat them opt for low fat varieties. Choose low fat yoghurts, but take care to check the carbohydrate content as it is often higher than ordinary yoghurt - diet yoghurt generally has less cholesterol, low fat cheeses and dairy products. Chips should be limited to once a week and try oven chips as an alternative. Use low fat butter and margarine spreads and spread them thinly. Try grilling, baking or steaming foods and if using fats and oils - limit these to small amounts.
Here is a quick guide to the labels on foods showing what is considered a lot and what is considered a little per 100g (Click table to download):
Below is a helpful table of fruits, which shows what they contain (Click table to download):
These figures are courtesy of a brilliant book called 'Food tables and labelling' by A E Bender and D A Bender (Oxford University Press ISBN 019832815X)
This is an excellent slim reference book and highly recommended. It contains hundreds of foods in an easy to read table format, detailing what vitamins and minerals are present in those foods and in what quantities. It is extremely useful for assessing your vitamin and mineral intake against recommended daily allowances and it will assist you in calculating whether you have any deficiencies in your diet. See recommended books section for details.
Quick Summary so far
Eat regularly, include some starchy carbohydrates with each meal, choose high fibre versions, limit intake of sugars and sugary foods, reduce fat intake, use salt sparingly, do not drink too much alcohol and aim to keep to your ideal body weight if possible.
For more detail about foods, diets and eating well with diabetes - contact your dietician, GP, Diabetes Specialist Nurse and Diabetes UK.
In Diet Part Two there are some quick reference lists to help you...
All carbohydrate increases your blood glucose levels
Fruit sugar is known as fructose and milk sugar as lactose
There are two types of fat:
Saturated & unsaturated (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) fats
Reduce your intake - particularly of saturated fat as it is linked to heart disease.
Choose unsaturated fats or oils, especially monounsaturated fat, as they are better for your heart.
Eating less fat helps you lose weight and also helps your diabetes control.
During Summer when everyone else is eating ice creams and lollies - you do not have to miss out!
Try making your own lollies with sugar free drinks!
See also Glycaemic Index